Explain automation hitches, Comelec told

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE Commission on Elections and Smartmatic International-Total Information Management should explain the reported two “major hitches” which could derail the automated national and local elections in May 2010.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. sought an explanation following the reported sudden change in the foreign company subcontracted to manufacture the 82,500 electronic voting machines and the pullout of the Aboitiz-owned 2Go from its contract to provide logistics services in terms of delivering and maintaining the machines all over the country.

Pimentel has requested the joint congressional oversight committee to summon Comelec and Smartmatic TIM officials to a hearing to look into the status of the P7.2 billion poll automation project and the problems that are being encountered in its implementation.

He was alarmed by the report that Smartmatic-TIM dropped Taiwanese firm Jari-Tech as the original company that would manufacture the Precinct Count Optical Scan machines, after its plant was supposedly damaged by a recent typhoon. Jari-Tech was replaced by a Shanghai-based manufacturer whose identity has not yet been disclosed.

Noting the very tight schedule for manufacturing the voting machines, Pimentel said Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM “should immediately reveal how the switch from the Taiwanese to the Chinese manufacturer would set back the schedule for the delivery and installation of the voting machines.”

“According to reports, there was an admission from Smartmatic that this could affect the timetable for manufacturing and delivering the voting machines. However, it looks like they were not forthright and accurate enough in assessing fully the consequences of the problem on the nationwide automation of the 2010 elections,” he said.

“If this problem is so grave as to put the entire poll automation project in peril, they should not keep the information to themselves. It is important that the voting machines should be delivered within schedule because there should be sufficient time to test them and to train election personnel and volunteers who will operate them.”

Under its contract with Comelec, Smartmatic-TIM will deliver the PCOS machines to the poll body in four batches — 12,000 in November, 30,000 in December, 30,000 in January and 12,000 in February.

Unless a substitute company with proven capability for such enormous tasks is found, Pimentel warned that there are areas, specially those in the Visayas and Mindanao, where the voting machines will not be delivered on time.

“It is very unfortunate that these setbacks are happening while the May 10, 2010 elections are drawing near. It only adds to the apprehensions over the automation of the electoral process on a nationwide basis for the first time in our history. The Comelec should act fast and decisively in untangling the knots and clearing the glitzes. But before it could do so, it should first determine the full extent of the problems,” he said.