Rays of hope from the polls

The local IT industry has been teeming with activities in the last few weeks, so much so that you'll wonder if there's really an economic crisis going on. Not even the sudden upsurge of reported H1N1 cases in the country has dampened the mood around town.

The local IT industry has been teeming with activities in the last few weeks, so much so that you'll wonder if there's really an economic crisis going on. Not even the sudden upsurge of reported H1N1 cases in the country has dampened the mood around town.

Last week, the semiconductor and electronics sector--the country's biggest export earner--delivered a little bit of good news when it reported that figures are starting to go up after a hellish first quarter.

But, perhaps, the most positive news to emerge recently is the awarding of the automation contract to the lone bidder for 2010 national elections.

This means that, unless a losing bidder files a last-minute court case, the Philippines will finally be holding its first computerized general elections next year.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) formally announced Tuesday night, Jun. 9, the selection of Smartmatic-TIM as the winning contractor for its bid of 7.191 billion pesos (US$152.2 million), which is lower than the 11 billion pesos (US$232.8 million) budget allotted for the project.

"Let's shock the cynics," Ferdinand Rafanan, head of Comelec's Special Bids and Awards Committee, was quoted as saying after the agency formally awarded the contract.

The consortium comprising Netherlands-based Smartmatic and local IT company, Total Information Management (TIM), was actually a shoo-in for the contract, since it was the only one among seven initial bidders that passed stringent requirements set by the Comelec.

The group will use the Precinct Counting Optical Scan (PCOS) in next year's polls. The Comelec had earlier chosen PCOS, a type of OMR (optical media recorder) technology, because it is much cheaper than Direct Recording Electronic (DRE).

Interestingly, Smartmatic participated last year in the pilot implementation of the automated elections in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) using DRE machines. It was Avante International, a disqualified bidder, which tested an OMR technology in the ARMM polls.

The magnitude of the project is illustrated by reports that the deal is the biggest in the world for a poll automation contract. I'm not sure if that's true, but I hope that a budget this huge will pave the way for the realization of a nation's almost-impossible dream.

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