Liberia: PPCC Objects to NEC Biometric Vendor Contract

 PPCC Executive Director, Atty. Jargbe Roseline Nagbe Kowo and NEC Chairperson Davidetta Browne Lansanah  

—  Says NEC should return to status quo ante and reexamine the conditions upon which it selected EKEMP and partners

The National Elections Commission decision to grant EKEMP, a Chinese company, the right to supply and deliver biometric equipment, software, and materials for the 2023 voter registration exercise, has been rejected by the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC).

The PPCC’s action came after the electoral body had submitted a “no objection” request on August 30, seeking legal authorisation to grant EKEMP the right to begin the procurement of biometric equipment for the 2023 general elections.

However, the PPCC, while objecting to the request, excoriated the NEC for claiming that EKEMP and its joint venture partners met all of its bid requirements when the fact speaks contrary.  PPCC noted that from the review of the NEC’s request, it observed that none of the electoral body’s bid evaluation panel in its entirety watched the bid demonstrations exercise, as there is no proof showing a full report of the demonstration process.”

“The NEC should note that the photos submission cannot do justice to depicting the physical demonstrations, for they are still and static illustrations that cannot rightly capture the motions of the enrolment and deduplication process,” the PPCC Executive Director, Atty. Jargbe Roseline Nagbe Kowo, said in a  letter to the NEC on September 9.

“A very key role of the Commission under its prior review mandates is to authenticate that the bidding processes conducted are done in line with applicable procedures, fairly, transparently; and that bidders are treated equitably in terms of review and scrutiny,” Kowo said. 

The PPCC boss noted that her office’s request for video recording and power-point presentation of the bid demonstrations aims to ensure there is a fair review of submissions by attaining more information on the indicated demonstrations prior to approval.

She added that as per the NEC’s submission to PPCC, a determining factor under the bidding process was the demonstration of the biometric process including the enrolment and de-duplication processes.”

“The usability and functionality of biometric equipment and software were key factors for NEC’s evaluation, and also determining factors upon which some bidders were eliminated as per the [NEC]  biometric evaluation panel report.” 

“Apart from the still photos submitted by NEC’s evaluation panel, there is no indication that the NEC bid evaluation panel in its entirety was part of the viewing of the physical demonstrations or is there any proof showing a full report of the demonstration process.

But the NEC, in a response to the PPCC, noted that  all procedures as mentioned in the bid document were followed and executed accordingly -- and that the procurement panel evaluated all bidders unbiasedly and selected EKEMP as the most responsive bidder.

NEC contended that presentation of vendors was done physically before its bid evaluation panel, but there was no video taken and that the panel did not request any power-point presentations.

“As the PPCC is aware, the term ‘most responsive bidder’, on the basis of which the contract shall be awarded to the corresponding bidder, means the bidder with the best value for money considering technical specifications, delivery, etc., which are the benchmarks for the award of contract,” the NEC chairperson Davietta Brown Lansanah said in a letter to the PPCC on September 13.

The NEC boss noted that its standard bidding document did not require bidders to notarize their joint venture as requested by PPCC and that the document also did not require any vendor to do a video recorded demonstration before the procurement evaluation panel.

 “The Procurement Committee endorsed the Panel’s report and on August 30, 2022 submitted the same to PPCC, requesting a ‘no objection’ to award the contract to the joint venture of EKEPM, Palm Spring and INITS,” Lansanah added. 

“With this in mind, the Procurement Committee reviewed the panel’s report, which includes the cards printed on the spot by three bidders during their representations before the panel.  [The Committee ] reviewed the submission of each bidder, and found that the panel’s report had factual support and met the legal requirements.”

The PPCC objections came after the Daily Observer and other news media reported that EKEMP, according to NEC sources, failed during its presentation before the electoral body’s procurement team but was preferred over other bidders. 

The company, based in Shenzhen, China, failed among other things to prove that its biometric voter registration sample kits meet the qualification requirements as indicated in the bidding documents, sources said. 

The PPCC’s September 9 letter noted that the NEC should return to status quo ante and reexamine the conditions upon which it selected EKEMP and partners and make available a video recording displaying the demonstration done by the company and its partners, “so as to have proof of a satisfactory process marked by a merit-based system.”

It added that NEC’s analogy that the issue of a bidder being responsive to a stipulated mandatory criterion required is moot; given that the bidder’s unresponsiveness will then subsequently be addressed and cured through a contract enforcement without bearing in mind the facts of the bidder’s offer. 

“This perspective is flawed and is not in the spirit of fair and proper evaluation of bids prior to awarding a contract, as prescribed by PPCA Section 32,” said Kowo, the PPCC Executive Director.  “The approach is risky for any procurement process, much more a national electoral procurement,” she added. “If all bidders’ unresponsiveness to mandatory requirements in the bidding process are to be addressed during the signing of contracts, then there is no need for evaluation.”

Kowo noted that the NEC should note cogently that, as per the EKEMP/INITS/Palm Insurance Joint Venture Agreement, Palm Insurance obligations are absent of expertise, knowledge, and experience on the actual biometric services, but rather is only prefinance.

“The requirement, the NEC indicated: Capacity to pre-finance, is for the bidder to showcase in its proposal/offer proficiency and financial capability if such is declared,” she said. 

Meanwhile,  NEC has called on the PPCC to reconsider its decision and allow EKEMP and partners to proceed with supply and delivery of all materials and software to conduct the voter registration.

The electoral body chairperson noted that all bids were opened on July 29, in the presence of the bidders’ representatives and other observers and that information from bidders’ submission concerning financial responsiveness and capacity to pre-finance were read out loud and documented on the bid opening checklist.

“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 NEC; and will execute the project as stipulated in the bid document and contract award,” Lansanah said.

About the question of pre-financing, Lansanah noted EKEMP and partners, contrary to reports, have demonstrated the capacity to pre-finance.

She said looking beyond the audited financial statements, the company International Limited, based in China, develops, designs, and manufactures biometric terminals, and provides biometric registration and verification, and intelligent identification solutions.

Lansanah also argued that EKEMP has the capacity to provide all other security features that will be necessary to secure the process and ensure it is free from irregularities.