MONROVIA – After looming controversies surrounding the selection of the preferred bidder of the biometric voters registration project for the 2023 general elections, the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC) has finally rejected the request for “no objection” from the National Elections Commission (NEC) previous made in favor of EKEMP.
EKEMP is the first bidder selected by the NEC but the PPCC is now ordering the electoral body to immediately pick one of the other companies that took part in the bidding process and select a company that would be “most suitable for the supply of Biometric Voter Registration Equipment, Software and Materials for the 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections and Subsequently exercise procedures under PPCA Section 31 as required”.
The decision, which was communicated to NEC in a letter dated October 21, 2022 and was in response from PPCC after it received the supplementary report from the re-run of the bidding exercise during which the bidders were requested to perform data entry for a potential registrant, print PVC on the spot, conduct de-duplication and display activities on the screen for panel members and observers to view and that the viewings of the video recordings submitted by the NEC and then a USB drive presented to NEC.
In the supplementary report, NEC reaffirmed amongst other things its initial recommendation that EKEMP should be rendered a “no objection” approval as the preferred bidder among the other 4 vendors that did not make the cut according to the Bidding Panel from NEC.
PPCC, besides mandating NEC to pick the other company, seems to have mandated NEC on strict compliance of the decision because PPCC “deems it a priority that you remain with thé PPCA, 2010, as we jointly aspire to achieve Transparency, Accountability, Value primarily in compliance for Money and ultimately public confidence in Liberia’s public procurement and concessions processes”.
Laying the foundation of its decision, PPCC made some observations after it reviewed the report from NEC on the vendors that included EKEMP/Palm Insurance/INITS as joint bidder, Electoral Services International, Waymark/Mwetana, Laxton Group, and Professional Services/HID Global.
The vendors showed up for the Re-demonstration and Re-evaluation, and as per the NAC’s Evaluation Report, a couple of features were required by the NEC of each vendor to execute during the process. These included to perform data entry for a potential registrant, print PVC on the spot, conduct de-duplication and display activities on the screen for panel members and observers to view together with the viewings of the video recordings submitted by the NEC and NCC’s own Re-evaluation report.
These, according to the PPCC, showed malfunctioning of EKEMP’s equipment that used for printing a key performance instrument (the PVC Card), that it did not print the PVC card on spot as required and did not print within the time NEC allotted.
Other observations were that the NEC accepted the EKEMP’s late printed PVC card to form part of the Evaluation, Regulating and Monitoring Compliance with the Public Procurement and Concession Act of Liberia, that the analysis made by NEC on its recommended bidder’s EKEMP financial capabilities does not support EKEMP’s capacity to Pre-finance as declared and that the NEC’s evaluation report stated analysis of the bidders re-demonstrations and submissions.
The integrity institution followed up its observations with three findings to inform its final decision on the entire procurement process, namely, that the inability for the NEC’s recommended bidder EKEMP/Palm Insurance/INITS(J.V) to print the PVC card on spot as required by the NEC, and within time, showed uncertainty on the usage of its Equipment and raises doubts on the effective workability as required for the issuance of a printed PVC card to a registrant during the Voter Registration period.
Secondly, it stated that a material failure in the functionality of a Bidder’s (EKEMP) Biometric Equipment that is required to print a registrant PVC card on spot, must be taken into serious consideration by the NEC, the State’s Elections Management Body for such could be a Potential High Risk for the upcoming First Biometric Voter Registration Exercise for Liberia that is covering the country in its entirety.
The third point of PPCC was that the NEC’s ignoring the malfunctioning and failure in a biometric equipment functionality to readily print the PVC card on spot as required is a major anomaly, and as such the NEC should not have deemed EKEMP as the most responsive company for the contract package
PPCC said upon overall review of NEC’s submission, clarifications, accompanying documents, observations and findings, it arrived at the final decision “that the PPCC CANNOT render ‘no objection’ for the NEC to award contract to EKEMP/Palm Insurance/INITS(JV)” and that the NEC should immediately pick among the other companies and a company that would be most suitable for the supply of Biometric Voter Registration Equipment, Software and Materials for the 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections and subsequently exercise procedures under PPCA Section 31 as required.
Perhaps not wishing to give NEC any chance to raise any other issue but to strictly accept the decision as final on the selection of the preferred bidder, PPCC punctuated its communication stating: “The Public Procurement and Concessions Commission admonishes and deems it a priority that you remain with the PPCA, 2010, as we jointly aspire to achieve Transparency, Accountability, value primarily in compliance for money and ultimately public confidence in Liberia’s public procurement and concessions processes.”
There has not been any response from NEC but in an interview granted to The Analyst last week, Madam Davidetta Brown-Lassanah said NEC had completed all the assignments as per the rerun requested by the PPCC and the decision thereafter will determine the next stage of action moving forward. It is not clear whether it is going to pick a second company whose name was forwarded along with EKEMP in the supplementary report to PPCC.
The decision of PPCC however did not go down well with some of the observers that witnessed the exercise. They have been voicing out their disappointment which according to them even undermined the very transparency and accountability it was said to be adhering to.
According to one of them, the PPCC failed to honor the order of the Supreme Court of Liberia as a response after EKEMP had filed a prohibition against the NEC evaluation panel for the unwarranted interruption and that the NEC evaluation panel admitted to the unwarranted interruption, but that it was done in good faith. EKEMP completed the printing process outside of the allotted time, but as per the court action filed by EKEMP, the cards were accepted to form part of the report.
“That Petitioner’s complete enrolment process and printing of cards during the said redemonstration shall be accepted by Respondents and form part of the Bid Evaluation Panel’s evaluation”, the apex court had ordered in its opinion to the parties during a conference with lawyers representing NEC and EKEMP.
The observers noted that for the PPCC to include in its findings as part of the justification for denying the Joint Venture of EKEMP/INITS/PALM for not printing a PVC card on the spot, within the time frame, is an affront to the Supreme Court.
The observers further said that during the re-demonstration/re-presentation, even though EKEMP and Partners completed the enrollment process and printed a card outside the stipulated time set by the Bid Evaluation Panel as a result of unwarranted interruption by a member of the panel, EKEMP’s presentation according to observers shows that the Joint Venture understands the Liberian Electoral environment as compared to other bidders.
The observers also observed that not only the Software that is customized to NEC needs but also the equipment (tablet) is also designed to satisfy the full requirement in the bid document (a tablet with two fingerprint scanners).
The Liberia Election Observation Network (LEON), one of the institutions invited to the rerun bidding, noted that the basis of the 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 but could not understand how PPCC came in the picture to almost be the institution with the last verdict.
The group indicated that 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 the 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 especially those of the international competitive kind considering the sums and technical expertise involved,” the group noted in its observation which was seen by this paper.
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