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Uganda’s $50million ballot paper deal settled

Electoral Commission ignores local firms, awards ballot printing to foreign firms

Kampala, Uganda | MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | Uganda’s Electoral Commission will go ahead with printing ballot papers with foreign companies, even when the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) strongly advised that the ballot printing tender the EC had awarded to seven foreign firms be halted, and re-evaluated to consider local firms.

The Independent has learnt that the awarded printing companies have proceeded with executing their contracts and they are at the stage of presenting the sample ballots to the EC for approval.

The presidential and directly elected member of parliament ballots will be printed in Abu Dhabi by a company called United Printing and Publishing (Abu Dhabi), as the Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing LLC (Dubai) company will print ballots for the District Woman Representatives to Parliament; District/City Woman Councillors; and Sub-County/Town/Municipal Division Woman Councillors.

The South African Uniprint (SA) based in Durban will print ballots for District/City Chairpersons; District/City Directly-elected Councillors; and Municipality/City Division Chairpersons, while the UK-based Tall Security Print Ltd (UK)  will print  the ballots for Municipality Directly-elected Councillors;Special Interest Groups at District, Municipality and Sub County level.

Another UK-based firm, Adare Sec Ltd, will print ballots for Sub County/town/municipal division chairpersons; sub-county/town/municipal division and directly-elected councillors.

Unlike the 2011 and 2016 election where some Ugandan printing companies were given printing deals for lower level elections, this time round, the EC has not selected any local printing company.

This is in spite of the protests from local printing companies that had wanted to get the US$50 million (Shs 184.5bn) deal of printing the ballots for the 2021 general elections.

PPDA’s advice followed a petition from the Uganda Printers and Packaging Association challenging the EC’s claim that the local firms do not have capacity which was the basis for denying them the contract.
Two leading printers in the country—Picfare and Graphic Systems— petitioned PPDA alleging inflated price and unfair treatment.

This was contrary to the government’s policy of building the capacity of local companies under the Buy Ugandan, Build Uganda (BUBU) strategy. The private printers seem to have been boosted by the remarks made by President Yoweri Museveni in March this year.  Museveni who has ruled Uganda since 1986 and is vying for the presidency for a sixth consecutive time said that all Government security documents including currency, election materials, passports, identity cards and driving licences must be printed in the country to end the “hemorrhage of foreign exchange.”

But Byabakama, the EC chairman, Justice Byabakama disagreed with PPDA claiming that re-evaluating bids would mean suspending elections and talked of discussion with PPDA to look at “a bigger picture” in protecting Article 61(2) of the Constitution.
Byabakama said the EC activities had been interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic which forced them to tighten their programmes so that they are able to elect the political leaders within the Constitution.

“If we are going to say we follow all the processes until everybody is satisfied, where is the time? Let’s be realistic. Let’s not only focus on legalism. Let’s look at the realities. If you don’t have ballot papers come 2021, what next? Do you tell people that you are going to lineup to vote because you couldn’t produce ballot papers?” Byabakama said.

Byabakama argued that local firms do not have capacity to print the 187 million ballot papers needed in next year’s polls. However, the local printing companies counter-argued, noting that they have capacity since some of them have managed to print ballots in previous elections.

For example, in 2011, the Badru Kigundu-led EC awarded Picfare a Shs5bn contract to print ballot papers for youth elections, and in 2015, the same local firm also printed 78m ballot papers for NRM party elections worth Shs138m.

In 2006, Picfare also won a Shs3bn contract to print ballot papers for lower elections and in 2010, got a lucrative contract to print voter’s cards under the United Nations Development Programme arrangement in Burundi worth about US$900,000.

“Contrary to the government procurement agency findings, the Picfare record indicates that Picfare has particularly supplied to the EC ballot papers that have been used for directly elected councilors, women councilors, municipality/ city division, local government councilor elections for the 2016 country wide elections. “In Picfare’s specific case, the past experience is completely similar and applicable,” Dhirren Dave, the head of sales at Picfare, said.

In their petition, Picfare Industries Limited say their bid was unfairly treated by the EC and that the procuring entity (EC) erred in fact when it concluded that the evidence of successful completion of three contracts of similar nature and complexity had not been enclosed in the Picfare bidding document whereas, in fact, Picfare enclosed five contracts of security printing instead of three that the procuring entity desired to have.

“It was not our desire to deny the Ugandan printers an opportunity to print these ballot papers. I am not a technical person in printing. But our technical team said in their analysis, our local companies may not be able to do this work,” Byabakama told the press at the height of the controversial award of the tender.

After a series of meetings with PPDA and agents of locally based printers called to cool the embers, the EC decided to go ahead with printing the ballot papers with foreign companies. The awarded printing companies are at the stage of presenting the sample ballots to the EC for approval.

Paul Bukenya the spokesperson of the EC told The Independent that all processes to enable the printing of ballot papers for the 2021 are being executed. “We have started the process of designing and printing the template ballot papers, proof reading, and design and then finally approve,” Bukenya told The Independent.

The EC has asked all political parties and candidates participating in the forthcoming elections to nominate official agents for accreditation, to travel to the above countries and observe the printing, packing and delivery of these critical electoral materials, at their own cost.

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