Free laptops: Incentive or publicity stunt?
The Punjab government’s initiative of distributing laptops among bright students has invited criticism from all quarters, including Transparency International Pakistan (TIP), which has raised questions about this self-proclaimed transparent process.
Initially, the government earmarked Rs2 billion in the annual budget for this scheme and later increased it to Rs3.7 billion. Now, the education department has prepared a PC-I that has projected an amount of Rs4.4 billion for the purchase of 110,000 laptops. The Punjab government inked an agreement with a company for the provision of laptops at the rate of Rs37,700 per unit. The procuring department has now allegedly changed the laptop specifications that were stated in the tenders after the bidding process to facilitate the supplier. According to the contract agreement, 80 per cent of the payment had been released to the bidder in advance and 15 per cent of it has to be paid after the delivery of the laptops.
Distributed laptops are being brought by students to Hafeez Centre, a large computer market in the city, where dealers are offering them prices of Rs12,000 to 15,000 per piece. Dealers said the quality and technical specifications of the provided machines were poor.
Out of the total amount allocated for the purchase of the laptops, Rs253 million is slated to be used for the publicity campaign related to this initiative for PML-N leaders. A similar practice was adopted by the Chaudhries of Gujarat during their Parha Likha Punjab campaign, which was vehemently opposed by the Sharifs.
A company was given a contract for function arrangements and purchases of T-shirts, P-caps and flags for recipients were made in violation of the Punjab Procurement Rules Authority (PPRA) 2009. As many as 39 functions have been arranged and ten more are in the pipeline. One of the biggest functions in the city cost Rs20 million. A province facing a resource crunch is using large amounts of money for self-publicity which is against their oaths.
The TIP has written to the Planning and Development board in Punjab with apprehensions regarding the violation of PPRA in the procurement of 110,000 laptops by the Punjab government, incurring a loss of at least Rs1.7 billion to public exchequer. Senator Pervaiz Rasheed, a spokesperson of the Punjab government, refuted the allegations in a press conference with the stance that all requirements were fulfilled.
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