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Even before Ghana’s Jean Mensah-led Electoral Commission could resolve its impasse with political parties opposed to its attempt to compile a new voters register, the electoral body may find itself in legal tussles over some possible procurement infractions.

These infractions, if allowed to go unchecked, may put the EC’s proposed new voter registration exercise which is scheduled for April in jeopardy.

Information available to suggests a number of questionable actions on the part of EC officials regarding the procurement processes for the country’s Biometric Voter Management System.

The documents suggest that the EC, since it invited bids for the Expression of Interest (EoI) in April last year, has been shifting the procurement goal post to favour a particular vendor.

This injustice, as the other bidders, civil society organisations and public interest groups interested in the process perceive it, may lead to legal challenges  that could inordinately delay the plan to compile a new voters register and, for that matter, Ghana’s election 2020 may be in jeopardy.

Initial Skirmishes

On April 16, 2019, the EC sent out notice for the EoI to companies to bid for the provision of Biometric Voter Registration and Verification Systems, leading to the shortlisting of vendors in June 14, 2019.

About four months later, specifically on July 22, 2019, the EC wrote to cancel the process.

Subsequently, the EC started a process based on the recommendation of its experts that separated the biometric voter and verification hardware from the voter management system software.

This was in spite of the fact that industry best practices suggest this may lead topotential challenges for integration and will take time, a resource that the EC has little of.

Other concerns raised by industry experts suggest such a move may create major support challenges particularly during election periods as to which vendor would be required to respond to device problems if there was any.

After the EoI documents were submitted, the EC lowered its Annual Revenue requirement from US$ 90 million to US$ 50 million even though at the first pre-qualification tender stage, the average revenue requirement was pegged at US$ 150 million.

The sudden change was made after the submission date and a new submission date was provided, allowing new bidders to submit EoI, a conduct that flies in the face of procurement best practices.

Attempts to eliminate by rough tactics

Our checks reveal that after the submission of tenders on November 22, 2019 and the subsequent evaluation of the submitted bids, five companies were shortlisted out of which four further qualified to the pre-demonstration stage, a process that was held in December 2019.

Strangely some bidders with significant experience did not make the shortlist whilst others with little or no experience made the cut, using non-compliance criteria that were found to be largely false according to documents available to us to try to exclude some bidders.

A call for Justification

That said, the EC wrote on December 24, 2019 requesting the Evaluation Committee panel members to come and write justifications for their scores on 25th of December 2019 which was a statutory public holiday.

The members were also requested to appear physically to present their justified scores on December 26, another statutory public holiday.

Some panel members were unavailable and the EC went ahead to review their scores in their absence, irking the chairman of the Evaluation Committee to refuse to append his signature to the report.

The EC after this point proceeded to open the Financials of the shortlisted tenders.

Decision to re-evaluate the bids after Technical and Financial bids had been opened.

The EC, after the opening and evaluation of the financial bids then decided to cancel the whole process and reconstitute a new Evaluation Panel, saying in its letter written on January 10, 2020 that “the Entity Tender Committee found the Technical Committee report unacceptable due to the lopsided scoring and the wide disparities in the marks awarded to the vendors.”

The EC then went ahead to form a new panel.

Industry players who have spoken to us on the matter say it is highly irregular to re-evaluate tenders after both Technical and Financial bids have been opened.

This is because after that point objectivity is lost and the integrity of the procurement process compromised.

To make matters worse, at least one member of the first evaluating panel was retained on the new one. This meant information from the old panel was available to the new one.

Already, there are indications that some of the disqualified bidders may be proceeding to court to seek redress.

EC’s Response

When contacted the Chairperson of the EC, Jean Mensa, she described the allegations as false, promising to meet our team for a full briefing on the processes and the reasons behind the EC’s decisions.

Attempts to also speak to some members of the EC’s Entity Tender Committee (ETC) was unsuccessful as one of its members, Dominic Ayine, Member of Parliament for Bolgatanga East, told us: I talked to the other members of the ETC and the consensus was that it wasn’t a good idea to grant the interview.

Messages to Dr Bernard Okoye Boye who is a Member of Parliament for Ledzokuku and a member of the EC’s ETC did not also receive any response.

An expert’s view

Head of Department for Supply Chain Management at the Accra Technical University, Paa Kofi Anyanful, giving his views of the matter said while the decision by the EC Chairperson to dissolve the Evaluation Committee may be lawful, the reasons provided are “vague”.

He explained that even before the Evaluation Committee did its work by awarding the bidders marks, there was the need for setting the criteria and parameters for awarding such marks in such a way that will not be ambiguous.

There should be a pre-determined checklist of scoring; the scoring method must be stated and made clear before the evaluation takes place. …once that is agreed, then every single tender is evaluated against the procedure, he explained.

Mr Anyanful explained further that once the report of the evaluation committee is ready, the ETC can only set it aside when they find same to be inconsistent with the predetermined criteria and should they decide to do so, they must keep everybody including the bidders in the loop.

Fairness, transparency and good faith are the hallmarks of the procurement process, he added.

Story by: Joshua Tigo | |