SC told: Poll automation contract breached

by Reynaldo Santos Jr., Newsbreak

Posted at Nov 09 2009 08:37 PM | Updated as of Nov 10 2009 08:21 AM

Comelec says preparations and requirements are on track

MANILA - A citizens group, which is appealing a Supreme Court (SC) decision upholding the contract for the automation of the 2010 elections, on Monday said it found new grounds to seek the cancellation of the deal between the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and Smartmatic.

The Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) filed a supplemental motion for reconsideration, asking the tribunal to look into “supervening events” that led to both parties breaching the terms of their agreement.

In a press conference before going to the SC, lawyer Harry Roque, co-convenor of CCM, said the parties failed to provide a budget for satellite communications to be used in phone-deprived areas, and transferred the production of the counting machines from Taiwan to China.

“All these fundamental changes in contract do not bode well for the ability of Smartmatic and the Comelec to conduct the first ever nationwide automated elections system,” Roque said.

Lozada’s opinion

It was Rodolfo 'Jun' Lozada, whistleblower in the controversial National Broadband Network (NBN) contract with Chinese firm, ZTE Corp., who reportedly pointed out the lack of budget for telecommunication facilities after he reviewed the automation contract. Based on Lozada’s study, Roque said, Smartmatic failed to provide a budget for satellite communication despite being required by Comelec to provide facilities to areas with no GPRS facilities.

Under the automated election system, a nationwide GPRS telecommunications facility is needed for the transmission of votes from the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines. Hence, the contract requires Smartmatic to assure 100% communications coverage in the entire course of election.

But Lozada’s study revealed that Smartmatic only guaranteed a budget for limited GPRS facilities, and that no budget for satellite communications would be made available. The study further said that “this failure of Smartmatic to provide a budget for satellite communication, despite its knowledge that the country does not have nationwide GPRS telecommunications facility, proves that it would be impossible for both the Comelec and Smartmatic to provide for 100% automated elections in 2010.”

Smartmatic earlier pulled out the production of the PCOS machines from the Taiwan-based Jarltech and transferred it to the Shanghai-based Qisdi. According to both Comelec and Smartmatic, the transfer was necessary to ensure the safety of manufacturing and the timeliness of the delivery of machines, given the calamities that recently hit Taiwan.

However, Roque said that this subcontracting is a violation of both the Comelec’s bidding rule and the procurement law. “This practice is not allowed because, obviously, we need to hold the manufacturers directly liable to answer for product warranty defects,” he said.

Delays

According to Roque, the series of changes in the contract has caused delay in the timeline of the automation process. The delivery of the 82,200 PCOS machines, which was originally set from November to January, has been moved to December to February due to the production transfer.

Roque said the change in schedule means the Comelec will lack time for all necessary preparations for the automated elections.

“There’s no assurance that the machines will be delivered in time for the election, and in time for education and training of teachers,” he said. He added that all the machines will also be calibrated, inspected, and certified, hence, providing less time for other preparations.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez dismissed CCM’s allegations. He gave assurances that Smartmatic will continue to supply telecommunication facilities for the election. “We will live up to the responsibilities stated in the contract,” he told Newsbreak.

He said that the Comelec has the support of the Supreme Court, which earlier sided with the poll body dismissing CCM’s earlier petition. He considers the new petition as just another complaint by those who are against election automation.

“[Roque’s camp] is just taking advantage of new developments,” Jimenez said. He said the group has not even sought the Comelec to discuss their concerns so the poll body could explain their plans and preparations for the automated elections. (Newsbreak)