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Namec objects to student laptops tender award

Read time 3min 40sec

An empowerment pressure group in the ICT sector is objecting to the awarding of the controversial National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) laptops tender, saying the process was flawed and lacked transparency.

The contentious tender was awarded two weeks ago 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 and NSFAS is in the process of completing the contractual arrangements with the service providers.

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 decision has irked the National Association of Manufacturers in Electronic Components (Namec), which believes the award is a slap in the face for emerging black-owned companies, saying the process denied them an opportunity to participate in a project that would have “altered their economic realities” in the electronics industry.

In a strongly-worded letter to NSFAS, Namec says: “The process doesn’t even start to address the economic imbalances in our country and to remedy the continued fronting perpetuated by white-owned companies in order to retain the economic status quo.

“It is trite that our empowerment policies seek to empower as broad a base of entrepreneurs as possible, and this thin selection seems to be in direct opposition with these prescripts.

“How is the selection of these five companies [considered to be] broad-based empowerment, and what are the possibilities that these few entities will be able to produce and deliver 730 000 for both TVET and universities, without putting into jeopardy the plan of ensuring learning will be seamlessly delivered in the 2021 academic year?”

Namec is now demanding that each company be sent a list of reasons as to why they were not chosen as preferred bidders.

It is also requesting that details of the “demographic representation” of the companies that were preferred bidders, together with their board composition and ownership structures, be released.

The organisation also wants the certificates from the original equipment manufacturers and letters of support from clients that ordered the more than 5 000 laptops from the preferred bidders be made public.

Lastly, it is demanding to know why companies that participated in the bid with local IP-owned laptops were denied an opportunity to provide locally manufactured units.

“As an organisation, we take offence that this was done deliberately to belittle the intelligence of the majority manufacturing entities in this country. It is a misnomer that government only insisted on the bags being the only item in the whole tender which had mandatory local content requirement, especially with its policy of providing support to local products and productive capacity,” says Namec.

According to NSFAS, 140 bids were evaluated between 22 September and 13 October by the 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 or two BBBEE 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.

The empowerment organisation is not the only entity that has raised concerns over the tender.

Last week, the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology said it will probe allegations of procurement irregularities in relation to the procurement process.

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

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