Public Eyebrows Pop-Up As 2nd Biometric Bid Held -First Bid Winner EKEMP Flags Misgivings

MONROVIA – Attempts by the National Elections Commission (NEC) to introduce biometric Technology for voters towards the crucial president and legislative elections of 2023 came under enormous brouhaha over the bidding process intended to hire a competent contractor to produce the vital material. There were war of words between the NEC and the national procurement ombudsman, the PPCC, triggering the involvement of the National Legislature and other state and non-state actors. This discontent led to the thrashing of the first bidding process, prompting a second one perhaps to shed more light of transparency into the critical activity. But it seems the group which won the first bid, EKEMP, is not happy with the manner and form that second process was conducted. The Analyst reports.

It seems controversies surrounding the production of the Biometric Technology for next year’s general election are not fading away despite efforts by national and international stakeholders to perfect the process.

When confusion broke in the public space over the conduct of the first bid, the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) sought for a fresh start, meaning to conduct a new one, asking the National Elections Commission (NEC) to do so.

Last week, the second process commenced with all five of the previous bidders doing their presentations which were witnessed by an impressive audience drawn from some civil societies with thematic concentration in elections-related matters in the country.

As the public eagerly awaits announcement of the eventual winner, some concerns are being raised by the first preferred bidder, EKEMP, which argues that it was “disrupted” during its presentation.

The second bidding process was necessitated after the PPCC rejected a request from the National Elections Commission (NEC) to issue “a No Objection” permit in favor of a tripartite joint venture by EKEMP, INITS and Palm Insurance, which according to NEC was the preferred bidder. 

The NEC at the time justified its position as something derived from the presentation made by EKEMP.

According to NEC, besides EKEMP being the direct manufacturer of its own technology, it also offered the best payment method; she accepted to be paid at the end of every phase of the exercise, while the others were requesting some upfront payment upon signing of contract once they were successful in the bidding process.

After a series of exchanges of communications between the two integrity institutions, NEC accepted the request by PPCC to have a rerun of the entire process at a shortest possible time, factoring into account the urgency of completing the exercise against the set timeline by NEC for the commencement and completion of the Biometric Voters Registration.

In a letter dated September 26, 2022, NEC wrote to the five bidders and set the new dates for October 6 and 7, 2022 respectively for all parties to turn out and participate in the exercise.

“The Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) has requested that bidders be re-invited to appear before the Bid Evaluation Panel of NEC for a video-recorded re-demonstration of the physical presentation regarding bid NIFBNoNEC/VRPLE/1CB/001/2022,” the NEC announced.

It added that each bidder was requested to start with a power point presentation regarding the equipment and software to be used by an actual demonstration of its data entry, printing and de-duplication process using a person/persons designated by the panel.

On Thursday, October 6, 2022, the exercise got underway with 3 of the 5 bidders turning up and making their presentations under the conditions specified according to the bid document and the reinforcement from PPCC for the exercise to be conducted with video recording which was not part of the first exercise.

Professional Services/HID, Election Services International (ESI) and Laxton Group turned out on Thursday while on the second day, Friday, October 7, 2022, EKEMP, the first preferred bidder and Waymark Infotech/Mwenta appeared to close the exercise.

Observers who participated in the two-day event including our reporter took keen interest in what could be an apparent reinforcement of the presentations from some of the bidders to cover up or cure what was not done during their first presentations as was seen from the responses offered by them in answering questions raised by some of the panelists after they observed that some of the presenters were either undoing or doing things that did not occur during their previous presentation.

One of the bidders who was seen using a new smart camera that was not part of their previous equipment, when asked why he did so, replied that during their first presentation, they came up with a poor quality in the photo for the voters’ ID card produced from a designated person which he claimed was as a result the lighting facilities in the hall.

One observer, who spoke to The Analyst newspaper under the condition of anonymity, said he hoped that the bidding panel flagged out all the new changes being adopted by some of the bidders to improve their chances of winning because the changes may affect the outcome of the exercise.

“What I am seeing here is some guys are playing smart,” he said. “The full requirement for the bidding was communicated to all the parties and they brought what they had during the first bidding process. Inventories of their equipment and technology remained as records of technology or equipment brought in according to the requirement of the bidding process. Now, some of them went back and upon their return must have borrowed some of their equipment they brought with the hope of winning the bid. That is being dishonest, and we could run the risk of a wrong bidder being selected using borrowed or outsourced technology that may affect the proper biometric registration and enrolment exercise when it gets underway later on this year.”

Meanwhile a leaked copy of a communication from EKEMP, which is the first preferred bidder, addressed to the bidding panel and copied to PPCC, and is in possession of The Analyst, raised serious concerns about the “disruption” of its presentation and requested that some considerations be given to them to support their presentation.

“At about a quarter of the time left allotted to us, while we were demonstrating the enrollment process on the tablet, the evaluation panel interrupted us and requested that we connect the tablet to the projector so that more people would be able to see what was being displayed,” laments the EKEMP in the communication.

It added: “To fulfill the panel’s request, we had to quickly change some configurations on the tablet. As this became time consuming, we returned to the software demonstration and printing of the card but noticed that the configuration to project the tablet on the wider screen had affected both the wire and wireless printing functions of the tablet.

“As a result of this, we could not complete the demonstration process in the allotted time. Notwithstanding, we were able to successfully print the card in the presence of some of the evaluation panelists and observers when we finally had time to resolve this configuration matter. The evaluation panel received the printed card.”

The EKEMP communication, signed by EKEMP Managing Director Yan Liu, continued: “We now know that no other participant during this entire re-demonstration exercise was asked or required to project the equipment on the wider screen, not to mention the seemingly abrupt interruptions by the evaluation panel for something that was not a requirement for this exercise.”

The company therefore requesting that the evaluation panel should make either of the two considerations: that “you consider our enrollment process during the demonstration of August 9th, 2022 or that we be given time to re-appear to complete the full enrollment process”.

It thus appears that EKEMP has gone through stringent scrutiny during the whole exercise as was seen in the first edition where PPCC commented on all the reports from the evaluation panel without doing similar due diligence on the rest of the four bidders, yet came up with the decision to reject the “no objection” request in their favor.

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