By Othello B. Garblah
The National Elections Commission (NEC) has turned to Laxton Group, one of the participants in its recent controversial bid selection process for the supply and delivery of biometric voter registration equipment and software ahead of the 2023 general elections.
NEC on Monday, November 21 officially wrote the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) requesting a “No Objection” for its intent to award the contract to Laxton.
In its letter to the PPCC, NEC explained that its selection of Laxton was based on the former’s recommendation that it select amongst the remaining bidders, a company most suitable to provide the biometric voter registration equipment and software.
The election house said Laxton emerged as that suitable company following an evaluation by its Bid Panel on November 15.
“With the procurement Committee having endorsed the Panel’s report and recommendation, the National Elections Commission thereby requests “No objection” for its intent to award contract to Laxton Group for the supply and delivery of Biometric Voter Registration Equipment and Software,” excerpts of NEC’s letter read.
NEC’s request for a “No Objection” letter is accompanied by an inter-office memo to the Bid Evaluation Panel dated November 14, 2022; the Bid Panel’s November 15 report; minutes of Procurement Committee meetings approving the evaluation report and a draft contract worth US11, 956,834.32 (Eleven Million, nine hundred and fifty-six thousand, eight hundred and thirty-four, thirty-two cent).
If approved by the PPCC, this could end the long-running back-and-forth controversy over the bid selection process at NEC to kick-start the country’s voter registration exercise ahead of 2023.
The bid selection process has been marred by controversy between NEC and the Public PPCC over the former recommendation of Ekemp/Palm Insurance/ INITS joint venture.
The PPCC on October 21, rejected NEC’s request for a “no objection” to award Ekemp’s joint venture contract for the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) process after its earlier rejection of the same request.
It could be recalled that on September 9, 2022, PPCC wrote NEC demanding the latter to reinvite bidders to do a re-demonstration of the biometric enrolment and deduplication process and that such exercise be video recorded.
NEC on October 19, 2022, wrote PPCC for the second time seeking approval to award the joint venture of Ekemp/Palm Insurance/ INITS contract for the supply and delivery of BVR equipment, software and materials for the 2023 presidential and legislative elections.
But PPCC wrote back on Friday, October 21 saying that it could not render “no objection” to NEC’s request urging the election house to revert to the remaining bidders and select a company that would be most suitable.
“That the PPCC cannot render “no objection” for NEC to award contract to Ekemp/Palm Insurance /INITS (JV),” PPCC noted in its letter dated October 21, 2022.
“That the NEC should immediately revert to expeditiously review the remaining companies 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 PPCC added.
Cause for second rejection
PPCC noted that per the NEC re-evaluation report, vendors were required during the re-demonstration process to perform data entry for a potential registrant, print PVC Cards on the spot, conduct reduplication and display activities on the screen for panel members and observers to view.
However, PPCC explained that during reviews of the video recording submitted by NEC and NEC’s own re-evaluation report showed malfunctioning of Ekemp’s equipment that is used for printing a key performance instrument (the PVC card). Ekemp did not print the PVC card on the spot as was required and did not print within the NEC time allotted. PPCC also noted that NEC accepted Ekemp’s late printing to form part of the evaluation.
PPC also frowned on the recommendation made on Ekemp’s financial capabilities, saying it does not support Ekemp’s capacity to prefinance as declared.
Therefore, PPCC insists that the inability Ekemp joint venture group to print the PVC card on spot as required by NEC and within time showed uncertainty on the usage of its equipment and raises doubts on the effective workability for the issuance of a printed PVC card to a registrant during the voter registration period.
The procurement house continued that a material failure in the functionality of a bidder’s Biometric Equipment that is required to print a registrant on spot must be taken into serious consideration by NEC for such could be a potential high risk for the upcoming first BVR for Liberia.
PPCC further that NEC should not have even considered Ekemp as the most responsive bidder due to its failure to print the PVC card on spot.
Ekemp’s failure explained
The Ekemp joint venture on October 7, wrote NEC explaining the cause for the delay in demonstrating the printing of its PVC card on spot, saying it was in the process of printing when one of the panelists ask that the printing should be projected on the screen for all to see.
Ekemp argued the process of migrating the demonstration caused the delay in printing. While NEC bid panelists were in the process of reviewing Ekemp’s complaint of being the only bidder to have been subjected to such treatment, Ekemp to the matter before the Supreme Court.
EKEMP had filed a prohibition against the NEC evaluation panel for the unwarranted interruption. Something which sources say the NEC evaluation panel admitted to but that it was done in good faith.
They further noted that 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.
The Supreme Court in a conference ruling noted that the fact that Ekemp did complete the enrolment process and printing of cards during the said re-demonstration, its performance be accepted by NEC and form part of the Bid Evaluation Panel’s evaluation.
However, the PPCC rejection failed to mention the Supreme Court’s intervention. This paper gathered that the committee 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).