2010 glitches not considered in awarding Smartmatic flash card contract

VERA Files
Tinig Ng Botante

By Mikha Flores, VERA Files

When the Commission on Elections awarded Smartmatic the contract to supply compact flash (CF) Cards for the coming May elections, it did not consider the technical glitches in 2010 that nearly botched the first nationwide automated elections.

Lawyer Helen Aguila-Flores, chairperson of the Special Bids and Awards Committee (SBAC), said Thursday the poll body only “looked into the sample they submitted” during the testing of the CF cards last November.

Smartmatic recalled 76,000 CF cards nationwide five days before the 2010 elections after the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines encountered problems in the configuration. The error was blamed on the improper spacing of the in the ballot face bearing the names of local candidates.

"We cannot blur our minds on incidents of the past," Flores said, referring to the glitches that marred the 2010 elections.

Comelec awarded the supply of CF cards Main on Dec. 27 through negotiated procurement.

According to RA 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act, negotiated procurement occurs when two successive public biddings have failed. It is also allowed during emergencies like a state of calamity, takeover of contracts and when the contract is related to an ongoing infrastructure project.

SBAC first declared a bidding failure on Aug. 13 after lone bidder LDLA Marketing was found ineligible. The second bidding also failed due to the post-isqualification of LDLA and Unison Computer System Inc.

During the negotiation stage, Flores said only Smartmatic passed the testing done by the SBAC Technical Working Group.

She said Smartmatic’s CF cards “are the only samples that did not have any negative observation” from the Technical Working Group. “The others would require tweezers or something to pull to eject the CF card from the port,” the SBAC head said.

Three groups were shortlisted during the negotiated procurement stage: Smartmatic, SPH International Corp. and LDLA Marketing.

Both the flash cards provided by SPH and LDLA were found defective after the samples they provided were difficult to eject from the PCOS machines.

Smartmatic initially submitted a bid of P50.96 million which was higher than the approved budget for the contract (ABC) of P46.58 million. Comelec eventually awarded the contract to Smartmatic after it sent lowered the amount to P45.21 million.

According to the Procurement Law, “the ABC shall be the upper limit or ceiling for the Bid prices. Bid prices that exceed this ceiling shall be disqualified outright from further participating in the bidding.”

(VERA Files is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)