[Context: a fly by night technical committee set up by the EC used one day to disqualify more experienced bidders for the hardware technology to compile the EC’s proposed new register and award the $72 million contract to its favourite, Thales. No word has been heard about the tender for the software to power the whole system.]
1. The EC has set an artificial timeline of April 18th 2020 (barely two months away to commence use of the system to conduct the voter registration exercise). As we stated in our previous comment, THIS IS BEYOND BELIEF. The EC has not even completed award notices to tenderers for the hardware and software components of the BVMS, much less completed pricing negotiations and PPA approval procedures, not to talk of the gruelling specification and integration design work. Then there is the legal drafting and negotiation phase, plus logistics delivery and testing, not to talk about commissioning and any remediation work following the review of testing results.
2. NO ENGINEERING PROJECT (AND THIS IS AN ELABORATE AND COMPLEX ENGINEERING PROJECT) CAN BE MANAGED IN THIS SHAMBOLIC WAY.
3. Even delaying the commencement of the registration till June 2020 carries serious risks as four months is much too short a time to complete all the standard procurement, engineering, commissioning, testing and deployment elements of such a critical and mission-sensitive rollout. The EC is determined to do things without sound engineering standards. If it continues along that path, the spate of unresolved disputes about registration, exhibition and adjudication shall likely impact the credibility of the elections in due course.
4. Furthermore, it is not as if the shambolic tender results are immune to direct legal attack. Smartmatic has already given hints of a plan to challenge the rigged outcome. Just as it did in the 2011 – 2012 cycle. Some of the reasons proffered for reducing its technical eligibility in favour of Thales were preposterous to say the least. For example, a threat by politicians against both the Philippino elections management body and its contractor, Smartmatic, was held up as evidence of business risk. This is despite the fact that politicians make threats all the time and attack the integrity of electoral systems as a matter of course. The controversial committee claims that it could not find similar evidence of business risk against the winner of their awam bidding process, Thales, which is laughable. Here is a literal canopy of corruption allegations against Thales, many of them the product of actual investigations, not just random allegations by politicians. (See: https://sites.tufts.edu/corruptarmsdeals/tag/thales/)
5. To be clear, Thales’ record for corruption is so pungent that in 2005, the World Bank’s Integrity Unit blacklisted them from participating in any of their projects because of their shameless use of bribery to win business around the world. Then 5 years later, they were ordered after being found guilty in a serious investigation to pay 630 million euros back to the Government of Taiwan for serious procurement abuse, including the paying of hefty bribes to Taiwanese government officials. The situation stank so badly that the death of the Head of the Taiwanese procurement authority has been connected with the scandal.
6. The Gemalto unit of Thales that shall be executing the EC BVMS contract for the 2020 elections, is no stranger to corruption investigations either. In 2015, many NGOs provided compelling evidence of corruption of elections officials in Gabon in which Gemalto was heavily implicated. (See: https://www.jeuneafrique.com/mag/347427/economie/gabon-gemalto-sellette-a-paris/).
7. The Estonian government was recently embarrassed when ID cards developed by Gemalto were proven defective and had to be recalled amidst great confusion. It sued Gemalto seeking to recover nearly $180 million. (See: https://www.reuters.com/article/estonia-gemalto/estonia-sues-gemalto-for-152-mln-euros-over-id-card-flaws-idUSL8N1WD5JZ).
8. So, regarding the claims of the so-called technical evaluation committee not to have found any information on business risks related to Thales and Gemalto, one can only conclude, considering how widely known these matters are, that the cause of the Committee’s blindness was the need to rig the tender in favour of Thales and Gemalto and to the detriment of Smartmatic. For any sincere researcher to find Smartmatic’s needle in the haystack allegations in the Philippines worthy of note but fail, by the same yardstick, to “discover” the much more widely discussed and analysed Thales-Gemalto corruption investigations and indictments beggars belief.
9. Furthermore, some of the technical observations against Smartmatic in the report amount to pure hair-splitting. The BVR associated printer was judged to be A6-incompatible, though paper sizing is a matter of orientation settings in the kind of modern printer proposed by Smartmatic. Their proposed laptop was said to lack screen scratch-resistance, even though such requirements are easily addressed through peripherals. As already mentioned, the “unfavourable risk profile” finding based on unhappy politicians in the Philippines who had threatened not just Smartmatic but also the Electoral Commission in that country (COMELEC) is completely ridiculous, considering the fact that Thales, as the ongoing state capture investigations in South Africa have shown, has a far worse record when it comes to business practices.
10. The only serious demerit, on the face of it, in the Smartmatic proposal was its insistence that the number of equipment requested by the EC can only be delivered, in full, within 7 months, not the 5 months demanded by the EC. (The BVRs needed at the start of the registration would have taken 4 months to deliver in Smartmatic’s proposed schedule) But this point opens a whole new can of worms. Firstly, Smartmatic is so much more experienced in deploying biometric systems for elections than any of the other three bidders. In fact, with the suspicious disqualification of Idemia on technical grounds, they were the only truly experienced biometric voter systems integrator left in the race. A careful observer would give more credence to their estimate of reasonable delivery timelines than they would to Thales’.
11. Secondly, given that the EC has always known that even its preferred vendor, Thales, would need 3 months to deliver the BVRs, and that all of the devices are required to come in for testing before the process can commence, why then in God’s name would it mislead blatantly the public that it can commence registration on 18th April 2020? Surely, if it intends to negotiate a better agreement than the existing ones that it has demonised so thoroughly, then, as any serious corporate lawyer would tell you, at least four months of serious legal and technical specification work is required. Considering that it has not even completed its tender processes, how can anything less than 6 months be reasonable when planning for the procurement of such a complex system? And even a toddler knows that a 6-month prudential timeline has us commencing the registration in August 2020 not in April 2020.
Patrick Kwabena Stephenson Kofi Bentil Selorm Branttie Bright Simons Asare Dennis– IMANI