Smartmatic to supply 93,977 new machines

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - And the winner is… Smartmatic, again.

Voting unanimously, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) decided yesterday to lease 93,977 all-new optical mark reader (OMR) machines for P7.9 billion from the joint venture of Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM). 

The decision finally settles the debate over which voting system to use in the 2016 polls.

“After exhaustive consultation with stakeholders and with due consideration of the current circumstances, particularly issues relating to cost, timeliness and technical risk, the commission decided to choose the more prudent approach of leasing all new 93,977 (OMR) machines for the 2016 elections,” Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista told a press conference after the poll body’s meeting.

“The commission believes that this is the most viable, practical and safest option to pursue in our efforts to ensure the credibility of the 2016 elections,” he said.

The 93,977 OMR machines are covered by two contracts, the first of which – involving 23,000 OMR machines – was awarded to Smartmatic-TIM last July 31. 

The financial bid of the joint venture for the project was P2.2 billion, including P1.7 billion for lease and P500 million for option to purchase.

The other contract covers the rest of the OMR machines totaling 70,977, for which Smartmatic-TIM had offered a bid price of P7.862 billion or P6.286 billion for lease and P1.576 billion for option to purchase.

But in the contract for the 23,000 OMR machines, each unit costs P56,000 while the 70,977 OMR machines cost P68,000 each.

PCOS and OMR are practically the same in terms of technology used but the Comelec decided to call them by different names to distinguish those used in the 2010 elections.

Smartmatic-TIM won in the public bidding for the 23,000 and 70,977 OMR machines.

Bautista said they decided not to adopt the suggestion of the Comelec advisory council to mix the refurbished and upgraded precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines with a portion of the OMR units citing some possible complications.

He cited “potential legal and commercial issues if we were to reduce the 70,977 machines.”  Aside from this, the “supplier can only commit refurbishment/upgrade of 10,000 PCOS machines by January 2016,” he said.

“(There are) technical challenges in running simultaneous production lines for refurbishment and upgrading and the manufacture of new machines. It is also a logistical challenge to deal with several suppliers,” Bautista added.

The poll chief also said PCOS machines would not end up wasted because they could be refurbished and utilized for the 2019 mid-term elections.

Bautista also maintained that leasing new OMR machines would give the poll body sufficient time to run tests on the units or have the units configured to address the problems encountered in the 2010 and 2013 elections.

He said they expect Smartmatic-TIM to start delivery of the 93,977 machines by October, and complete the process by January 2016.  

Fulfillment of mandate

At Malacañang, Press Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the Comelec’s decision was “in fulfillment of its constitutional mandate to ensure the conduct of orderly and credible elections.” 

“We note that, according to Chairman Andres Bautista, this decision took into account timely delivery, adequate time for testing the new machines, and the need to address problems encountered in the past two elections,” he added.

“Citizen vigilance and support will go a long way toward enabling the Comelec to fulfill its mandate,” he pointed out. 

The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) said it “fully supports” the Comelec’s decision.

“We’re happy that we can finally proceed and concentrate on the task of preparing for a fair, credible, transparent and fully automated elections in 2016,” said PPCRV counsel Howard Calleja.

He said “time is of the essence” and the Comelec chief should be commended for making a “bold and decisive” move for the country. 

Meanwhile, Smartmatic president for Asia Pacific Cesar Flores said the government stands to save some P179,324 from each of the 93,977 OMR machines to be leased.

In a statement, Flores noted that based on the contracts for the 23,000 and 70,977 OMR machines, the average price of each unit amounts to only P40,676.61.

“Given that the going rate of OMR machines in the international market is around P220,000, we are pleased that these contracts will realize significant savings for the government,” he added.

“It was a very long and grueling process but we understand the need to weed out non-compliant systems and to ensure that only the best of the best gets to be deployed for such a critical matter as the elections of this country,” he said.

Flores said the Comelec’s announcement “had once again underscored the fact that Smartmatic is in the best position to provide top quality election systems at the most advantageous price to the government, in stark contrast with our competitors who have constantly submitted bids that are way above the budget.” Delon Porcalla, Aurea Calica

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