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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NEC spills $100,000 on Indian ink

NEC spills $100,000 on Indian ink

THE purchase of indelible ink for the commune elections by the National Election

Committee (NEC) threatens to stain its procurement process for election materials

with allegations of irregularities and gross overspend.

The electoral body finalized a contract December 31 with a local firm, Asia Trade

and Travels (ATT), to procure 25,350 bottles of ink from an Indian manufacturer at

the cost of $6.90 for each 80cc bottle.

Critics said the delay in deciding the contract and the mode of procurement could

cost the election fund at least $100,000 more than necessary. While last minute orders

with short delivery times usually proved more costly, bulk purchase of ink at a wholesale

price from the same company, they said, could also have saved precious funds.

The light sensitive ink contains silver nitrate and is used at the time of polling

by staff to mark the fingernails of voters who have cast their ballot. This avoids

electoral irregularities by making sure the same person is unable to vote again,

since the stain stays for weeks or even months. The ink requires special heat-sealed

packaging in black, brown or orange bottles to protect it from light.

Thailand-based Leadership Management and Research Center (LMRC), which was originally

in the fray for the contract, hinted at foul play. It said that through its Cambodian

associate, Ponloeu Khmer Printing House, it had provided considerably lower quotes

from ink manufacturers in Germany and India that were approved as international suppliers

for elections.

"Although Canadian ink was the costliest, Indian firms were found to be offering

the requisite quality at much cheaper rates, and that too within the tight schedule.

The German and Indian manufacturers had, in fact, offered to deliver the requisite

2,080 liters in five gallon cans to the NEC at a composite rate of $49,000 and $36,000

respectively," claimed LMRC director Harmeet Singh Narula.

Considering the NEC required the ink in smaller 80cc packages, he said, even the

repackaging costs could have added only marginally to those figures. The NEC said

it has contracted to buy the ink for around $174,000.

When the Post contacted ATT's director, Ty Sovavath, he said his quote was accepted

because the New Delhi-based Competent Sales Inc. was the only supplier among the

Indian companies approached that agreed to accept the NEC's requirements for supply.

Also, he said, it had done so within the NEC's ink procurement budget of $200,000.

"The NEC required delivery within 20 days, and [that it be delivered] in smaller

packaging than what was offered by their Indian and German competitors. Since production

takes up to ten days and another five days reserved for air transportation, not all

the bidders were able to fulfill the condition," he said.

Em Sophath, director of the NEC's department of operations, admitted the ink could

have been procured more cheaply had it been ordered well in advance. However, he

said, the NEC did not have any funds to buy the ink in advance.

"We went ahead [with the procurement process] only after receiving the EU funds,"

he said. He dismissed allegations of irregularities saying the NEC had a complete

record of the bidding process and insisted the procurement committee had settled

on the quote of $6.90 per bottle after considering all options.

"While LMRC wanted the entire payment in advance, which is impossible, the others

wanted part advance and the rest as a credit instrument, which would have offered

us no security against dishonor or delay in the contract," he said.

"However, we asked [Competent Sales Inc] to deposit 10 percent equivalent of

the total cost with us as a security deposit and accept payment only within a week

after delivery. [Not only did] no other company agree to these terms, but all their

quotes were over $7 a bottle," Sophath said.

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