Tuesday, June 30, 2009

TIM pulls out from SMARTMATIC, endangers Philippines first automated elections in 2010

With Total Information Management Corp. (TIM) pulling out from the consortium built with Smartmatic, hope for the Philippines holding its first nationwide automated elections in 2010 has been dashed.

TIM is the Filipino partner of Smartmatic, fulfilling a requirement for foreign corporations setting up businesses in the Philippines.

TIM president Jose Mari Antuñez told him that TIM was pulling out of the partnership with Smartmatic, citing unspecified “irreconcilable differences.” A source privy to the Comelec’s automation efforts said that lack of funds and unpreparedness prompted TIM’s withdrawal.

Smartmatic cannot form a new joint venture with another company because it is against national procurement laws.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of compromising his role in the initiative, said that TIM needed an additional P300 million to meet its P700-million share as a partner.

The source noted that TIM could easily enter into a loan to obtain this amount “since the contract is already a sure shot, which makes us wonder what ‘irreconcilable differences’ mean.”

The Smartmatic-TIM group was awarded the contract after a month-long bidding process that saw seven election companies compete for the P11.3-billion project.

The group made a P7.2-billion bid and won the right to lease 82,200 counting machines that would allow the Comelec to complete the canvassing of votes in two days instead of weeks under the manual system.

Senator Richard Gordon, author of RA 9369 or the Amended Automated Election Law and leading advocate for modernized elections in the Philippines, said that the pull out of TIM from Smartmatic at such a crucial hour was suspicious.

"Is there somebody forcing partnership with Smartmatic or is this a deliberate attempt to torpedo the automation process so there will be cheating as usual?” asked Gordon, who has been vocal on his desire for poll automation to happen in next year’s polls.

He said that prior to TIM’s pullout, there was a public relations campaign to oppose the project.

He said that this latest development seemed to show that “some people are playing with the fate of democracy in our country.”

“There is a group in Comelec (Commission on Elections) that doesn’t want automation. It must be too powerful ... The government is too weak. It has no moral and legal stamina to do, implement what it should implement,” Gordon told reporters.

“I will be devastated if full automation will not push through. I might call a blue ribbon hearing on this matter,” he said, adding that the failure of the project would mean a violation of the law.

“There is a mandate that we have to go automation. There are many Pandora’s boxes that will be opened if it does not happen,” he said, speaking in English and Pilipino.

“It appears that there is no intention to push this through. Maybe they are following the administration threat that it would not happen.”

The thing that is on my mind right now is that the Philippines' last hope for clean and credible elections in 2010 may also be dead -- just like my father.

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