Smart board procurement rife with violations

LAHORE: Punjab Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) has pointed out multiple violations in the tendering process, initiated by the Punjab School Education Department (PSED), to purchase interactive smart boards for government high schools across the province, The Express Tribune learnt on Tuesday.

Objections raised on the public procurement regulator’s website show headmasters and headmistress of hundreds of government high schools violated Rule 30(I) of the Punjab Procurement Rules 2014. It states that “The date for opening of bids and the last date for the submission of bids shall be the same; and, bids shall be opened at the time specified in the bidding documents which shall not be less than thirty minutes after the closing time for the submission of the bids.”

Over the past couple of weeks, around 700 tenders have been floated by the heads of government high schools for the procurement of one or two interactive smart boards. In these, public schools have violated rules related to the opening of bids, highlights data available on the PPRA website.

Other common violations include vague and ambiguous bidding documents floated by government high schools. The public procurement watchdog has pointed out that in-charges of most government high schools have violated Rule 25(I) and Rule 27 of the Punjab Procurement Rules 2014. “A procuring agency shall formulate precise and unambiguous bidding documents that shall be made available to the bidders immediately after the publication of the invitation to bid.”

Similarly, Rule 27 states: “The procuring agency may require the bidders to furnish a bid security not exceeding 5% of the estimated price (the price of procurement estimated by the procuring agency before initiation of the process of procurement.)”

The public procurement regulator further indicates violations of Rule 14, 24, 35 and 56 by various government high schools. Rule 14 says: “The procuring agency may decide the response time for receipt of bids or proposals (including proposals for prequalification) from the date of publication of an advertisement or notice keeping in view the complexity of the procurement, availability and urgency but, in no circumstances, the response time shall be less than 15 days for national competitive bidding and thirty days for international competitive bidding from the date of publication of advertisement or notice.”

However, bidding documents of different public schools have mentioned different timeframes for bidder response.

The regulator further pointed out that various government high schools had failed to clearly mention the bid submission process, which was a clear violation of Rule 24 of the Punjab Procurement Rules 2014. It states that “A bidder shall submit a bid in a sealed package or packages in such manner that the contents of the bid are fully enclosed and cannot be known until duly opened. A procuring agency shall specify the manner and method of submission and receipt of bids in an unambiguous and clear manner in the bidding documents.”

The PPRA further indicated that Rule 35, which lays out a standard procedure for rejection of bids and Rule 56 which talks about performance guarantee, were also violated as several government high schools did not follow the terms stated in the rules.

A headmaster of a government high school told The Express Tribune that all these tenders had been floated on the orders of PSED.

“It does not matter what we think of this initiative because we are government servants who are bound to obey orders. Authorities have the power to transfer us to far flung areas,” he stressed.

“We are educators who have little knowledge about new technologies and such procurements. If some violations are pointed out in the bidding process, the government should ask people who directed us to invite bids for procurement of these interactive smart boards,” he maintained.

Business houses dealing in interactive smart boards have also raised various objections over the tendering process. Interactive smart board dealers believe that the government has floated engineered tenders just to favour some suppliers. Otherwise, it offers a level playing field to prospective bidders.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2018.

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