Exposed: Questionable procurement dealings at EC to jeopardise new voter registration exercise

Mrs Jean Mensa, EC chairperson

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 adomonline.com 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 compliance criteria that were
found to be largely false according to documents available to us 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 adomonline.com 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 | [email protected] | Adomonline.com

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