Thursday, May 23, 2024

P30m blunder cripples Ministry of Education

A multi-million pula dream to leapfrog government secondary schools from the dark ages to the cutting edge of the information age has bombed into an expensive nightmare – and allegations of corruption are flying thick and fast.

Five years and more than P30 million later, what remains of the planned state ÔÇô of- the- art digital printing network connecting public secondary schools are scores of frustrated teachers who cannot print end of term exam papers, cob webs veiling obsolete heavy duty printers, desolate students who have to sit for final examinations unprepared and allegations of corruption.

The plan was based on a nationwide survey by BMS, which revealed that government schools had a longstanding problem meeting their printing needs while expensive printers were lying around unserviceable because “over a sustained period of years, the equipment had been acquired without due assessment of its suitability and/or relative support post sales service”.

Aware of “this gross wastage which had taken place over a sustained period of time”, it was envisaged the new plan would finally put an end to the problem. The budget value used for the tender was obtained from BMS, based on the supply of certain Oce printers, their configuration accepted by the Ministry as being the ideal solution with which to equip secondary schools in Botswana. How government schools ended up with twenty KODAK DIGIMASTER EX150 industrial printing machines which are now lying around unserviceable is a story of competing interests at the government enclave and allegations of sleaze and corruption.

Plan unravels
Hardly out of the drawing room, the ambitious plan started unravelling. It was stuck on the drawing boards for close to two years while civil service vested interests tinkered with its specifications to suit their agendas. According to a damning report that has been passed to the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC), “one of the reasons for delaying the project was that the original specifications put forward by the Department of Supplies to the ministry were rejected ÔÇô the reason given by the ministry was that the specifications appeared too specific as if aimed at one Brand of product”. When the tender finally hit newspaper advertising pages in October 2007, it only bore a passing resemblance to the initial plan. The tender had omitted the Ozone emission restriction normally specified for equipment installed in schools to ensure a healthy working environment for teachers and students. The speed and volume of the printing work had also been altered, putting it out of sync with the findings of the nationwide school survey. For a while, the Oce printer, around which the dream was built, seemed to be out of the bid. That was until its sponsors, BMS, convinced Oce suppliers in Venlo Holland to give the ministry a 40 percent discount so that it remained within the tender budget. According to the document that has been passed to the DCEC, the tender award was then “rushed through” sidelining the Technical Head in the Department of supplies and giving it to Copiers Botswana.

Quality standard compromised
The tender award recommendation to Copiers Botswana was, however, rejected by the PPADB. The then Chairman of PPADB, Armando Lionjaga, is reported to have “explained that as the circumstances were not yet resolved he could not disclose the reason suffice to say that something was irregular”.
It later emerged that the KODAK DIGIMASTER EX150 presented by Copiers Botswana did not comply with the ISO9001 quality standard specified by the tender. BMS, who was the only bidder of the three whose equipment met the quality standard, was however overlooked although his Oce printers were cheaper and superior in speed and volume, the other requirements specified in the tender document. A few weeks later, the tender was re-advertised, only this time the requirement specifying quality standards had been dropped. The tender was again awarded to Copiers Botswana although they had increased their bid price by P2 million, from P25,4 million to P27,252,113.00 pushing their bid price higher than that of Century Office Supplies which was to supply the same equipment and BMS whose printers were faster and delivering higher volumes. The report that has been passed to the DCEC and the Sunday Standard further reveals that the volumes specified in the tender are “impossible to achieve from the product selected from Copiers Botswana ÔÇô even when considering a 24-hour 30 days per month nonstop printing production”.

Something fishy?
BMS started asking uncomfortable questions after it emerged that the evaluating team spent only two days on five voluminous tender bids. BMS also questions why there had not been any site visits of installations by the evaluating team as specified in the tender. According to the report, the team stated that BMS did not make the short list because “they did not have installations of a similar nature” to the one in their tender bid. As it turned out, this information was not true as “BMS had similar equipment running in government departments since 1999 and had recently installed technically exactly the same equipment offered in the tender with the Department of Curriculum (their own ministry), a fact which was shown pictorially in the tender which the evaluating team was not aware off because the BMS tender had not even been opened. The report compiled by BMS for the DCEC states that the unfounded statement by the evaluation committee “devoid of all truth demonstrates without doubt that the objective of the ministry’s evaluation committee was to ensure that BMS’s offering was kept from any or further exposure.”

Hardly five years after being delivered, the 20 KODAK DIGIMASTER EX150 printers have been retired and are gathering dust.

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