The NEC Biometric Voter Registration Rigmarole: Who Were the Bidders and What Happened?

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MONROVIA – The National Elections Commission (NEC) is embroiled in a controversy surrounding the tender bid for the procurement of biometric materials for the 2023 elections with many suspecting that process was influenced to satisfy the interest of the Commission’s chairperson.

A FrontPageAfrica investigation discovered that six international companies submitted tender documents on or before the July 29, 2022 deadline. Five of these six companies were invited for the live demonstration which took place 10 days after the bid deadline. These companies include were Laxton Group, Ekemp International, HID Global, Waymark Infotech, and Electoral Services International.

At the end of the evaluation, the NEC requested a ‘no objection’ from the Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) to grant to Ekemp the authorization to begin the procurement and delivery of biometric materials for the 2023 elections. This request was declined by the PPCC.

The PPCC observed that Ekemp International Limited/INITS Limited/Palm Insurance Inc., Joint Venture Agreement states that Palm Insurance shall provide all pre-financing as may be required for the procurement of materials and services for the effective implementation of the Project, and provide all pre-financing in support of the bid process: However, Palm Insurance’s Financial Statement showcasing its financial position, on the contrary, reflects total equity and liabilities of US$2,899,027 at the end of 2021 (December 31st, 2021).

The NEC, however, argued that considering that some vendors, irrespective of the information contained in their financial statement, requested advance payment during the signing of the contract and do not pre-finance as a matter of policy. According to the NEC, it views the joint responsibilities of Ekemp International Limited/INITS Limited/Palm Insurance Inc., in its totality as stated in the joint venture cover letter as follows: ‘We confirm that we are capable and able to Pre-finance the supply and delivery of biometric equipment, software & materials for the voter registration for the 2023 general elections.” With this, the NEC found that the Joint Venture can pre-finance at its level of responsibilities. The three parties in the joint venture are direct service providers and/or original equipment manufacturers, which enables the partners to immediately begin the processes and deliver to the Commission with the timelines required. Moreover, the terms of the contracts, as PPCC is aware, will supersede and each member of the joint venture is held individually and severally responsible/liable.”

The PPCC also raised issue with the NEC’s failure to submit videos and PowerPoint presentations as evidence that the bidders were evaluated and inspected on key demonstrations on required functionalities. The NEC in its response stated that there were no video recordings of the demonstration, nor were the bidders required to do a PowerPoint presentation.

The joint venture document of EKEKP and its partners – INITS Limited, Palm Insurance Inc. was not notarized.

Experts tell FrontPageAfrica that in terms of the implementation and operation of a voter registration exercise of this magnitude, a joint venture is not the way to go.

A project such as this requires seamlessness – An all-in-one provider who can offer its experts, the software, and quality hardware to get the job done successfully. Any other partnership has to be with the Commission, not other corporate entities. In the instance where too many companies are operating under one umbrella, there is the tendency of one to fail to take responsibility for its action.

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.

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.

Waymark Infotech (Waymark) is another company that bid. They are a South African firm who are also part of a joint venture. FrontPageAfrica discovered that Waymark has no true recent Biometric Voter Registration experience. Waymark is listed on Corruption Watch in South Africa. About a decade ago, Guinea canceled a contract with them over dissatisfaction with their work.

A Canadian firm Electoral Services International (ESI), the only company that was not part of a joint venture furnished and agreed to all of the tender requirements as stipulated by the NEC. ESI

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.

Their official website reveals repeated BVR success over the last 10 years and more in Kenya, Gambia, Guinea and the South Pacific (Fiji, Solomon Islands).

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