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General News of Thursday, 3 November 2016

Source: The New Statesman

EC awards $9m inflated pinksheets job to collapsed UK firm

The Daily Statesman can disclose that Ghana’s Electoral Commission has, against all advice, just this week awarded a $8.95 million contract to print the Statement of Poll and Declaration of Results Forms (Form Eight), commonly known as Pink Sheets, and other results-related carbonized election forms, to a liquidated company.

The most competitive alternative bid, offered by a Ghanaian company, the same one which printed the controversial 2012 pinksheets, was priced at $4.20 million. This is less than half the price of the winning bid.

The Ghanaian companies who put in bids were Acts Commercial Printing, Buck Press and Innolink. All three are also involved in the printing of ballot papers, which begins this weekend with parliamentary ballots, according to our sources at the EC..

Staff of the Electoral Commission and key players in the Ghanaian printing fraternity are livid. Aerovote’s bid, according to documents in the possession of the Daily Statesman, is too woefully over-priced and expensive to the Ghanaian taxpayer.

There are serious questions over the propriety and wisdom in the decision of the EC to award the contract at such an inflated cost to a company with no local track record.

Also worrying is the fact that Aerovote could not even be transparent enough to show the tender committee where it intends to print these sensitive electoral materials.

It is recalled that one of the main issues of the 2013 presidential election trial was the bizarre decision of the EC to print thousands of duplicate copies of pink sheets with the same serial numbers. The suspicion was that the duplicates were used at the time to change results.

This time the tender document expressly says only 3,000 extra copies of the carbonized pinksheets will be printed for each of the 29,000 total for both presidential and parliamentary results. Moreover, the company that won has spent the last two years running away from its creditors in the United Kingdom after it went insolvent, according to investigations undertaken by this paper.

Known as Aero Vote in the UK, it was a commercial printing firm owned by a Kenyan and three Britons, all of Indian descent, until it went insolvent three years ago. It was essentially only five years in business, set up in 2008. It collapsed after it failed to win the ballots printing contract for Kenya’s general elections in 2013.

After meetings with a key person in the National Security set up (name withheld for now) in London last year, the directors of Aero Vote were offered a lucrative reason to dust themselves up to come and set up office in Ghana, using Ghanaian surrogates.

In December 2015, with a small capital of GH¢500, Aerovote Security Printing Ghana Limited was formed, with its operating address at the Lakeside Estate, Ashaley Botwe, Accra.

It three Ghanaian directors fronting for the three foreigners and their real Ghanaian partners. The directors are Kofi Burah Asomaning of Platinum Securities, a known NDC sympathizer and donor, Tyrese Nii Dodoo of Bubuashie, Accra, and John Tetteh Akwerh of Trust Resources Ltd, all known sympathisers of the ruling party.

Details of the work includes the printing of 29,000 Forms Eight EL 21 A and EL 22A for the parliamentary results pink sheets and their 3,000 replacements (in case of damage or errors); 29,000 Forms EL 21B and EL 22B for the presidential results, plus 3,000 replacements; 275 collation sheets each and 30 replacements each for the parliamentary (EL 23A) and presidential (EL 23B) polls, respectively and; 275 Constituency Results Summary Sheets plus 30 replacements each for parliamentary (EL 24A) and presidential (EL 24B) results, respectively. All will come with carbonized copies for candidates or their agents.

A breakdown and analysis of the pricing of just two of the bids highlight the difficulties that EC staff and local printers are having with the award.

For example, for printing 275 carbonized Constituency Collation Sheets (Forms EL 23B) for the presidential election, Aerovote is charging $34,210. Buck Press, with a proven track record, offered to do it at $15,125, over 50% less than Aerovote.

For the pink sheets, (Form Eight), Buck Press offered to print 29,000 for $1,595,000 for either parliamentary and presidential polls. Aerovote won the bid with $2,884,920 for parliamentary pink sheets and $$3,915,290 for the presidential kind.

Again, Buck Press offered to print the additional 3,000 replacement pink sheets for either the presidential or parliamentary polls again at a constant price of $165,000. Aerovote is to be paid $298,440 for the parliamentary ones and $405,030 for the presidential ones.

For the printing of Constituency Results Summary Sheets (EL 24A and EL24B), Aerovote won the bid with its offer price of $21,615 and $21,615, respectively. Buck Press had offered $13,200 for the parliamentary polls and the same $13,200 for the presidential.

Aero Vote, a London-registered commercial printing company, which had to auction its machines at the Gatehouse Industrial Estate, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England to pay off its creditors in the UK is desperate for cash and sees the Ghana contract as heavenly resurrectional.

The directors of the defunct UK firm, who are the main people behind the Ghanaian company, were Ashok Jayatilal Sheth, 61, the Kenyan, and the three Brits, Bimal Rajendra Patel, 53, Chirag Ramesh Sheth, 40, Baiju Chandulal Shah, 43.

The company was forced to go into liquidation when it banked all its hopes of survival on winning the printing of ballots contract for the Kenyan elections in 2013.

When the bid was awarded to Smith & Ouzman, another company that had a long-standing record of printing election materials in East Africa, but tagged with corruption, Aero Vote petitioned Kenya’s Public Procurement Oversight Authority against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

Aero Vote at the time publicly accused the EIBC of awarding the contract to a company that, they said, would out-source the printing to another company in the UK. This was unconventional for a security printing firm. But, it is also a sign of the deep desperation the company was in at the time.

Ironically, the Aerovote bid in Ghana was not expected to win because they failed to meet a fundamental requirement, which was to show capacity.

EC’s tender document makes the inspection of the physical location of where the printing will take place and a demonstration of actual capacity to deliver a fundamental condition.

These were requirements the other bidding firms were prepared to honour but Aerovote did not.

However, the EC’s tender committee managed to ignore this critical failing in Aerovote’s bid and went ahead, nevertheless, to award it the contract at such an inflated price.

Also, according to an EIBC source which spoke to the Daily Statesman, there are serious question marks over the credibility and integrity of Aerovote. In Kenya, they were not convinced by the claim by Aero Vote that they had printed election materials for Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Libya, through the UNDP.