Namec smells a rat in cancelled NSFAS laptops tender

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An empowerment pressure group in the ICT sector is demanding an urgent investigation of the controversial National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) laptops tender, rather than restarting the procurement process.

The National Association of Manufacturers in Electronic Components (Namec) believes the cancellation is a slap in the face for emerging black-owned companies, which it says “spent resources to respond to this tender and presented solid proposals”.

According to the group, the cancellation is “unwarranted and irrational, if not unlawful” and it wants an urgent probe on how the 150 companies that submitted bids all failed to meet the requirements.

“The flimsiness of the reason for cancellation gives the impression that there is more than meets the eye about this unwarranted action and Namec smells a rat. We urge the president to initiate an investigation to get to the bottom of this debacle whilst the tender is awarded to the deserving service provider,” says Hosia Matlou, the group’s deputy secretary.

“Namec objects strongly to the uninformed and unwarranted cancellation, and calls for the tender to be awarded to the deserving tenderer, who we believe will implement local production strategies that will contribute to reviving our battered economy whilst creating jobs.”

Matlou says the organisation is contacting relevant authorities to register its objection to this “unacceptable and irrational decision”.

“We are also exploring other options open to us, including possible legal action to ensure that public servants abide by the law and they do not capitulate under undue pressure from anyone, irrespective of her/his standing in society.”

The red flag on the tender was first raised on Monday by portfolio committee on higher education, science and technology chairperson Philly Mapulane, who said parliamentarians had been alerted to attempts to influence the supply chain process by forcing the cancellation of the tender.

“Attempts are being made to manipulate the procurement process, and to finally get it aborted because certain service providers are not recommended following supply chain management processes of NSFAS,” he said.

Two days later, the tender was cancelled. A new one with “updated requirements”, according to NSFAS administrator Dr Randall Carolissen, goes to print today and will be published next week.

Carolissen said all 150 bid proposals for the initial tender failed to “achieve all mandatory requirements, as per the tender bid description”.

Higher education, science and innovation minister Dr Blade Nzimande denied there is malicious intent to manipulate the procurement process.

“Although the provision of devices is extremely urgent as part of the government’s response to COVID-19, a formal, transparent, competitive tender process was followed.

“The administrator of NSFAS informed me on Tuesday that none of the bids competing for the supply of learning devices, as specified in the bid process, had achieved the mandatory requirements as required in the bid document. For this reason, no tender was awarded.”

In response, Namec says: “It is practically impossible, if not bizarre, that 150 companies did not meet the requirements.”

Higher education, science and innovation minister Dr Blade Nzimande.
Higher education, science and innovation minister Dr Blade Nzimande.

Matlou explains: “It will be helpful for government to disclose at least one central requirement that bidders did not meet. It is only prudent against the backdrop of the current environment of escalating corruption that government is seen to be transparent and take us, the bidders, and the nation into its confidence and disclose the actual reasons for the cancellation.

“This will create the environment the president was referring to in his letter regarding a clean government. It is especially onerous and expensive on small suppliers and manufacturers who have to once again raise bidding expense with the new submission. The government should take cognisance of and be sympathetic to emerging ICT players.

“It is extremely difficult for us to partake in the economy at the moment and this cancellation seriously raises the cost of entry for our members. Namec therefore does not support the cancellation of this tender.”

The laptops tender was issued as part of COVID-19 relief efforts by government to assist students during the lockdown period.

It’s now three months since Nzimande announced government will procure the laptops for all NSFAS qualifying students in universities and technical and vocational education and training colleges.

The procurement of the laptops was put on a tender due to the substantial amount involved.

However, months after the announcement, students are yet to receive the laptops and attempts to “manipulate the procurement process” were cited as the reason for the hold-up.

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