Two local companies, Graphic Systems and Picfare, have petitioned the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) after the Electoral Commission (EC) awarded tenders to print ballot papers for the 2021 general election to foreign-based firms.
According to these companies,the move taken by EC is contrary to the government’s policy of Buy Uganda Build Uganda (BUBU) citing unfairness, irregularities in the procurement process
BUBU is a policy that was introduced by the government geared towards promoting the use of locally manufactured goods and employment of local skills/personnel.
The success of the BUBU concept required Uganda companies and skilled professionals to position themselves to play critical roles in building the economy and reaping from it.
The tenders to print ballot papers for the presidential, parliamentary and local government elections is estimated to cost close to Shs 200bn.
The electoral body awarded the tender of printing these ballot papers to seven foreign firms including; Tall Security Printers (UK), Uniprint (South Africa), United Printing and Publishing (Abu Dhabi, UAE), Adare Sec Ltd (UK), and Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company (Dubai).
The local companies which had lost the bidding petitioned the EC to review its decision but the electoral body refused to change its decision.
Recently while speaking to the media in Kampala on the unresolved fight over this matter, Simon Byabakama,the EC Chairperson ruled out these local firms in printing the ballots, on account of lack of capacity.
Byabakama explained that there are many variables involved in printing ballot papers which in case of a
“We have to support Buy Uganda Build Uganda. But in our technical assessment, it was found out that the local companies do not have the capacity to print ballot papers. A ballot paper is not like any other print. It has many things. There are so many variables. When you print a newspaper to be sold to the entire country, what variable do you make there? When you print an examination paper, what variable do you have there?” Byabakama said.
He said according to their technical people, they found out that local firms do not have security printing capacity to avoid ballot papers being duplicated by other printers.
“It is a whole range of issues. The way you know our politicians, can they accept that we print ballot papers here in Uganda? It is not enough to have a big plant. But do you have the capacity to print those engraved features that are in ballot papers?”he said.
In July this year, eight senior EC officials were sacked on a presidential directive, reportedly over irregular procurements.
Apparently, the sacked EC officials had allegedly inflated the cost of printing ballot papers.
Sources said despite the irregularities, it was surprising that three months later, their successors are doing the same thing by going ahead to award the contracts to the respective foreign firms at the same ‘inflated’ cost.
Consequently, local companies have protested the decision by EC to unfairly kicked them out in favour of foreign firms hence petitioning PPDA after the Commission rejected their appeal for an administrative review.
Among the local firms that were involved in the bidding process and have now petitioned PPDA include; Graphic Systems and Picfare Industries Limited
These firms expressed their discontent adding that it is extremely frustrating questioning why they were engage in the first place because many local companies were forced to invest money in new printers and products in the hope that they would get the jobs.
The local firms have accused EC of not following the right evaluation procedures set by themselves and maliciously knocked them out despite being qualified as best evaluated bidders
According to Picfare Industries Limited, their bid was unfairly treated by EC noting that the procuring entity (EC) erred by saying that the evidence of successful completion of three contracts of similar nature and complexity had not been enclosed in the Picfare bidding document.
Picfare enclosed five contracts of security printing instead of three that the procuring entity desired to have.
The head of Institutional sales at Picfare, Dhirren Dave noted Picfare has the desired working experience having been awarded a Shs 3bn contract by EC in 2015 to print and supply ballot papers for municipality/city division, local government council elections among others.
The head of marketing at Graphics Systems, Manoj Patel said EC rejected their bid on ground that they don’t have evidence of successful completion of three contracts of similar nature and complexity; that they did not have experience in similar assignments of security printing, or capacity in form of machinery.
In their petition to PPDA, Graphic Systems noted that prior to the bidding process, EC toured their company and they were satisfied.
“EC team toured Graphic Systems and they were satisfied that we have capacity to print ballot paper. A letter dated 21st May 2020 was issued by EC that Graphic Systems can print 145mn ballot paper in 30 days,”Graphic Systems noted.
“EC rejected our administrative review appeal even without inviting us for discussion. They (EC) also failed to defend their decision mentioned in the best evaluated bidder notice/ administrative review rejection letter,” Patel said in his petition.
Sources indicated that for the 2016 election, some of the ballot papers were printed locally and EC is accused of defying a presidential directive on printing ballot papers in the country.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, dated March 23, 2020, President Yoweri Museveni, directed that ballot papers for elections, banknotes, passports, driving licences and identity cards to be printed locally.