LAHORE: Punjab government’s recent initiative of distributing laptops amongst thousands of students of public colleges and universities across the province has met with great success. This initiative helped bridge the digital divide between the haves and have-nots, in terms of providing access to modern education tools.
Provincial Education Minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman has clarified that as far as market rate of the laptops was concerned, public procurement entailed a transparent procedure of open bidding. A comparative statement of all participating firms is prepared and the lowest cost quoted is required to be approved.
The minister said the Directorate of IT Labs Project, School Education Department, completed all formalities of procurement and the lowest bidding firm was selected for purchase of laptops through open competition. In Pakistan, Dell sold through its authorised distributors, and Inbox – an authorised dealer – was chosen for the purpose. After-sale services and warranty are provided by the local distributor, hence the contract had to be signed locally. This is a standard operating procedure adopted by all multi-national corporations in Pakistan, he added.
He said further a 15-month warranty of machinery parts, against the industry norm of 12 months, inclusive of battery, was provided for all laptops. He mentioned that Section 33B of the National Accountability Bureau made it mandatory to furnish to NAB a copy of any contract worth Rs 50 million or more, within such time as is reasonably practicable from the date of signing such a contract. He said this had been complied with and a copy of relevant documents had been sent accordingly.
The minister said according to the RFP, all payments are required to be made through a sight LC (Letter of Credit), under which payment would be made immediately on delivery. Inbox, however, extended a 30-day credit to the Punjab government, and payments are being made 30 days after receiving delivery, hence there was no question of advance payment. This LC, he claimed, was not a back-to-back letter, as the terms and conditions of the LC opened by the Bank of Punjab were different from that opened by Inbox in favour of Dell.
As far as the specifications were concerned, Rehman claimed, the laptops procured by the Punjab government – DELL Inspiron 4050 – consisted of Intel Pentium Dual Core B950 chipset, latest among the Intel Dual Core processors, and comes with the latest Intel Sandy Bridge HM67 Chipset. It also includes a 2GB RAM, 320GB HDD, DVD writer, WiFi, Bluetooth, 3-in-1 media card reader, HDMI ports and a high-resolution (1366 x 768) display. He said the processor was selected after thorough evaluation and diligence, considering the processor’s performance, value and industry benchmarks.
He said Intel Dual Core B950 processor could not be compared with an Intel Core I series as both belonged to different families. Besides, their prices differed massively: the Core I series was more expensive than Dual Core. On an average, the Core i3 computer cost Rs 10,000 to 15,000 more than the one procured by the Punjab government.
The laptops project aimed at delivering optimal performance. The Intel Pentium Dual Core B950 is positioned in the value segment roadmap. Therefore, the selection of microprocessor is based on optimal performance that best suits the user in a particular price/performance segment. Intel Pentium Dual Core B950 is part of the series that also comprises Intel Core i3/i5/i7 processors; however, these are more expensive.
He said further that the distributed laptops came with a Linux-based operating system: Ubuntu 10.10, which is distributed as free and open source software. The government decided to avail the open source option, as it reduced dependence on proprietary software vendors and secondly, drastically cut down on overall cost of the machines. Since they are not bundled with expensive licenced software such as Microsoft Office they are cost-effective.
He said the Ubuntu OS came installed with Libre Office and the Firefox browser, adding that the primary purpose of bundling the Ubuntu OS in the machines was to save cost. The Punjab government had also saved cost on bundling MS Office, which is even more expensive than Windows.
Meanwhile, defending his report in Daily Times regarding the provincial government’s laptop scheme, reporter Adnan Adil claims the Punjab government spokesman has not denied the fact that 110,000 laptops were bought through a local supplier, and not directly from the manufacturing company, Dell. He said the spokesman has tried to justify this deal by calling it a standard procedure for multinational companies to sell their product through distributors, conveniently ignoring the fact that in case of bulk purchase, as made by the provincial government, all companies were open to negotiations.
Adil says the spokesman has also not denied, as mentioned in his report, that the laptops had been bought at a price of Rs 37,000 per piece. He says the real point in the story was that by purchasing through a supplier, a much higher price had been paid for a machine installed with an outdated processor. He says further the Intel website mentions this processor as Pentium D, which was launched in 2005. Dell has made laptops with such specifications obsolete and was now marketing the InspironN4050 model with i3 and i5 processors. Some other companies were using the said processor in their laptops with a retail price of about Rs 28,000 per piece. In wholesale, obviously, the price would be much lower, he added.
The reporter claims the Punjab government deposited money for this deal in the LC account with the Bank of Punjab, which was a financial jugglery to cover the advance payment. “I still stand by my position that the back-to-back LC structure was provided to the supplier,” he asserts.
Adil says the spokesman also did not deny that a whopping surety amount – 10 percent of the total contract – was sought from the bidding firms that drove out other competitors. He has also not given the exact date on which the provincial government sent the contract’s copy to NAB, the reporter added.Daily Times .