NEC Provides Clarity on Biometric Project – Says “Final Decision on Preferred Bidder Soon”

MONROVIA – In the wake of an apparent stalemate over the biometric project for its use in the general elections next year, the Chairperson of the National Elections Commission(NEC)  Madam Davidetta Brown-Lassanah has given some clarifications on where the commission stands as regards the biometric project, stating that having received the last communication from the Public Procurement and Concession Commission(PPCC) mandating it to pick one of the vendors that bidded for the procurement contract, NEC will make its final determination very soon on the preferred bidder.

Addressing a major press conference since the end of the whole bidding exercise,  Madam Lassanah gave a chronological perspective of where the process started and has ended and what next to be done to get the actual biometric enrolment in place.

“The Evaluation Panel worked for about three weeks, during which time it considered bidders’ capacity to pre-finance, technical responsiveness, portability of their equipment, ability to print registration cards on the spot — at the registration centers, past performance, delivery time, cost and other requirements. The Evaluation Panel by a unanimous vote, voted the joint venture of EKEMP/INITS/Palm as the most responsive bidder and on August 26, 2022, submitted its report and recommendation to the Procurement Committee of the NEC, which comprises five members”, she said.

Chairperson Lassanah noted that after taking receipt of the Evaluation Panel’s report, the Procurement Committee of the NEC reviewed the standard bidding documents, the proposal of each bidder, and finding that the Panel’s report is supported by the record, the standard bidding documents and the Act, the Procurement Committee, by a unanimous vote endorsed the Evaluation Panel’s report and recommendation

The NEC boss said the original Report shows, among others, that only Electoral Services International (ESI), the joint venture of Professional Services Inc./HID Global, and the joint venture of EKEMP/INITS/Palm met the pre-finance requirement out of the total five vendors that bidded for the project.

“On review of the bidders’ respective delivery time, NEC’s earliest date was October 9th and the latest was October 16, 2022. Four of the five bidders were completely outside of NEC’s stated time. Laxton has the longest delivery time of +147 days from the signing of contract. The joint venture of EKEMP/INITS/Palm was partially within the stated time in that it provided a delivery date of September 20, 2022 for the delivery of the software; and a delivery date of November 15, 2022 for the hardware.

“Hence, on August 31, 2022, the NEC wrote the PPCC a bidder-specific letter, requesting a “letter of no objection” to award the contract to Ekemp/Inits/Palm as the most responsive bidder. 

“The NEC did not, and has not awarded any contract to the recommended bidder or to any other bidders in this matter. Moreover, the original report shows that only Ekemp/Inits/Palm and ESI made it to the final stage of the evaluation”, she said.

Madam Brown-Lassanah who addressed the media in company of most of his commissioners said after the joint venture of Ekemp/Inits/palms was selected as the preferred bidder, a series of written exchanges occurred between the PPCC and NEC and at the end of the day, PPCC requested a redo of the bidders’ presentations on ground that the previous demonstrations were not video-recorded.  She said aware that no provision of the Procurement Act requires presentations before Evaluation Panel to be video-recorded, the NEC asked the PPCC to cite the specific provision of the Act that states that such presentations must be video-recorded but the PPCC failed to cite any such provision, and rested on the general claim of ensuring fairness to all bidders, even though no bidder had filed any complaint. 

“Amidst the excitement of being a part of the re-demonstration, some did not request the PPCC to provide legal support for its position that the presentations must be video-recorded, or to ask why the PPCC knowingly provided an opportunity to certain bidders to cure their defects or perform otherwise.

“One of the organizations that questioned the PPCC’s direction is the Liberia Election Observation Network (LEON). Here is what LEON said in its observation:

“As stated herein earlier, the basis of this second tender presentation was because of the PPCC’s request that NEC furnishes it with additional documentation including video evidence of presentations supporting NEC’s award to Ekemp International. Whilst the PPCA at section 43(8) gives the PPCC the authority to inspect the records and documents maintained by procuring entities, the Act is unclear as to whether the PPCC on its own, and without a third-party’s complaint, can out rightly reject an Entity’s no objection request based on insufficient documentation, more specifically “video documentation.” LEON proposes that in future, and to avoid opening procuring entities such as NEC up to court processes by dissatisfied bidders, the PPCC and procuring entities sit on agreeable frameworks of documentation for competitive bidding processes prior to publication of tenders…”

She said the Biometric Voter Registration project is worth almost Twelve Million United States Dollars (US$12,000,000.00) and from the comparative audited income statements of each of the bidders show that only Ekemp/INITS/Palm and Laxton have implemented a project worth this amount over the last two years. However, Laxton failed to provide audited financial statements for the immediate past year (2021), which is a requirement in the standard bidding documents. Laxton only provided statements for the fiscal years 2020 and 2019 and did not provide audited financial statements. Moreover, Laxton expressed a condition regarding its ability to pre-finance.

Giving the financial information provided for each of the vendors to evaluate their financial capability to execute the contract if given the deal, the soft-speaking NEC boss said the Electoral Services International revenue for 2021 is US$3,888,285 and US$367,248 for 2020 while Waymark and Mwetana joint audited financial statements showed that the project it has completed over the last two fiscal years is US$4,210,003.25 for 2021 and US$2,352,663.49 for 2020. She further said both companies (ESI and Waymark/Mwetana) significantly fall short in terms of the implementation of the NEC Biometric project as reflected in their Revenue positions.

She said further that PSI/HID Global on the other hand did not submit audited financial statements regarding any partner to the said joint venture. 

She also used the medium to give some details of the physical presentation done by each of the vendors. She said Laxton failed to meet the technical specification to provide the required rugged tablet during the presentation, and instead brought a laptop.

“For the re-demonstration, Laxton used a laptop and tablet for the enrollment process, and printed two cards: one using the laptop, and the other using a tablet. The video shows that there was a delay in the printing of the card using the tablet”. 

“Moreover, as per the standard bidding document the earlier delivery date was October 9, 2022 and the latest was October 16 2022. Laxton’s proposal has a delivery time of +147 days as of the signing of the contract.

As for Waymark/Mwetana, she said during the first presentation, the company, using a staff of the NEC, failed to print cards on the spot and did not complete the enrollment and deduplication exercise as required. Waymark/Mwetana cured its defect during the re-demonstration and completed the enrollment and printed the card on the spot. However, the tablet used by Waymark during the re-demonstration was a Microsoft Surface Pro; it failed to use a rugged tablet as required in the standard bidding documents.

She said the Electoral Services International (ESI) printed using a software and card customized for the Gambia and the card does not have a QR Code.

On EKEMP/INITS/Palm which was the preferred bidder earlier recommended for a “no objection” approval, she said the JV printed cards outside the stipulated time set by the Bid Evaluation Panel but the bidder filed a written complaint with the Panel, stating that the Panel’s request that it use a projector when it was about to print caused the delay. She said the matter made it to the Honorable Supreme and the mandate and stipulation from the Court instructed the Bid Evaluation Panel to accept the cards and include the same in its report. The rugged tablet used has two fingerprint scanners.

As for PSI/HID Global, the NEC boss said it was unable to print on the spot for the second time during the re-demonstration and had indicated that the prospect of printing cards on the spot was not possible due to concerns with deduplication. She said the system designed by the vendor will require all the data to be collected and synchronized at a central location for effective deduplication before subsequent printing and issuance of cards and that the bidder demonstrated that voters will be issued receipts at the registration centers, and that cards will be printed and distributed at a later date.

“The PPCC’s request for a re-demonstration could not have been a rejection of the NEC’s August 31, 2022 for a letter of no objection. If this were so, the process would have ended at that time, as the PPCC cannot by its interim statements limit one bidder at the same time request additional information from all bidders in form of a re-demonstration exercise.

“You have also heard that the PPCC, after rejecting the NEC’s bidder-specific request for a letter of “no objection”, requested the NEC to “select a company” from the remaining bidders. Assuming but without agreeing that the PPCC had authority to “order” a procuring entity to make a selection after it has denied that entity’s bidder-specific request for no objection, a neutral and detached review of the bidders’ proposals, the original and supplementary reports will show that no bidder met all of the requirements stipulated in the standard bidding documents; and that only two bidders met the pre-finance standard set in the PPCC’s September 27, 2022”, she concluded. 

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