Buying P1 billion worth of UV lamps for the May 10 automated elections

[UPDATE 1: According to a more recent report, the Comelec is appropriating P30 million, not P1 billion, for 77,000 UV lamps. That price (P389 per lamp) sounds more reasonable. Now the UV lamp is only as expensive as one Ballot Secrecy Folder, which Sen Pimentel says, may cost the Comelec P385 per,]

[UPDATE 2: According to the same report above, the Comelec has abandoned its "wrong ink" theory to explain why the PCOS machine is unable to scan the UV marks on the ballot. Could it be the PCOS itself that is the problem then?]

It has been reported (see for yourself here, down towards the end of the long report) that the Comelec has appropriated P1 billion to buy the ultra-violet (UV) lamps that will be used by election officials in every precinct to manually check if a ballot is authentic or not.

I can only gape in disbelief. This is what Jun Lozada calls “bumubukol” (roughly translated: excessively bloated)

On one hand, the counting machines themselves (one per precinct) cost P4 billion. These are complex high-tech equipment with all kinds of electronic sensors, motors, devices, chips, and software inside.

On the other hand, think of a table lamp (or flashlight), and replace the bulb with one that gives off ultra-violet light (like those they use in some parties). That’s a UV lamp. They also want one per precinct. (See some examples below.) The Comelec is going to spend P1 billion for that? Some businessmen are going to make a lot of money. And some bureaucrats are going to get a lot of commissions.

I will say it again, election fraud is usually an inside job.

This one involves not votes but equipment. But you can smell the stink of overpricing a mile away.

Let us review the whole story:

Comelec and Smartmatic knew since January that their PCOS machines were rejecting too many valid ballots. We all read the media reports during their field tests and mock elections. Some of us have participated in a few demos. The machines do reject too many valid ballots.

Halalang Marangal (HALAL) wrote the Comelec on Feb. 9 that we wanted to know if the Comelec thoroughly tests the machines before accepting (and paying for) them. We also wanted to get a copy of the test results, so we can analyze these ourselves. No response.

Then we kept hearing about these printing problems — that it was the poor quality of printing which made the PCOS machine reject the valid ballots.

Comelec and Smartmatic eventually gave two explanations. But the explanations are conflicting, so we have not heard the final word on this yet:

  • One (see this story for details of the “misalignment” theory by Smartmatic), the printing of the UV security marks by the National Printing Office (NPO) are a millimeter or so off their expected position, and the misalignment is causing the PCOS UV scanner to miss some of the marks. Ok, that sounds reasonable. However, it makes us worry: what if the ovals are likewise misaligned, won’t the PCOS machines misread the votes too? We will set aside this very important question for later. Back to the UV marks first.
  • Two (see this story for details of the “wrong ink” theory by Comelec), Smartmatic gave NPO bad ink, and the UV mark was not readable enough by the machine. Ok, that sounds reasonable too. In the past, the Comelec has purchased bad indelible ink too. They must have caught Smartmatic doing the same thing for the UV ink. However, this explanation conflicts with the first. Is it misalignment in the printing, or bad ink? I was ready to believe one explanation or the other. But two conflicting explanations make me ask, what else are these people not telling us?

Anyway, that’s where the UV lamps come in. The PCOS machine was designed to look for some UV mark in the right place. If the mark is not exactly there, the stupid machine concludes that the ballot is fake, and spits it out. This must be the reason for all those rejections of valid ballots.

So, the Comelec says, let us disable the UV scanning feature of the PCOS (which we Filipino taxpayers paid for, by the way), and buy instead a billion pesos of UV lamps that the BEI will use to detect fake ballots manually. Great.

But what if it is neither the alignment nor the ink? What if the problem is with the PCOS itself? Remember that the manufacture of the PCOS machines was transferred at the last minute to factories in China, which made them in a rush to meet the extended deadlines in Manila.

What if the made-in-China PCOS machines themselves are the problem: perhaps due to poor accuracy or generally poor quality? (After all, experts originally estimated the AES project to cost at least P11 billion, and Smartmatic underbid everyone else with their lower P7.2 billion bid.)

Before the Comelec buys P1 billion worth of UV lamps because P4 billion worth of vote counting machines are unable to read UV marks, shouldn’t the Comelec make sure that the problem is truly in the UV ink or its alignment and not in the PCOS machine itself?

There’s only one way to make sure: test the PCOS machines thoroughly. Smartmatic claims they are testing 2,000 machines daily. In 2004, the Comelec took 3 months to test 1,990 counting machines. Smartmatic is testing a similar number of machines in just one day? This can only mean one thing: the Smartmatic tests are neither as complete nor as thorough. They could be omitting some important tests, or some important data.

In fact, there seems to be a Comelec-Smartmatic blackout on the results of these PCOS tests. I have not seen anywhere, and I’ve been looking for it since January, a compilation of test results regarding PCOS failure rates, rate of ballot rejection, and scan accuracy rates. HALAL couldn’t get the statistics out of Comelec either. Yet, the Comelec must know these things, before signing those Smartmatic delivery documents which will more or less say, “This is to certify that the following items were received in good condition,” which is the basis for setting into motion the process of payment. Comelec should not take the vendor’s word for it, but check the quality of the goods themselves. Due diligence.

We will get defrauded not once but twice, if we spend another P1 billion to correct what is purported to be an ink or misalignment problem, should it turn out that the true cause of the problem is the P4 billion worth of PCOS machines which the Comelec has not thoroughly tested for workmanship, performance, and conformity to specifications.

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One Comment

  1. jack meoff
    Posted July 9, 2010 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    So what is P1 billion in real money?

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