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Smartmatic discredited in EU, US, even Venezuela

Smartmatic is a bad word in Europe, the US, and even in its home Venezuela. The seller of voting machines is notorious for corporate and product opacity. Its gadgets flunk test runs and actual elections. Chicago has blacklisted it for the poll fiasco of 2006.

Yet Smartmatic hypnotizes the Comelec into buying more and more of its wares. The poll body is keen to acquire from it 97,000 new precinct count optical scanners (PCOS) — for a staggering P14.5 billion. To be junked are the 82,000 units used in the 2010 and 2013 elections, for which the Comelec spent P15 billion to buy, accessorize, and warehouse. It’s criminal, given that locally developed election systems cost less than a third, and government can use the savings to feed and shelter the penurious millions.

Among the international exposers of Smartmatic’s rackets is political researcher Alek Boyd. In Vcrisis.com since 2002 he has been blogging about Venezuela, the company’s birthplace. Boyd has written about the unholy ties of Smartmatic with Venezuela’s former strongman Hugo Chavez and political heirs.

Following are excerpts from Boyd’s article in Oct. 2012. (Full text in http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/263013-smartmatics...)

“[Smartmatic founder Antonio] Mugica has been at the helm of a company specifically created for intentional manipulation of electoral rules. The only time Mr. Mugica’s electronic machines (were) subjected to a fully independent audit in Venezuela — Fila de Mariches, Nov. 23, 2005, in the presence of EU and OAS electoral observers — it was demonstrated that the secrecy of votes was compromised. That (was) the only and last time the Venezuelan opposition (was) allowed anywhere near a Smartmatic voting machine.

“Claims by Mr. Mugica of a successful track record, upon which US authorities may entertain the prospect of contracting his company’s services, are truly astonishing. Mind you, he chairs a company that refused to open up to CFIUS (Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States) scrutiny, after Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney requested a probe into its ownership structure, following a spectacular electoral fiasco in Chicago in 2006, at the hands of a subsidiary it had acquired: Sequoia Voting Systems. On that occasion, Smartmatic flew in a bunch of ‘electoral experts’ from Venezuela — on tourist visas — who were meant to monitor and supervise the process. Alderman Ed Burke raised the alarm, and the rest, as they say, is history. Smartmatic ‘disposed’ of Sequoia — though Smartmatic’s Venezuela-developed software continues to be licensed to Sequoia. Mr. Mugica’s company exited the US through the back door, never revealing whether or not Hugo Chavez still holds a 28-percent interest in it. 

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“Therefore, the only time Smartmatic has participated in an electoral process in the USA, it was deemed a disaster, and in the ensuing probe, it refused to collaborate with US authorities. Is that track record the one Mr. Mugica is banking on for new business opportunities? Or is it the ever so fraudulent record in other countries, where it has been granted contracts in closed processes without bidding, never submitting to meaningful and independent scrutiny, like in Venezuela; or it has falsely claimed to be a Dutch company with an equally spurious ‘extensive record’ in the provision of biometric services, like it did in Mexico City, where its bid was registered with an address of an official who was meant to be vetting the process?

“Smartmatic has won over $300 million worth of contracts since 2004, mainly from unaccountable governments of underdeveloped countries, where democratic tenets, such as free and fair elections, transparency, and checks and balances are completely and utterly disregarded. In that, it has been tremendously successful. No doubt. But in participating in free and transparent elections, or in opening up to the kind of scrutiny typical of truly democratic nations? Its first success is yet to take place.”

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The Dept. of Budget and Management’s Procurement Service reacts to my piece last May 15. I reported then about bid rigging in certain specialized goods and services for the APEC ministerial meetings and Nov. summit. To which Executive Director Jose Tomas Syquia says (edited to fit space):

“With APEC preparations, the PS-DBM is confined to the bidding. A member-agency leads a specific APEC event, and sets the specifications and the Approved Budget of the Contract. Thus, PS-DBM did not ‘pick out specialized goods and services that only two or three suppliers carry’ because it was not us who identified the need and made the initial specifications. Neither could PS-DBM ‘pad by the tens of millions of pesos,’ because we did not set the initial ABC, nor are the funds with us.

“Once we receive a request we do not blindly rush out to procure the goods and services, which would be the primrose path. We review, among others, the specifications to ensure no tailor fitting; there is sufficient time for dissemination of the opportunity and preparation of bids; and the reasonableness of the ABC — conduct market study if within our competency and request for downward adjustments, otherwise we rely on the market study of the requesting agency.

“We have not had any bidding where there was a variance anywhere near P5, P10, P20, P30, P40, or P50 million, and hence we are unable to shed light on your comment that ‘(o)ne such deal went to the highest bidder whose better competitor had offered 50 million less but with no kickback’.”

I stand by my report of the P50-million overprice. More details to come.

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