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Election watchdog slams Comelec decision to buy PCOS machines for 2013 polls

A poll watchdog alleged over the weekend that the purchase of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines for the 2013 midterm elections “is illegal, exclusivist, and risky.”   “It will leave one foreign company, Smartmatic, monopolizing the technology system in all elections and even running the whole political exercise forever,” said Automated Election System Watch (AES Watch) in a press release Friday.   The Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc voted 5-2 on Tuesday to purchase the PCOS machines it had leased for the 2010 elections from Smartmatic International for next year’s polls.   AES Watch co-convener Nelson J. Celis alleged that Smartmatic has yet to show “whether corrections have been made to its system, as it promised [in] January 2011” as regards “deficiencies and errors that… affected the accuracy, canvassing, and consolidation of election results in 2010.”   Celis, who had helped in the drafting of the automated elections law or Republic Act 9369, said purchasing these sane poll machines “is definitely against the Procurement Law and violates the high standards and best practices of IT industry and business computerization.”   Moreover, he reiterated the AES Watch claim that the Comelec’s “option to purchase” in its June 2009 contract with Smartmatic had long expired in December 2010.   He admitted however that the option was extended twice until the end of last year but “under questionable circumstances” with a 20 percent hike in the original price.   Celis also said the proposed P1.8 billion purchase price for the PCOS machines is not “cheaper” either.   “The selling price is higher than the 2003 Mega Pacific’s 1,991 automated counting machines (ACMs) worth only P1.3 billion. The canvassing and consolidation system (CCS or backend machine) developed by Comelec’s IT department under Lagman cost the government only P1 million against the foreign company’s P30 million plus offer,” he said.   Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) IT consultant Pablo Manalastas claimed Smartmatic’s “marked failures” to comply with major provisions of the automated election law – particularly the minimum system capabilities used in the 2010 polls – should have disqualified the foreign firm from participating in the bidding this month and even from selling the PCOS machines to the Philippine government.   “Instead of making Smartmatic liable for non-compliance to the election law and for the deficiencies of its system Comelec, under Chairman Sixto BrillantesJr., chose to thank and then award the foreign company with yet another questionable contract,” Dr. Manalastas lamented. — MRT/ELR, GMA News