It was in September last year when we witnessed the infamous US$9,200 laptops saga. The Clerk of Parliament had authorised the purchase of 173 laptops at $9200 each and 79 desktops at $3000 each but had to throw the tenders out after a public outcry.
For the baron out there who may not know, those were inflated prices. We are eternally grateful to whoever leaked the details of those tenders. They saved the country a few cents.
Now, it’s not enough to say the tenders were cancelled. We have to find out what exactly happened. How did we almost sign off on such a terrible deal? So, the administrators involved have to be questioned and that’s what the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is doing.
We were not going to see the Finance minister answer for the whole shenanigans. However, we expected to see the Finance ministry clerk provide answers but he’s apparently out of the country. I don’t know what he’s doing over there but I don’t imagine it’s more important than these hearings.
If it’s that important, we still could have rescheduled the hearings to make sure he was available. That’s neither here nor there in the end, the responses we will get were written already, what is only changing is who gets to give them to us.
It wasn’t just the laptops
The director of expense management in the Finance ministry sat before PAC to talk about the whole saga. PAC is interested in finding out where the current tender system is flawed to allow for such a deal to almost go through.
We hope they can squeeze out that information and that it will lead to a tightening of the tender process. What we have for now is more information on just how flawed the system was.
The expense management director says it wasn’t just the laptops. Oh no. The ministry received a tip-off that most of the payments they were making to government departments were inflated. Said he,
We then issued a circular directed to all ministry departments and agencies indicating that Treasury was suspending all payments pending undertaking of due diligence in the procurements of various goods and services as there was a note that there was overpricing and inflated pricing
He said the tip-off advised Treasury to review all contracts, not just the Parliament ones concerning the laptops. I still believe whoever tipped them off did it not from a patriotic position but was left out of the deals and decided to pour water on the whole operation.
Whatever the case, Treasury says they are working on a framework to ensure government agencies and ministries do not overpay for goods and services. The framework involves coming up with standardised pricing for goods and services.
For some reason, I assumed such a framework already existed. Are we really saying there wasn’t standardised pricing? Well, we shall see where this all goes.