Five firms selected for controversial NSFAS laptops tender

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

The contentious National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) tender to supply laptops to students has finally been awarded to five companies from a pool of 140 bids.

The five – Pinnacle, CEOS Technologies, MLO Distinctive Solutions, ANG Group and East Side Group – accepted the award last week and NSFAS is in the process of completing the contractual arrangements with the service providers.

The tender had been cancelled twice after corruption allegations shrouded the procurement process.

Dr Randall Carolissen, NSFAS administrator, approved the cancellation of the tender, in accordance with Regulation 13 (1) (c) of the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act 2017 regulations.

The laptops were part of COVID-19 relief efforts by government to assist students during the lockdown period.

The contract is expected to benefit 430 000 students in 26 universities and 300 000 students in 50 TVET colleges across the country. A total of 730 000 laptops will be procured.

The awarding of the tender comes as the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology says it will probe allegations of procurement irregularities in relation to the procurement process.

The committee announced its decision during a meeting with Carolissen regarding allegations of maladministration and corruption brought before it by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union.

In a statement released yesterday, NSFAS said by the closing date of 21 September, NSFAS had received a total of 140 bids in response to the tender requirements.

The 140 bids were evaluated between 22 September and 13 October by the NSFAS Bid Evaluation Committee and a total of 11 bid proposals were disqualified for not achieving the pre-qualification criteria which required the bidders to be either a level one (1) or two (2) BBB-EE contributor.

A total of 27 bid proposals were disqualified for not achieving mandatory requirement 4.2.2, which required the bidders to be a certified partner with the original equipment manufacturer, and 56 bid proposals were disqualified for not achieving the mandatory requirement to submit a reference letter(s) which indicated previous experience of the supply and delivery of laptops in the past five years at a minimum quantum of 5 000.

Furthermore, eight bid proposals were disqualified for not achieving the mandatory requirement to sub-contract a minimum of 30% of the contract value to either an exempted micro enterprise or a qualifying small enterprise, which is at least 51% black-owned.

NSFAS says 23 more bids were disqualified for not completing the local content declaration forms for the laptop bag, and not obtaining an authorisation letter from the Department of Trade and Industry to import specified raw materials for the production of the laptop bag in South Africa.

“The review of the end-to-end procurement process was performed by NSFAS external legal attorneys and the outcome of the review indicated the procurement process followed was in line with the NSFAS supply chain management policy. The NSFAS administrator subsequently approved the tender award on 2 November to five bidders,” says NSFAS.

The wrangle over the NSFAS laptop procurement process has lasted for several months.

Red flags on the tender were first raised by the 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 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.

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

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