Scam in Tab purchase tender - To education minister’s attention!
After the present government took office, secretaries and other top officials of the ministries were changed. Accordingly, a new secretary was appointed to the education ministry and it was special that the presidential secretariat sent him to the ministry as a supervising officer before his posting.
After he assumed duties, most top positions in the ministry changed according to his wishes. S.P. Jayatunga, the seniormost officer in the Sri Lanka administrative service and did a commendable job for a long period as the additional secretary (procurement and construction) was transferred to another institution. The new appointee was Anuradha Wijekoon, who previously worked in a project of the Department of Motor Traffic, and a close friend of the secretary.
He is new to the procurement subject, and was directly involved in fraud and corruption in the issuance of driving licenses at the Department. However, he told the staff of the ministry that he was a very benevolent public servant and will be bound to perform his duties very transparently. But, officers in the division came to know within days that his ulterior motive was quite the contrary. Experienced officers were transferred and novices to the procurement field were integrated. As a result, the efficient, impartial and proper planning of the division collapsed, and its assistant secretary came to be regularly criticized by the suppliers and the secretary.
The procurement division became worse by the day, but the new additional secretary took no heed and spent most of his time to achieve his ulterior motives. For that, he brought down a supplier to the education ministry with whom he has been having links.
A case in point is the tender to provide Tabs for GCE A/L students as per a 2017 budget proposal. On 05 June 2017, the ministry published an advertisement calling for prices to buy 195,148 Tabs. Cabinet approved procurement and technical evaluation committees were appointed. The latter comprised seven members, including a professor of the IT division of the Sri Jayewardenepura University, an ICTA representative, and finance and education ministry officials. That was sanctioned by the procurement committee consisting of two ministry secretaries, an accountant and a commissioner. With approval by the subject minister and the ministry secretary, the technical evaluation committee prepared the specifications. Bidders were allowed from the date of the advertisement to buy procurement document at the payment of a non-refundable deposit of Rs. 500,000.
A pre-bid meeting was arranged at the ministry on 15 June 2017. It was attended by members of the technical committee, the additional secretary and other officials of the ministry’s procurement division. Also in attendance were more than 50 bidders, and several agents of their parent companies. That meeting lasted several hours and faults in the bid and the specifications came under discussion. With unanimous agreement, the ministry’s additional secretary promised to submit the corrections soon. The ministry then corrected the minor faults in the bids and the specifications and handed over to the bidders. The closing date to accept bids was extended by two weeks, until 12 July 2017. Ten bidders readied their deposits and waited for the date. However, the ministry published a newspaper advertisement on the penultimate day and further extended the closing date until 31 July 2017. All the bidders were surprised by that and despite their repeated inquiries, the ministry’s procurement division failed to give a clear answer. They suspected foul play, persisted with their inquiries and found out the following.
The extension was to gain time to start the entire process again after the technical evaluation committee refused documents prepared by ICTA’s CEO Muhunthan Canagey to be advantageous to a certain chosen party. Also, the Windows operating system and the Office package which could have been obtained by the ministry for a fee of just two dollars from Microsoft have been replaced with the insecure Android system.
The procurement officers were in a dilemma as the hierarchy continued to work in support of the additional secretary’s unilateral decision and to serve the needs of the ICTA CEO. Then, the closing date was extended through a newspaper advertisement further by three weeks until 22 August 2017. Finally, the tender was opened on that day to find 10 well known companies having submitted bids. The values of the bids were between Rs. 4.1 billion to Rs. 10 billion. Thereafter, the ministry gave time for the bidders to submit sample Tabs until 07 September 2017. The seven lowest bidders met that deadline. Then, the technical evaluation committee got to work. Watching all these closely, the additional secretary made a plan, as discussed with Metropolitan company with which he has had connections since his Motor Traffic Department days, to remove other bidders from the technical evaluation report. The result was the introduction of a new specification that all the bidders should obtain a certificate from the US Federal Commission. The additional secretary got the chairman of the committee to join their plot.
The bidders were quite surprised by the new specification, and submitted an explanation together with the certificates they were having. Subsequently, it came to light that only Metropolitan has the certificate requested. Thereafter, the seven lowest bidders were out of the competition and the eighth placed company that made a bid of Rs. 7.4 billion has been chosen and plans are being made to hand over the tender to this company.
It is clear that the additional secretary Anuradha Wijekoon is continuing with his habitual swindling in collaboration with Metropolitan company. If it is given the tender, the state will incur a loss of more than Rs. 3.2 billion. It is a question as to whether the ministry secretary too, is a partner of this plan at swindling after misleading the subject minister as there exists a government that came to power with a promise to eliminate fraud and corruption.
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