Delays at the Ministry of Education and Skills Development to award a tender to maintain multi-million Pula printing machines have crippled schools that are reported to have struggled to meet internal printing demands for students, seriously impacting on the quality of preparedness for those who sat for their final exams last year.
The twenty KODAK DIGIMASTER EX150 industrial printing machines, which are designed to produce up to five million copies per month, have been placed strategically at Senior Secondary schools around the country to be used by all secondary schools within a 50km radius of each of the Seniors Schools for mass printing of especially examination papers and other materials.
A survey at some of the schools revealed that the machines, bought by the Ministry of Education for millions of Pula of tax payers’ money, are in a neglected state and gathering dust while the secondary schools struggle to handle critical printing requirements for their students.
The headmasters of some of the schools where the printing machines have been planted confirmed that they experience problems come end of term when they have to print examination papers.
Kgari Sechele Headmaster, Lapologang Kolagano, said the machines ceased to operate back in June 2012 after the contract with the then contractor expired but up to now they have not heard anything from the ministry regarding the issue.
The Chief Procurement officer at the ministry, a Mr Mbuso, confirmed that their contract with Itec Botswana, the private company that was contracted to operate and maintain the machines, expired on March 31st, 2012 after which they re-advertised the tender.
Mbuso said after receiving proposals from the only two companies that tendered, Educational and Computer Services (ECS) and Itec Botswana, and following the evaluation process, they concluded that it was too expensive to contract a private company to operate and maintain the industrial machines hence the need to train their own staff and technicians to operate and service the machines.
Itec Botswana was initially awarded the contract to supply, operate and maintain the printers, a contract that ended in March 2012.
The Managing Director, Anand Rangaswamy, confirmed that indeed they had submitted a proposal to continue providing the services but could not be drawn into discussing issues regarding the delay in issuing the tender.
Educational and Computer Services’ Managing director Kgosi Iketleng also confirmed his company’s participation in the tendering process, adding it has been six months since the tender was closed but there is still no word from the ministry.
“I still do not understand why it is taking so long to award the tender,” Iketleng said.
With schools reopening for a new term this year there is still uncertainty on when the ministry of education will finalize the tender process which now raises fears of rendering the machines technically obsolete as they have stood for months without working.
A source familiar with the tender process, speaking on condition of anonymity told this newspaper that apart from the tender process being complex the “it raises eyebrows that the ministry only now finds the budgets to maintain the machines to be too costly while they were aware of the estimated costs prior to advertising the tender”.
He further revealed that internal divergent opinions among senior staff on the approach also contributed to the delay in awarding the tender. “This issue has been going back and forth between senior officers at the ministry and the Ministerial Tender Committee, it is pure inefficiency among officers for failure to make decisions” he said.