Dangerous precedent
(The Philippine Star) - December 14, 2014 - 12:00am

Just recently, the Commission on Elections opened the bids for the supply of additional voting machines for the 2016 national elections.

Rappler.com has reported that the bids received by the Comelec bids and awards committee were for the first of the two stages of the competitive bidding for the lease of 23,000 optical mark reader (OMR) machines. The OMR machines will augment the existing 80,000 precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines used in the previous election.

The same report revealed that the BAC will evaluate the bidders’ eligibility documents and then conduct an end-to-end testing of their election management systems. The committee will then recommend the bidders’ proposals to the Comelec en banc. The BAC would then come up with the final technical specifications for the second stage of the bidding process, where the bidders that passed the first stage would submit final technical and financial proposals. Comelec expects to award the P2.5 billion contract by February. The amount includes the procurement of ballots and ballot boxes, and the hiring of technical support personnel.

More than an ordinary business deal, this particular bidding involves public interest.

Of the five firms that bought bidding documents from the Comelec, only two, namely Smartmatic TIM and Indra Sistemas submitted their bids.

 It will be recalled that in 2009, Indra submitted a financial bid of P11 billion for 55,000 PCOS machines when the Comelec  asked for 82,000 machines. They still entered the bid, even though their prices were at least 33 percent higher than the approved budget.

 Indra’s lead counsel, lawyer Archivald de Mata, explained that Indra was participating in the bidding process as a foreign bidder, and not in a joint venture with any other company.

 Indra is a Spanish information technology and defense systems company. According to Indra’s website, the Spanish government through state-owned Sociedad Estatai de Participaciones Industriales (SIPI), owns the single largest individual shareholding at 20.1 percent followed by Corporation Finanaciera Alba SA with 12.5 percent.

 It is organized around three business areas: information technologies, simulation and automatic test systems, and defense electronic equipment.

Indra has figured in a number of investigations involving accusations of corruption and bribery in Spain and other countries. In Angola, Angolan opposition and civil society organizations say that the ruling MPLA was assured of victory, largely by ensuring that a Indra Sistemas SA, which was widely accused of manipulating the 2008 elections, got the contract to run the 2012 polls. (www.iol.co.za).

El Mundo, one of the most important dailies in Spain, reported about charges against an Indra executive for colluding with the IT head of the Madrid Province in inflating costs and issuing false invoices.

But what worries a number of observers is the fact that Indra Sistemas is highly involved in the surveillance business and leaving the success or failure of our country’s election process to a foreign company involved in surveillance sends shivers down the spine.

There is no doubt that Indra is a key instrument in Spain’s defense policy. No less than Spain’s defense secretary, Pedro Arguelles, said that “what we are telling Indra is that it has to play a major role in the defense policy and it has to understand the priorities the Ministry wants them to lead.” 

 Should we allow a foreign government to participate directly or indirectly in our internal affairs, the conduct of our national elections in particular? That is something that the Comelec should really take seriously.

For comments, e-mail at philstarhiddenagenda@yahoo.com




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