Companies give their side of cancelled laptops tender story

By Augustine Oduor

Nairobi, Kenya: Details have emerged about why the Ministry of Education’s tender committee cancelled the 1.3 million laptops delivery tender, two months to the expected roll-out of the primary schools computer programme.

Some of the local companies that participated in the tender Tuesday accused the government of asking for “so much for so little”, leading to cancellation of the tenders as bidders could not revise prices downwards.

They said the laptop specifications demanded by the government could only fetch higher prices, way above its budget of Sh12 billion.

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In addition to providing laptops, the amount was also supposed to cover the purchase of 20,367 projectors and a similar number of printers for schools.  The government had anticipated that laptops would cost between Sh8,500 and Sh10,000 each.

However, according to Education Cabinet Secretary Prof Jacob Kaimenyi, the lowest bidder quoted Sh32 billion, a staggering Sh20 billion above the budget.

He said the firm’s price per laptop ranged between Sh23,000 and Sh28,000. The government had set aside Sh17.5 billion for the project.

Rough handling

According to the firms familiar with the tender details, the cost per laptop shot up due to the specifications (specs) outlined by the ministry.

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The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) is said to have asked for computers that would be loaded with digital content it had developed.

The bidders also claim the ministry revised the original tender documents twice, with new specs in each addendum.

For instance, in the original document, the government had asked for storage capacity (Random-access memory) of two gigabytes (GB).

This was later revised to three gigabytes in what the firms said should have been introduced as an additional cost.

Other specs that raised the price-per-laptop were listed under the “ruggedness” specifications.

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The tender documents seen by The Standard indicate that each laptop supplied should be able to withstand rough handling such as drops,  dust and liquid spillage, which the local firms said comes with an additional cost.

On security, the suppliers were expected to brand all the laptops with the Government of Kenya coat of arms. The laptops were also expected to be “uniquely built”.

Bidders who spoke to The Standard alleged that some of the specs requested by the ministry were also outdated.

Under the original tender document, the suppliers were supposed to give the name of the processor type that meets SYS mark 2012 minimum rating of 38.

In the second addendum (revised copy), specification of the processor was given as Intel Duo, 1.0GHz, 3MBcache or equivalent.

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Screen size

“If you Google these specifications you will realise that their use was stopped three years ago,” said one of the bidders who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

He added: “In the bid they also ask for an equivalent. If the first spec is outdated what equivalent can it be equated to?”

Other features specified were an inbuilt camera (Web Cam), an internal storage of 160 GB, a display screen size of 10 inches and at least one year’s warranty for each laptop.

Kaimenyi said last week that bidders may have colluded to set higher prices. He also said implementation of the Value Added Tax (VAT) law may have also caused prices to increase.

He added that failure by the government to set a price ceiling also opened room for bidders to quote higher prices.

Documents seen by The Standard indicate that the government also wanted the gadgets to present an “enabling environment”.

The laptops were expected to enable learners search content, interact and manipulate multi-media content and also see a class calendar for scheduled tasks.

Under the specifications, the pupils were expected to be able to send text messages to their teachers and also message fellow pupils.

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Ministry of Education Jacob Kaimenyi laptop project