Poll automation back on road after players reconcile

PHILIPPINES NEWS SERVICE — THE full automation of the 2010 national elections will push through, the Commission on Elections said yesterday after Smartmatic and its Filipino partner Total Information Management Corp. patched up their differences in a nearly four-hour closed door meeting in the office of Comelec chairman Jose Melo.

Melo was smiling when he emerged from his office and announced that the winning bidders in the automation project have settled their dispute and would proceed with computerizing the polls in 2010.

The Comelec chief told reporters Smartmatic and TIM, partners in the consortium that won the poll automation bidding, had ironed out their differences over the disbursement of payment and are ready to sign the P11.4 billion project contract next week.

The reconciliation meeting started at about 12:20 p.m. and was suspended for late lunch break at 2:00 p.m.

The parties involved went back to the negotiation table at exactly 3:00 p.m. The meeting lasted up to 4:46 p.m.

Earlier this week the country’s bid for automated elections stalled after Smartmatic and TIM feuded over who would control the consortium funds.

The squabbling partners were warned they faced legal action if they abandon the project. Melo suggested the commission might take over as Smartmatic’s partner to salvage the undertaking but critics warned him the idea could bring legal problems.

”It’s (takeover) a little complicated from the legal point of view. Mas maigi na magkasundo na sila at tuluy-tuloy na [It may not be needed after all. It would be better for Smartmatic and TIM to reconcile and move on to automate the 2010 elections],” Melo said.

Despite the positive development, Melo maintained the government will not immediately release the P11.3 billion to the contractors.

”Kailangan mag-deliver muna sila [They have to deliver first],” he said.