Monday, March 25, 2024

Philippine lawmakers grill Miru over controversies surrounding the bidding process and its spotty track record

South Korean voting firm Miru Systems is grappling with mounting controversy following a recent $322 million contract with the Philippines’ Commission on Elections (Comelec) – the nation’s largest-ever polling deal.

The contract has triggered a series of investigations by both houses of Congress, prompted by vocal concerns from election oversight bodies and civil society organizations. These groups have highlighted numerous alleged irregularities within the procurement process, notably that Miru was the only company to submit a bid, supported by the Comelec's previous actions to evade competitors.

Central to the dispute is Miru’s proposition of a prototype voting machine, a submission that Philippine law prohibits. Critics have raised concerns over a potential contravention of the Automated Election Law, which mandates the deployment of systems with a demonstrated track record of success in previous elections. There is unease surrounding Miru's technology, as it amalgamates Optical Mark Reader (OMR) and Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) components, which have not been jointly utilized in past elections, casting doubts on their reliability and legality.

Furthermore, international reports have surfaced detailing issues with Miru’s technology in other countries. Incidences such as faulty voter ID cards disrupting elections in Congo and significant machine malfunctions reported in both Congo and Iraq have only fueled skepticism.

Miru contracts in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been under increased scrutiny after a report by the Center for Research in Public Finance and Local Development, funded by the European Union, revealed malpractices linked to the Congo's Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) and Miru Systems, including corruption and signs of money laundering. The report highlighted that Miru secured nine contracts in the DR Congo worth over $321 million, with just one undergoing a competitive tender. Notably, the electoral commission procured excess voter cards and ballots and prematurely classified functional voter registration kits as obsolete, leading to unnecessary increased procurement costs and casting doubt on the integrity of contract allocations.

Even worst, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned three senior CENI officials ‘following persistent corruption’. According to the US Treasury Office, Congolese election officials inflated by as much as $100 million the costs for the electronic voting machine contract (signed with Miru) with the intent to use surplus funds for personal enrichment, bribes, and campaign costs to fund the election campaign of Kabila's candidate.

“(…) CENI officials, awarded an election-related contract and doubled the award amount on the understanding that the winning company [Miru] would award the extra funds to a DRC company controlled by CENI leadership.”

As the Philippine Congress delves into the depths of Miru Systems' controversial multi-million dollar contract and the company's questionable track record, concerns raised by both domestic and international entities cast a long shadow over the upcoming 2025 elections. These findings underscore the critical need for transparency, due diligence, and adherence to the rule of law in election-related procurements—a call echoed by vigilant lawmakers and committed civil society advocates. The journey towards a free, fair, and credible election stands at a crossroads, with the integrity of democratic processes in the Philippines, and potentially in other nations, hinging on the outcomes of these rigorous investigations.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Philippine Commission on Elections Strikes Historic P17.99 Billion Automation Deal with South Korean Firm

The evolution of election processes in the Philippines has reached a new milestone as the Commission on Elections (Comelec) inks a groundbreaking P17.99 billion deal with South Korea-based Miru Systems Co. Ltd. for the automation of the 2025 midterm elections. This partnership signifies the Philippines' continued commitment to strengthening the democratic process through technological enhancements.

As the sole bidder, Miru Systems has clinched the contract to provide a Full Automation System with Transparency Audit/Count (Fastrac) to Comelec. The deal will encompass the lease of 110,000 automated counting machines, complete election management systems, consolidation and canvassing systems, in addition to delivering ballot printing services, ballot boxes and other necessary peripherals.

Reminiscing on the past electoral journey, the Philippines automated its elections in 2010, pioneering a transformative leap in its democratic processes. Since this pivotal change, the country has smoothly conducted five national elections, witnessing substantial improvements across all key performance indicators following each election cycle. A testament to the technological leap is the significant surge in trust among the populace; from a mere 30% confidence level in manual elections, trust has soared above 80% after embracing election technology.

In 2022, a poll by Pulse Asia underscored the public's overwhelming support for the automated system, revealing that an impressive 90% of Filipino citizens advocate for the continued use of technology in the archipelago's electoral system.

As part of this deal, Miru Systems is set to provide not just hardware, but also customizable systems and specialized software aimed at ensuring the transparency and security of the voting process. Furthermore, the firm will offer comprehensive technical support for the leased machines and systems, showing a full spectrum of support for the election's success.

Despite its innovative prospects, the awarded contract has not been without dissent. Several watchdog groups have voiced concerns over past controversies surrounding Miru Systems's involvement in elections across various countries including Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Russia.

In response, Comelec Chairman George Erwin Garcia has given his reassurance, stating the poll body’s Special Bids and Awards Committee took cognizance of the allegations but nevertheless advocated for the South Korean firm based on its merit. Supporting their decision, Comelec was equipped with positive certifications from the electoral bodies of Congo and Iraq.

This strategic partnership between Comelec and Miru Systems is poised to usher in a new era for the Philippine elections, empowering the democratic voice of its people with precision, transparency, and unwavering trust in their electoral system.