Comelec eyeing ‘third option’ for automated polls

Posted on July 31, 2015

THE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS (Comelec) is exploring the possibility of a “third option” that would “mix and match” its parallel bidding’s two approaches to fill the need for poll machines.

Poll body Chief Andres D. Bautista (R): The Comelec can ‘mix and match’ equipment if the contract for leasing 71,000 poll machines pushes through instead of the cheaper option of refurbishing 82,000 old ones. -- Vince Alvic Alexis F. Nonato
Comelec Chairman Andres D. Bautista said that in the event the contract for leasing 71,000 new machines will push through instead of the cheaper option to refurbish 82,000 old ones, the Comelec can still supplement the new ones.

He noted that refurbishing old machines is still cheaper than leasing new ones, to the tune of up to P2.5 billion.

“We have a budget limit here, no? It is possible we can mix and match new machines... plus certain machines from the refurbishment [contract],” Mr. Bautista said.

Asked if the so-called third option is a contingency measure in case some of the new machines could not be produced on time, Mr. Bautista said “not necessarily.”

“Even if we award the 71,000, we do not have to take the entire 71,000. We can get lower than that,” Mr. Bautista said.

“When you look at the logic, the refurbishment option is cheaper than leasing new machines,” he continued. “But the question is, do we still have time to refurbish? And second, what is the technical risks associated with a refurbished machine as compared to a new machine?”

Exploring the third option would take three factors into consideration: cost, timelines, and technical or operational risks.

But the chairman stressed this is an option the agency “may” look into.

He noted the Comelec can only know what to do if the second round of auction for the P3.13-billion refurbishment contract succeeds on Aug. 1.

Although the Special Bids and Awards Committee has recommended on July 24 the awarding of the P7.87-billion contract to Smartmatic-Total Information Management Corp. (TIM), the Comelec is awaiting the results of the parallel refurbishment contract.

“We are eagerly awaiting the results of the Aug. 1 bid because we can get an idea as to whether it is still feasible to do a refurbishment, because we want to know if there are still suppliers willing to take the project given the tight time frame,” Mr. Bautista said.

A supplemental 23,000 machine contract, now set to be awarded to Smartmatic-TIM after the commission’s July 29 en banc ruling, was originally supposed to add to the 82,000 old machines set to be refurbished by taking advantage of an extended warranty contract with the same provider.

But the Supreme Court nullified the earlier refurbishment deal in April because it did not follow the Government Procurement Reform Act.

As a result, the Comelec was forced to bid out the contract simultaneously with the lease of 71,000 new machines, with barely a year left before the May 2016 elections.

Choosing to lease 71,000 new machines would fall short of the ideal situation of having 100,000 to use for the elections to drive down the voter-to-machine ratio. -- Vince Alvic Alexis F. Nonato