Cash crisis may delay launch of laptop project

By: LILIAN OCHIENG

The Sh17 billion school laptop project is strained by lack of sufficient funds, which could further delay the renewed proposal to launch it in January.

Two months on, winners of the “digital literacy” bids have not been shortlisted from the 25 companies that contested in September. The winners were to be announced in October.

Market research firm International Data Corporation (IDC) noted that the project is among those strained by depreciation of the shilling against the dollar in the third quarter of 2015.

Mr James Mutua, a senior research analyst at IDC East Africa, said “financial, technical, and political obstacles” were delaying the digital laptop project, as well as other ICT projects in eastern Africa. Notably, ICT projects in Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia are equally affected.

“Monetary tightening policies undertaken by governments in the region have been partially successful,” said Mr Mutua.

He added that many intervention measures have failed because the actual causes are external, such as a strong US dollar, expectations of US monetary tightening, uncertainties in the euro zone, and slower growth in China.

CASH CRUNCH

Financial hurdles now add a fresh twist to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s flagship initiative — the school laptop project.

Sources told the Sunday Nation that the cash crunch has hit government very hard and could delay major projects.

The laptop initiative faced procurement hurdles last year in January when the Ministry of Education picked Indian firm Olive Telecommunications to deliver the devices, contrary to the rules it had published last year.

Olive beat other competitors with a Sh22 billion bid, but this was contested because it is not a device manufacturer, a key requirement in the revised laptop tender floated in November 2014.

Mid this year, President Kenyatta repackaged the project’s mode of delivery to beat procurement woes.

It was made more of an inter-ministerial responsibility involving the Education, ICT and National Treasury ministries, and looping in the Attorney General.

As ICT Cabinet Secretary Fred Matang’i floated bids for the project in early September, he said: “We have considered very harsh penalties with the help of the Attorney-General. We will take a tough stance on applicants who attempt to make the process scandalous.”

DELAY

It now appears that the January 2016 deadline for delivery of the project could be pushed further, even as the inter-ministerial team tries to find ways to ease the cash crunch.

On Tuesday last week, Dr Matang’i called off a press briefing that was to state the progress of the programme.

The briefing was include the expected launch of the project. Both the National Treasury and the ICT ministry did not pick up calls to give further updates on the project.

“Evaluation of the 25 companies is complete. We expect shortlisted candidates to be issued with Request for Proposal (RFP) and, thereafter, an evaluation will be done to determine the winner,” said a statement by the ICT Authority early this month.

BIDDERS

The 25 bidders include: e-Kitabu, Dell, Hewlett Packard, Techno Brain, Easun Services, Softech and Smoothtel/Data Solutions Ltd (a consortium consisting of the Technical University of Kenya).

Others include iWay Africa, Squid Africa, MFI Document Solutions, Link Soft Integrated East Africa, FAB Resource Centre Nairobi, Pitstop Technologies, Wincomp Services and Dhanush Infotech.

Many institutions of higher learning are also bidding — with Moi, Nairobi, Masinde Muliro and Meru universities of science and technology, Jomo Kenyatta, Multimedia, Kenyatta and Strathmore Research and Consultancy Centre awaiting the announcement of successful bidders.

Shortlisted firms are expected to supply digital devices to teachers, learners and special needs pupils.

They are also expected to supply servers, routers and projectors to make the laptops project complete.

Inflation has greatly depressed the purchasing power of Kenyans, with ICT firms hard hit as they rely mainly on imports.

The ICT Authority said it was working on tax exemption and subsidies to spur local assembly and industry development.

Already, the ministries of Education and ICT have split the responsibilities in regard to funding. The ICT ministry will handle procurement of devices to the tune of Sh11.9 billion; device maintenance, Sh1.5 billion; and operational costs at Sh330.5 million.

The Education ministry will handle development of teacher capacity (Sh0.8 billion), infrastructure readiness and preparations in schools (Sh2.53 billion), curriculum development (Sh0.4 billion), and field education officers’ pay (Sh100 million).

SOURCE: DAILY NATION