Liberia: ‘NEC Cannot Adjudge Approval of Its Own Evaluation Process’ – PPCC States in Biometric Bid Saga

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MONROVIA – The National Elections Commission (NEC) has agreed to rerun the evaluation of the bid for the supplies of biometric materials for the 2023 elections, but continues to raise some contentions with the Public Procurement Concession Commission over its mandate.

The re-evaluation and demonstration by the bidders was necessitated by the PPCC’s rejection of a request for no object submitted by the NEC in favor of KEMP International, a Chinese company, for the supply of the prescribed biometric materials.

In its request, the NEC stated that they had chosen EKEMP which has a joint venture with INITS Limited and Palm Insurance Inc. because it was the “most responsive bidder in the international competitive bidding for the IFB No. NEC/VRPLE/ICB/001/2002.”

According to the NEC, the companies chosen are a combination of three companies, which pulled their resources together to win the bid. One of the three combined entities—Palm Insurance—is a Liberian-owned insurance company.

The PPCC, however, observed that Palm Insurance obligations as per joint venture are completely absent of the expertise, knowledge and experience on the actual biometric services, but rather only to pre-finance. The NEC had requested bidders to be able to demonstrate the capacity to pre-finance.

The PPC further observed during its review of the financial statements of all parties combined in the joint venture showed that there is no financial prowess and adequacy to prefinance the project. The PPCC further pointed to the risk of unresponsiveness of a bidder to a mandatory requirement and to the fact of the bidder’s proposal.

Based on the PPPCC’s observation, the NEC is further contending it was only EKEMP and its partners’ financial standing that was singled out by the PPCC and whether that disqualifies them from the bid and if so, why should they be reinvited for re-evaluation and demonstration.

It can be recalled that EKEMP International, immediately after the evaluation process by the NEC, placed the logo of the NEC on its website as one of it clients. It, however, removed all ‘client’ logos from its website after this was reported by FrontPageAfrica.

Meanwhile, ESI, another company that made it to the final round of the evaluation accepted the payment terms for the bid as indicated in Section ITB 11.1 (h) point which reads: Payment Terms: 50% after the completion of the Voter Registration Exercise; 25% after the completion of Exhibition and 25% after the Elections Process. ESI also showed the capacity to prefinance.

The ESI successfully assisted The Gambia’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) with their BVR exercise in 2021 during challenging COVID-19 times. According to ESI’s website, they have been the IEC’s partner for over ten years having served them in 2011 and 2016 as well.

HID Global (HID), an American firm, was another suitor that made it through to the demonstration stage. HID’s tender bid price, FrontPageAfrica gathered was by far the highest of those submitted. While the other four companies bid between US$11-12 million, HID bid nearly US$13 million.

HDI also did not demonstrate the ability to issue voting cards immediately after registration as requested by the bid document. Rather, it sought to issue voter IDs centrally after the registration. This, therefore, brings into question their biometric voter registration history as they appear not to have the recent project experience required as stipulated in the NEC’s official tender document.

Research shows that EKEMP has always undertaken such biometric projects with other partners which leave many to believe that it cannot handle a project of this magnitude on its own. Interestingly, while still awaiting PPCC’s approval, EKEMP had NEC’s logo published on its website as one of its clients.

Observers familiar with the bidding process say, there are reasons to believe that the NEC has a vested interest in EKEMP International and may have favored them during the evaluation.

This observation also comes in support of the continued contentions that the NEC continues to raise with the PPCC’s recommendations after reviewing the request for no objection.

Other observations made by the PPCC include the lack of videos of the bidders’ demonstrations and the lack of hard and soft copies of their presentations.

The PPCC recommended that the videos and PowerPoint presentations are essential for future reference on a bidder’s obligations in case of a breach in the functionalities of the biometric system during the conduct of the Voter’s Registration.

The NEC at the same time lamented that the PPCC did not cite any provision from its Act that mandates that a bidder’s physical showing of its enrollment process must be video-recorded and that photos taken during such presentations cannot be honored.

The PPCC called on the NEC to realize that its (PPCC) role is to authenticate that the bidding process conducted is done in like with applicable procedures, fairly and transparently, and that bidders are treated equitably in terms of review and security of offers. 

“A procuring entity cannot adjudge approval of its own process. It is the mandate of the PPCC under the PPC Act to review the procurement process of procuring entities and where a procurement process is submitted for review and no-objection, is found to be non-compliant and materially deviant, a No-Objection cannot be issued,” the PPCC stated on September 20, 2022 communication to the NEC.

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