LAHORE: After a media expose, the School Education Department (SED) has decided to void all tenders floated for the procurement of interactive smart boards for hundreds of government high schools across Punjab, The Express Tribune has learnt.
Punjab SED Secretary Dr Allah Bakhsh Malik, said, “The procurement of interactive smart board is not on the cards. Whenever we start the process in future, it will be in a very transparent manner under the Punjab Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules. No deviation from PPRA rules will be tolerated under any circumstances.”
Malik said that the department would not make any procurement in violation of the PPRA rules.
An official privy to tendering process disclosed the provision of interactive smart boards for government high schools across the province is the brainchild of the Punjab education ministry. The ministry kept the SED in darkness when hundreds of tenders were floated by headmasters and headmistresses of government high schools.
He said Punjab Education Minister Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan remained actively involved in the entire tendering process. He received presentations from different vendors about their products and solutions. Initially, it was decided that the government will roll out a pilot project during last year’s summer vacation. As a result, hundreds of tenders were floated last month.
An official of the Directorate of Staff Development (DSD), which trains teachers, revealed that the directorate obtained a couple of interactive smart boards from prospective vendors for its classrooms for which no payment has been made.
After the media exposed the alleged corruption in interactive smart boards tendering, a vendor also removed its screens from the DSD premises the others reclaiming their equipment, he highlighted.
A prospective bidder also alleged that provincial education minister and DSD officials, including Planning Officer Jawad Amir Malik and some mid-ranking officials, have been gratified by different smart boards vendors. He added they enjoyed hotel stays and parties at the vendors’ expense. “It is a normal practice that the DSD officials ask vendors to give them free equipment. We are happy to give free product samples if we know that the client is going to buy a good quantity after getting a demo product. However, in interactive smart board tendering, the government has floated a tailor-made tender and left no room for fair competition,” he maintained.
Malik, whose wing has obtained free interactive smart boards from prospective vendors, said if the DSD is procuring interactive smart screens for government high schools then he should be asked. He also refuted vendors’ allegation of gratification.
After media reports, the opposition was also planning to challenge the illegal tenders floated for procurement of interactive smart boards.
Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Lahore President Waleed Iqbal said the party’s legal experts have gathered information related to an engineered tendering process for procurement of interactive smart boards for schools. After reviewing all necessary documents and weighing available legal options, it will be decided that either a Constitutional Petition or a National Accountability Bureau (NAB) reference is filed, he added. However, now the SED has already decided to cancel interactive smart board tenders to avoid further criticism.
The Punjab Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) has also said it was difficult to meet tendering conditions. The latest data available on the provincial procurement watchdog’s website indicated multiple violations of procurement rules in almost all tenders floated by the Punjab Secondary Education Department (PSED). The tenders were floated through headmasters and headmistresses of government high schools across Punjab.
The headmasters of hundreds of government high schools across the province had floated tenders for procurement of interactive smart boards, software and teachers’ training.
Business houses dealing with interactive smart boards highlighted that the government had committed a violation of Section 10 of the Public Procurement Rules, 2004, by mentioning brand names like ActivPanel, ActivInspire and SMART Notebook, which are proprietary products of an international company.
They alleged that the government has floated engineered tenders just to favour one specific supplier whose brand name is mentioned in the tender documents. In addition, the PSED has laid out an unrealistic 15-day deadline for delivery these interactive smart boards.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 4th, 2018.