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
"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.