Customs X-ray machines may be overpriced; bidding deferred

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Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino B. Biazon: Addressing overprice allegations

MANILA, Philippines—A Bureau of Customs plan to acquire baggage X-ray machines for the country’s airports apparently requires more clarity from the bid and awards committee led by deputy customs commissioner Juan Lorenzo Tañada.

Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino B. Biazon on Wednesday deferred the bidding for a P145-million contract to purchase four mobile X-ray machines and nine fixed, baggage X-ray machines amid concerns of overpricing and bias for United States-based companies.

“We have a committee which prepares for such bids. The bid has been recalled and will be rescheduled in order to review the terms of reference,” said Biazon in a text message.

In a note to the bidders, the BOC said the auction has been moved to a later date and would be announced through a formal bid bulletin.

Biazon was addressing allegations that, based on the contract price set by the BOC, the bureau would be buying the new x-ray machines at from two to three times what other government agencies had paid for comparable units a few years ago.

It was noted that the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) acquired 20 final check, carry-on X-ray machines worth P80.64 million in 2009, and the Poro Point Management Corp. bought two baggage X-ray machines with one walk-through metal detector for a total of P9.5 million in 2010.

Biazon explained that the P145-million contract would cover the acquisition of not just baggage X-rays but also mobile X-ray vans.

Data collected by the Inquirer showed that the suggested retail price of a mobile, truck-mounted baggage scanner was $140,000 (P6 million), and a fixed, baggage scanner would cost $67,000 (P2.9 million). Based on these prices, the BOC should be paying only about P51 million for the 13 units of baggage scanners, or nearly a third of the P145 million contract price.

Aside from the alleged overpricing, Tañada’s move to issue an addendum to the bidding rules on July 5, or three working days before the auction date, has raised a few eyebrows among the bidders.

A BOC source, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said that Tañada’s addendum mandating that all x-ray machines should comply with the standards set by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a division of the US Department of Homeland Security, betrayed his bias for US suppliers.

The source said the required TSA accreditation would preclude suppliers from Germany, China and Australia that might also qualify technically and financially to compete for a better pricing of the contract. The source said the BOC should have also included other accreditation agencies from other countries and not only from the US in order to widen the field.

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