Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Melo: No penalty for Smartmatic

By Marie A. Surbano

Original Story:

Yet another justification for not imposing penalties on the winning consortium of the poll automated machines, Smartmatic-TIM, for reneging on contract conditions by way of delivering the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines on time, as originally scheduled, has been resorted to the Commission on Elections (Comelec), through its Chairman Jose Melo.

Melo yesterday said that the penalty for the late delivery of all the 82,200 PCOS machines will only be imposed if the consortium fails to deliver all the machines before the February deadline.

The congressional joint panel some days back questioned the Comelec officials on the issue of late deliveries of the automated machines, which were pledged for delivery on specific dates, but which Smartmatic failed to deliver on its promises.

It was estimated that for every day of delay in delivery, it would cost Smartmatic some P7 million a day which the Comelec never enforced.

Deadlines for the machines’ deliveries have been pushed back too many times by Smartmatic, coming up with reasons for the delays — from typhoons hitting Taiwan, where the machines were supposed to have been manufactured -- to the transfer of the manufacture of machines in Shangahi, China, with claims that this new firm, being bigger than the Taiwanese firm, would be able to produce the PCOS at a faster rate, to the excuse that the automated machines could not be shipped on time, due to the heavy shipping load for Christmas and the holidays, as well as the higher freight costs, if these machines would be shipped and ready for the new deadline of next week.

While Melo stressed that penalies will be imposed on late delivery only when all 82,200 PCOS are in, the poll chairman failed to explain why there was need for partial deliveries with scheduled deliveries --- as stated in the contract, if no penalties are to be imposed on late deliveries unless all 82,200 machines are delivered on time.

“If Smartmatic does not deliver on its commitment for the entire contract, that’s the time when you penalize (Smartmatic). It’s not (a penalty for every late) delivery. Smartmatic knows it will be penalized if it fails to deliver,” Melo said.

It was also discovered during the joint congressional session that Comelec commissioners have been changing the delivery dates to favor Smartmatic.

Under the contract signed between the Comelec and the winning supplier, the consortium of Smartmatic Corp. and Total Information Management Corp. (TIM) they are to deliver and complete the 82,200 PCOS machines by Feb. 28, a scheduled date that may prove to be too late to get the teachers and voters trained, along with the delay of the completion of the source code.

In an earlier interview, Melo revealed that instead of the 42,200 PCOS machines to be delivered this month, the supplier will only be delivering 30,000 units, claimed to be due to heavy sea traffic caused by the holiday season.

The poll chairman also said in an earlier interview that 10,000 voting machines will be in by next week, or the end of the month.

Apparently, there has again been a change, as Melo now says the Comelec expects the delivery of only 7,200 voting machines by next week.

“By Dec. 27, there will be a delivery of 7,200 (machines). Expectedly this is due to the heavy shipping traffic and that the cargo is too much that one ship cannot take on all the cargo (of machines),” Melo explained.

Melo added that they also expect the delivery of 9,000 units by Jan. 3 and another 10,600 by Jan. 10.

But the Comelec chief said they expect that the more than 82,000 machines will be 100 percent manufactured within the first week of February.

“By the first week of February, the machines will be 100 percent manufactured. It will be in transit for our deadline of Feb. 28,” he said.

So far, the consortium has delivered 200 PCOS machines in the country and these are currently being used for public demonstration and trainings all over the country.

The Comelec awarded the P7.2 billion poll automation contract to Smartmatic and TIM middle of this year.

Meanwhile, the Comelec has issued a resolution calling both chambers of Congress to pass the bill that would pave the way for early voting in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

In a four-page resolution, the commission en banc reiterated that it would need legislation in order to conduct the 2010 national and local elections in the ARMM ahead of the May 10 schedule.

“The Commission resolves to urge both houses of Congress to immediately pass the Early Voting Bills provided that elections will be conducted not later than April 12, 2010 in the ARMM and only for one day,” the Comelec resolution stated.

The Commission argued that it is vital that early election be conducted in ARMM in order to avoid any “administrative problems.”

The Comelec has been pushing the early elections in the ARMM, citing the repeated irregularities happening every election season.

Yet during the ARMM elections, the Comelec claimed that no irregularities were noted and that the polls were clean and orderly.

The poll body’s resolve to hold an early balloting in ARMM has been further aggravated by the gruesome murder of 57 people last Nov. 23 in the province of Maguindanao where it is believed that cheating, vote shaving and vote padding are rampant.

The resolution also stressed that there are now three pending bills that seek to introduce early voting in ARMM.

These are Senate Bill 2972, authored by Sen. Richard Gordon; House Bills 5578 and 3437, sponsored Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and Rep. Pedro Romualdo.

“We agree with the goals and purposes of early voting in the foregoing bills embodied in the explanatory note. The goal of early voting is principally to increase participation and relieve congestion of polling precincts on election day,” the resolution further added.

In the resolution, the en banc is proposing that the voting in ARMM be held on April 12, 2010 as suggested by former Justice Undersecretary Macabangkit Lanto and his brother Benjamin in a petition filed last Dec. 10.

Melo had already said in a previous interview that they would want a legislation to be in place in order to avoid possible legal obstacles in holding early voting motu propio.

Republic Act 7166 states that elections should be synchronize “so that there shall be simultaneous regular elections for national and local officials once every three years.”.

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