Gamato disputes article on voter system tender

Tender for the Biometric Voter Registration and Verification System for PNG Electoral Commission is open to both PNG-owned companies and international bidders to bid at a fair level.

Electoral Commissioner Patilias Gamato says there is no unfair play in the handling of Expressions of Interest (EoI) in the bid process which is currently being handled by the National Procurement Commission (NPC).

He was responding to an article in a weekly newspaper published on February 2, 2020, calling for investigations into PNGEC for its handling of bids for the tender NPC 2019-62.

Gamato said it was very unethical reporting and total misrepresentation by the weekly paper to quote an unanimous senior officer at PNGEC when it did not have the courtesy to verify the information it had at hand with PNGEC senior management.

“On record, there was not even one single attempt by the Sunday Bulletin newspaper to contact PNGEC to verify the claims to balance their story when they are located about three minutes’ walk away from PNGEC headquarters.

“PNGEC, as election management body of PNG, has set standards for the biometric voter registration and verification system and it was unfortunate that disgruntled bidders used the media to discredit the standards set and push their own selfish business interests.”

Section 71 of the Organic Law on National Elections (OLNE) gives PNGEC the latitude to procure, establish and manage a voter registration identification system for the purpose of elections in PNG.

“All bidders are to inform PNGEC on the best product they can supply for PNGEC to use during the coming 2022 national election and future elections,” Gamato stated.

“We have set standards and are only looking for a bidder who can produce a system where one voter is registered and allowed to vote once during an election event.

“All bidders are on a level playing field; there’s no advantage for any individual or particular bidder in the bid process.”

Gamato pointed out that the tender process was still in progress and strongly refuted unfounded claims that this tender NPC 2019-62 was pre-determined and that PNGEC had already pre-determined a contractor for the project.

“PNGEC has not pre-determined a contractor to this tender NPC 2019-62. All bids will be considered based on the best suitable solution,” he argued.

“Specification for the hardware was determined based on internal assessments and requirements gathered by PNGEC and bidders should use these requirements to derive their solutions.”

Bidders have also questioned as to why PNGEC made the decision to do 10 fingerprint capture to the tender, saying it was against Australian Privacy Act.

In response, Gamato said: “PNG is a sovereign nation and Electoral Laws of PNG (Section 71 of OLNE) allows for PNGEC to determine the type of fingerprint system which includes the number of fingers to be captured.”

He pointed out that capture of multiple fingers was common in electoral practice around the world in countries like Nepal, Kenya and Solomon Islands.

“Only bidders who are comfortable in complying with PNG laws should proceed with submitting their bids.”

On concerns raised by some bidders that the Light Emitted Sensor (LES) technology not approved and certified by the National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST), Gamato said LES fingerprint sensor was a patented light emitting sensor technology from Integrated Biometrics and was adopted by several biometric device manufacturers.

He said LES technology complies with NIST as per a 2017 publication of the Institute titled, “Integrated Biometrics LES Optical Direct Imaging Sensors: A Smarter Alternative to Prism-based Scanner.”

Gamato added that in page 14 of NIST Special Publication 500-280v2, NIST defines the electro-luminescent optical direct imaging used in LES.

“Given this adherence to international standards, PNGEC maintains specifications for sensor technology as listed in the Request for Tender (RFT).

“Additionally, FAP (Fingerprint Acquisition Profile) formats are also listed NIST standard for determining device capture dimensions, image quality specifications and number of simultaneous fingerprints captured, and PNGEC maintains the FAP specifications listed in RFT.”

In a pre-bid meeting held on January 20, 2020, PNGEC informed all bidders that the Commission, in its capacity to understand the requirements for the use of technology in elections, has sourced knowledge from around the world by looking at technologies from India and the United States of America.

Commissioner Gamato clarified that the scope of the project was limited to the seven Highlands provinces and extension to other parts of the country was subject to another time and related resources.

He outlined some requirements of the Biometric Voter Registration and Verification project as follows:

  • Electoral Roll with Photos of Electors
  • GPS (Global Positional System) Tracking System
  • Ten Finger Print Capture
  • Security for Technology on the Ground
  • Getting rid of the Ballot Papers in the Future

Commissioner assured all bidders that the Hanuabada biometric field test conducted in October 2019 during the Motu-Koita Assembly by-election for the Poreporena-Laurabada ward was an independent exercise undertaken by PNGEC to understand the use of biometrics technology and has no influencing effect on this tender process.

“PNGEC operated within its mandate to identify, use and manage biometric technology for use in elections and this field test was just an example of exploring this technology.”

Gamato explained that for the same reason, PNGEC worked with a local ICT company (Minsoft) and its international partner (Credence ID from USA) to gauge an appreciation of suitable technology during the Hanuabada biometric field test.

“PNGEC has included the credence ID whitepaper to serve as a baseline for the desired technology.”

He also confirmed that there was an unauthorised publication of an “Expression of Interest” for this biometrics project by Sunday Chronicle weekly newspaper on August 12, 2019, when PNGEC had not received the Authority to Purchase Certificate (APC) from Finance Department and Tender Number from NPC.

“Therefore, prior to the official release of the tender on December 9, 2019, no information relating to the project was released.”

Meanwhile, the “Scope of Work” (Form 11) and other related documents were still being compiled when the tender notice was put out on December 9, 2019, and therefore were not attached upon purchasing of tender document NPC 2019-62.

However, these documents were released later during the pre-bid meeting between NPC, PNGEC and all potential bidders on December 19, 2019. And as of the first pre-bid meeting on January 20, 2020, all these documents were given to NPC to have on file to issue to bidders.

The National Procurement Commission (NPC) has emphasised to all bidders that the tender process must comply with the NPC Act 2018.

It (NPC) warned that penalty for bribing from bidders is K2 million fine or 15 years’ imprisonment, therefore, any bidder found doing illegal activities would be barred from future contracts.

Closing bid date has been further extended from January 16, 2020, to February 27, 2020, to allow for NPC to get a response from the State Solicitor on questions it raised as well as for NPC to make decisions on pending issues and respond to further bidder queries.

Press release