Monday, 15 June 2009

Philippine automated election update

By Bernice Camille V. Bauzon
Manila Times

The consortium of Smartmatic and Total Information Management is to sign within two weeks a multibillion-peso contract to automate the 2010 elections, after hurdling more than a month-long bidding process.

But even now, the work begins.

For the next four to six weeks, Smartmatic will be going to different voting centers to check local conditions, including the electrical and communication lines.

“This is where the real work begins,” said Cesar Flores, Smartmatic’s international sales director. He added that the consortium would be using local public network providers for communication between voting precincts.

“We understand that the Philippines has a very complicated geography. We are ready for the job . . . even the logistic training,” he said.

Flores added that the company was willing to make public the source code, especially because it was one of the requirements of the Commission on Elections (Comelec). “We will stick with that commitment, and in fact, we have no objections. We encourage the release of the source code so politicians and political parties can be confident with the system.”

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) would be tasked to protect source code, a security feature to help prevent cheating, he added.

Fast results

The results of the polls would be fast, according to Smartmatic, as well as Comelec officials.

“In one to two days, we will have all results for all positions nationwide. It will be securely transmitted,” Flores said.

Smartmatic President Antonio Mujica said that 80 percent of the voting results would be up in about five to six hours, but the remaining 20 percent would take a little longer. The exact time would depend to the guidelines that would be supplied Comelec.

Comelec’s advisory council-approved machines should be capable of transmitting election results within a minute after counting the last vote.

Smartmatic assured that under its system, Comelec would be able to declare winners within 36 hours after the voting period.

Firm confident

Flores said they were comfortable with the timeframe given by Comelec. “We are comfortable with the time left for us to complete the project. We have done this before in other countries and I can say that we have the most time now to prepare.”

“We are compliant to the delivery schedule, and we will be submitting all the machines in time for the final tests, mock elections and the 2010 election,” he added.

But Flores slammed critics questioning his company’s bid of just P7.2 billion. That amount was P4.1-billion lower than the P11.3-billion supplemental budget awarded to the poll body by Congress.

“Initially, the project is on lease . . . and you have to understand that we are very competitive [thus, the low price],” he explained. “We run a very tight ship, [including] our manufacturing facilities. We are confident we can produce high-quality machines in this least price.”

Smartmatic will be providing for the 82,200 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines to automate voting nationwide next year.

Security and transparency

Mujica said their machines were safe from hacking and other similar concerns raised by Sen. Francis Escudero, head of the Senate Oversight Committee on Electoral Reforms.

“Once the machines are deployed, the system works without any human intervention,” the Smartmatic president said. “We have many layers of security in the system to guarantee votes. There will be no alteration.”

Flores, on the other hand, said the warehouse where the machines were to be made would be open to media, official election observers and members of the advisory council.

“We will guarantee that there is transparency in the procedure [and] in the warehouse,” he added.

He said that there should be no doubts that Smartmatic would remain politically independent, despite some critics saying that political parties might influence the system provider.

“We are independent,” Flores added. “We have no political ties or affiliation. We have a reputation for providing clean elections worldwide. We won’t be bought, and we won’t be influenced.”

He also said that the public should not be concerned about an incident that happened during the testing period when their machine short-circuited and emitted smoke. Executives said technicians simply used the wrong power cables, but Flores said that was a mistake that would not happen again.

Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. of Makati, who visited the demonstration after the incident, said he was satisfied with the machines provided by Smartmatic.

Pleased with process

Henrietta de Villa, chairman of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), said she too was “pleased with the bidding procedure.”

“We monitored it from day one as poll watchers and as non-voting member of the advisory council. I am very proud of how they performed its mandated duty, and I say the same for the SBAC [Special Bids and Awards Committee],” said the former Philippine ambassador to the Holy See.

The bidding process became too long, mainly because of the bids committee’s commitment to remain transparent and to disperse fear from the public, she added.

“This is D-day. There is a winning bidder . . . and automation can happen in 2010. We are happy they [Smartmatic] passed all the requirements,” de Villa said.

But Mujico there would always be sectors against automating the elections. “Whenever you try to make elections cleaner, there will always be resistance. There will always be people who are against transparency. Those who benefit on cheating will be against automation.”

Winning the bid

In a two-page resolution, the Comelec en banc formally announced Smart matic as the lowest qualified bidder. “The commission awards to your consortium the contract to provide . . . for the ballots and technology for the 2010 elections,” according to the resolution.

The resolution also included a provision for a P359-million bond for security performance.

“The security performance is for in case, [Smartmatic] missed a deadline or milestone in the project then, it will be offset,” James Jimenez, Comelec spokesman, explained Wednesday.

He added that the bond also assures the compliance of Smartmatic with the requirements set by the poll body.

With the finality of the declaration of winning bidder, Smartmatic executives said they “are honored, humbled and happy to be awarded this very important contract.” They added that the automation project was not only important for their company, but also to Filipinos and to democracy in the Philippines.

Smartmatic outdid six other bidders who were disqualified by the bids committee.

Comelec has the option to purchase the machines after the 2010 elections for P2 billion, said Smartmatic President Mujica.

Smarmatic International Corp. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Smart­matic International Holdings, BV of The Netherlands. The firm was founded more than a decade ago as a research and development group specializing in systems integration. Smartmatic has organized elections in several regions around the world, including South America, the Car ribean, the United States and Asia.

Smartmatic was also the system provider for the 2007 Autonomous Region in Muslim Minda nao elections.

Total Information Management (TIM), on the other hand, is a Filipino-owned information technology company that operates nationwide and offers various information-technology (IT) services and products.

According to its website, TIM was founded in 1985 as a supplier for re certified and refurbished IBM mainframes and peripheral equipment. Since then, it has grown to be the country’s leading technology services company.

The two companies entered into a joint venture on April 23, 2009, two weeks before the start of the Comelec’s bidding process.

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