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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Procurement controversy du jour: Philippines voting machines

This story illustrates the problem with bid protests: not the protests themselves, which can reveal questionable judgment or incompetence, but the need for an expeditious resolution of them, especially judicial review.

EDITORIAL - Resolve the questions quickly
Legal challenges were expected in the maintenance contract for voting machines that was awarded just three days before Sixto Brillantes Jr. retired on Feb. 2 as chairman of the Commission on Elections. Smartmatic-Total Information Management, which supplied the 80,000 precinct count optical scan machines that the Comelec used in the 2010 and 2013 polls, bagged the P268.8-million contract to refurbish the PCOS machines for the general elections next year.

Those opposing the deal argue that it should have been opened to public bidding as required under government procurement laws instead of being approved merely as an extension of a warranty for the PCOS machines. For its part, the Comelec argued that aside from time constraints as it prepares for next year’s polls, it would be risky to award the diagnostics and repair of the PCOS machines to another company.

Yesterday the Comelec warned that the court TRO could set back the timetable for poll preparations seriously enough to compel a return to manual voting in 2016. After automated elections in 2010 and 2013, Filipinos are sure to protest against a return to the long, laborious and fraud-prone manual vote.

All sectors, including the courts, must do their part to prevent this from happening. The courts must not take their usual sweet time in resolving the challenges to the refurbishment contract. The other day, the Supreme Court voted 12-2 to issue a temporary restraining order on the deal, effective immediately and with no specified duration. The slow administration of justice is already wreaking havoc in places such as Makati, where no one knows when the legal question over the suspension of the mayor will be settled with finality. With only 13 months to go before the general elections, the SC must act more quickly in the case of the Comelec deal with Smartmatic-TIM. The nation wants poll automation, and it should be conducted as smoothly as possible, with all legal challenges resolved.

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