Liberia: NEC Responds to PPCC On Ekemp’s Capacity to Handle Biometric Voter Registration

Monrovia — Authorities at the National Elections Commission (NEC) have taken their time to carefully respond to qualms raised by the Public Procurement and Concession Committee (PPCC) as it relates to the selection of one of the six companies, including combined ones, to carry out the biometric process of the 2023 voters’ registration cards.

In the NEC’s 10-page letter sent to Att’y Jargbe Roseline Nagbe-Kowo on September 13, 2022, Chief Executive Officer, PPCC, Madam Davidetta Browne-Lansanah, Chairperson, NEC, said that they had chosen the Joint Venture of Ekemp International Limited, 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.” The companies chosen are a combination of three companies, which have poured their resources together to win the bid. One of the three combined entities–Palm Insurance–is a Liberian-owned insurance company. The other two, Ekemp is a Chinese-own and INITS is Nigerian based.

The PPCC, in its September 9, 2022 respond to NEC as it relates to the selection and request for “no objection” for the Joint Venture of Ekemp International Limited, INITS Limited, and Palm Insurance Inc., had raised three “observations.”

PPCC Observation 1: “That the recommended bidder Ekemp International Limited/INITS Limited/Palm Insurance Inc., Joint Venture Agreement states that Palm Insurance: 3(c) vii: shall provide all pre-financing as may be required for the procurement of materials and services for the effective implementation of the Project, and 2(c) vii: 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).”

NEC Response: “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, the NEC wishes to inform PPCC that it views the joint responsibilities of Ekemp International Limited/INITS Limited/Palm Insurance Inc., in its totality (including their commitment found on Page 2, Count 3 of the cover letter of its submission 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.”

PPCC Observation 2: “As per NEC’s Bid Evaluation Report, bidders were also evaluated and inspected on key demonstrations of required functionalities and criteria. The PPCC kindly requests videos of the indicated vendors’ demonstrations; and both hard and soft copies of PowerPoint presentations.”

NEC Response: “The NEC wishes to inform the PPCC that the presentation of vendors was done physically before the Bid Evaluation Panel of which there were only physical demonstrations, no video recording was done, and the Bid Evaluation Panel did not request any PowerPoint presentation be turned over to it. Photos were taken and during the presentation and said photos were submitted to the PPCC on September 2, 2022.”

PPCC Observation 3: “That the Joint Venture Ekemp International Limited/INITS Limited/Palm Insurance Inc. Agreement is not notarized.”

NEC Response: “The NEC wishes to inform the PPCC that the standard bidding document did not require bidders to notarize their joint venture agreement.”

In addition to the pre-finance capacity, expertise, knowledge and experience of Palm Insurance, a partner in the tripartite joint venture with Ekemp and INITS, PPCC again in the same September 9th, 2022 letter, touched on a June 30th 2022 email exchange between bidder Laxton Group Limited and staff of NEC, wherein Laxton sought clarity on the removal of tripod requirement from the required tablet with fingerprint scanner; and that because the NEC didn’t video-record the bidders’ physical presentation of their respective enrollment and de-duplication processes, the NEC must call the bidders to do a new round of their respective enrollment and de-duplication processes.

Also among other responses, the NEC requested the PPCC to reconsider. The elections body further told the procurement commission that it had provided explanation in its September 2nd, 2022 communication to the PPCC concerning the capability of the joint venture.

“Although the NEC’s response to PPCC Observation 1 requested the PPCC to review the recommended bidder’s submission in its entirety, PPCC’s follow-up communication, dated September 9, 2022, shows that PPCC didn’t review the bidder’s submission it entirety. Had that been done, the PPCC would have seen the page 6 of the audited financial statements of Ekemp shows Ekemp’s turnover from the past two years as follows: January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020: 55,552,785.13HKD [US$707,763.71]; January 1, 2021 to December 2021: 95,527,850.13HKD [US$12,170,555.71].”

The NEC further argues that if the audited financial statement is all that is required to determine a vendor’s capacity to pre-finance, then all would agree that Ekemp’s audited financial statements show that it is also financially capable of pre-financing. “Moreover, the joint commitment of Ekemp, INITS, and Palm to pre-finance (‘We confirm that we are capable and able to pre-finance the supply and delivery of biometric equipment, software and materials for the voter registration for the 2023 general elections,’) as found on page 2, Count 3, of the cover letter, should put to rest any concern as to whether the selected bidder demonstrated its capacity to pre-finance a contract of about US$12 million that will be performed in three stages with payment being made after successful completion of each stage,” it added.

According to the NEC, Ekemp develops, designs and manufactures biometric terminals and provides biometric registration and verification and intelligent identification solutions. “As per their joint agreement, upon the award of the contract, Ekemp shall be responsible for the following provision of goods and services, vis-à-vis, manufacture, test, delivery, installation and customization of Voter Registration Kits and materials for the 2023 Liberia General Elections; will assist in providing training to NEC staff; will provide a sample kit of biometric voter registration equipment, materials and software upon request by the NEC; and will execute the project as stipulated in the bid document and contract award.”

For INITS, the election body states that it specializes in innovative custom-made biometric software development and services and manages same. “INITS will be responsible for the technical support and technology, ensuring the completion of all technical-related services,” Chairperson Brown-Lansanah’s letter to Atty Nagbe-Kowo, said.

The NEC Chairperson after putting forth the entity’s reasons why the tripartite joint venture is best suited for the herculean task ahead, she concluded: “As a Commission that prides itself in conducting free, fair, and transparent elections, the NEC has worked with the confines of the law to be fair to all bidders. Fairness to all bidders, including the joint venture bidder evaluated as most responsive, requires the NEC and the PPCC to act on the actual facts of the procurement process, and review a bidder’s submission in its entirety. As shown in its joint submission and highlighted in this communication, the joint venture of Ekemp, INITS and Palm has demonstrated the capacity to pre-finance and has the requisite expertise, knowledge and experience to perform as required.”

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