Liberia: EKEMP Int’l, NEC’s Preferred Supplier, ‘Fails’ During Re-Demonstration

Monrovia — A redux of demonstration during the bid evaluation for the contract to supply biometric materials for 2023 elections has shown the National Elections Commission’s earlier preferment for the contract incapable of meeting up with the requirements stated in the tender.

The National Elections Commission had earlier sought from the Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) a ‘no objection’ for Ekemp International, a Chinese company partnering with a Nigerian firm, to provide all biometric materials and conduct the biometric registration for the 2023 biometric voter roll.

The NEC had informed the PPCC that it chose Ekemp International because it was the “most responsive bidder in the international competitive bidding for the IFB No. NEC/VRPLE/ICB/001/2002.”

The PPCC, however, being dissatisfied with the fairness and transparency of the evaluation, raised some concerns and recommended that the evaluation is redone within certain guidelines, including a PowerPoint presentation regarding the equipment and software to be used, followed by an actual demonstration of its data entry, printing, and de-duplication process- using a person/persons designated by the panel.

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.

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.

The biometric voter registration materials contract in question is worth nearly US$12 million. Six companies — Waymark and Mwetana, HID Global and PSI, Electoral Services International, Network Solutions, Laxton, and Ekemp applied and participated in the evaluation process conducted by the evaluation panel, but EKEMP was considered the most responsive, something that brought about concerns from sources following the procedure.

Preferred Ekemp Failed

The NEC had three objectives to achieve during the demonstration: the bidder must be able to detect multiple registrations immediately on the spot; the bidder must be able to issue a voter card on the spot; and the bidder must be able to demonstrate and effectively use everything that they specified in their tender document. Some of the companies had difficulties performing tasks that were important to NEC.

At the demonstration, Ekemp International, earlier preferred by the NEC for the contract could not print a card on the spot as required by the NEC, leaving many disappointed and raising eyebrows on the NEC over the first evaluation process.

Ekemp Complains

However, the Joint Venture of EKEMP/INITS/Palm Insurance complained to the Bid Evaluation Panel of the National Elections Commission (NEC) and the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) that they were treated unfairly during the re-demonstration exercise.

EKEMP and partners, in an official complaint, said about a quarter of the time left allotted to them while demonstrating the enrollment process on the tablet, specifically at the point of printing the card, the evaluation panel interrupted and requested that the Joint Venture connect the tablet to the projector for the observers at the re-demonstration to see what was being displayed which took up some of the time allotted them, thereby, making it impossible for them to print out the ID card within the stipulated time.

Background

In recent months, NEC has come under pressure to dash its optical manual registration (OMR) system. The OMR system, for many, does not improve the accountability and transparency of electoral processes and is usually tainted by controversy and mistrust.

“Over the period of one year now, the effort has been made to transition from the OMR registration to the biometric technology for the registration of voters. Biometric systems have advantages, and we would ensure they are properly utilized for the best interest of all eligible voters and the country in general,” said NEC chairperson Davidetta Browne Lansanah.

The electoral body was forced to reevaluate the bidders after the Public Procurement Concessions Commission (PPCC) urging NEC to return to status quo ante and redo the bill evaluation for the procurement of the new system.

In its September 20 response to NEC’s request for reconsideration to allow EKEMP and partners to proceed with the contract, the PPCC said there is no other way but for NEC to adhere to its (PPCC) recommendations in order to ensure the process meets the required criteria as set forth in the bid document prepared by the Commission (NEC).

“The Commission, upon overall review and scrutiny of the NEC’s justifications for reconsideration, states that the NEC’s justifications tendered cannot suffice, given that they do not address the anomalies PPCC indicated, as per the September 9, 2022 communication that established the need to re-evaluate; also considering re-demonstration of the performance and functionalities of the biometric system,” PPCC executive director, Jargbe Roseline Nagbe-Kowo, wrote to Davidetta Brown Lansanah, chairperson of NEC.

The PPCC executive director added that “NEC should note keenly that PPCC’s role, under its prior review obligations and mandates as prescribed by law, is to authenticate [that] the bidding processes conducted are in line with applicable procedures, fairly and transparently, and that bidders are treated equitably in terms of review and scrutiny of offers.”

The PPCC has been insistent that NEC follow the guidelines fairly and transparently.

NEC has accused the PPCC of failing to respond to concerns it (PPCC) has raised that should be addressed. NEC thinks this might create hurdles in the future if not responded to now.

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