How to buy a laptop, mendaciously.

Of course I have something to say about this saga, I’ve been whining about it for at least six months, possibly more.

What.  The.  Hell.  Man.

This government of mine is six kinds of special, seven if you count the railway (more on that later). How hard is it to go out and buy shit, when you have money? And why can we never buy anything without it becoming a three ring circus? Just once I would love to read that the government of Kenya has gone out and spent a loose billion, or twenty, or four hundred, a. on something we really need, b. bought at the cheapest price available in the market, and c. without skimming at least 30% off the top. I don’t know if they’ve realised it yet, but we are not the richest buggers in the world. Contrary to their delusions of grandeur, these mandarins of government obsessed with our new found oil and mineral wealth, we cannot afford to throw a loose billion, or twenty, or four hundred, around like it’s Friday night in the club and we just got paid.  You buggers, we got bills to pay (more on that later too).

Now before you write me off as yet another malcontent looking to overthrow the government with my unhappiness, let me give you my expert credentials. I bought a computer last year, one and a half computers to be precise. See, I know stuff about how to buy stuff, because I am a normal person who has to buy stuff for herself, seeing as how I don’t have a procurement officer in my abode. I’m not bitter, I’m just saying I know how to shop. You write a list of what you need; then you window shop, online or pounding the cracked pavements of the city and the slick corridors of the malls, to see what’s available and at what price; then you draw up a budget, find the cash and buy the one that does what you need at the price you can afford. The end. Sometimes, you get a good deal, as I did with my one full computer, but sometimes you end up with an overpriced paper weight, as I did with the half computer. Thing is, I shopped well for the first, and not so well for the second. For the first I did my research, for the second, I looked for the cheapest deal possible. The first is a computer with a (hopefully real) name and an ‘Intel inside’ sticker on the front, the second was a Chinese no name tablet that bore some resemblance to a galaxy tab (I say was because it only worked for half a day at most, and now functions solely as a very pretty paper weight on my desk). The first I bought after getting advice from those that know these things, because I know I know fuck all about computers, save for how to switch them on and open Google. The second? I went discount shopping, online, guided by a friend who will remain nameless for the sake of his reputation, and my life, and bought the prettiest thing that was cheapest.  Lo and behold, the damn thing doesn’t work, can’t be fixed and has no warranty. Do you see what I mean about my expert qualifications as a buyer? I know things. The wrong things, but things all the same.

So you can understand my confusion when my government can’t seem to grasp the simple concept of shopping. They have experts, no? How hard can this possibly be?

Quite hard, as it turns out.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

On Sunday 3rd February, 2013, the then presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta listed the five things his government would do immediately they got into power (there’s a joke in there, somewhere, I suspect):

In keeping with our motto tuna amini kusema na kutenda, we have already made plans to act on day one to start transforming Kenya. In the first 100 days of the Jubilee Government we will take measures to make Kenya a fairer, healthier and better educated country.

One – We will release the money that has already been allocated to stock local health centres and dispensaries with the drugs and equipment necessary to treat Kenyans when they fall ill.

Two – We will abolish the fees that are currently charged when Kenyans go to public dispensaries and health centres for treatment.

Three – We will abolish all charges for women giving birth at public hospitals

Four – We will pass legislation to ensure that no child is out of school or a training institution until they reach the age of 18

Five – We will provide every child entering standard 1 in primary school with a solar powered laptop. We shall sustain this programme for each succeeding year until the day when every child in the country will walk with a satchel and a laptop.

These are things that we can do quickly – they are in effect a promisory note on the change that we will deliver as a Government. Beyond this, to truly change our country for the better we need a comprehensive legislative agenda.

Jubilee Manifesto Launch: Uhuru Kenyatta Speech (full text)

Let’s ignore one through four and focus on the last one, the solar powered laptops. They said this would be done in 100 days? How? 100 days after getting into State House, I don’t think they even knew how many kids were in Standard One. I’m not being mean, the cabinet secretaries, et al, were only appointed in June, 60 plus days in, 100 days after the grand inauguration they hadn’t even put up curtains (or concocted dodgy tenders for the same). There was no feasible way they would achieve much of anything in 100 days, no matter how genius their plan was. And they knew it. See, these buggers weren’t some Dida-esque greenhorns, they’ve been in at least two governments, each. They know how the bureaucracy works, the slow grind of the procurement wheels, the mind numbing, nit-picking over at Treasury. These buggers know how governments work and still they made this pledge, duping the masses with promises of rapid technology.

But wait, before I lynch the prezzo(s) and their government, I have to ask, don’t the masses also know how governments work? When have you ever gotten something from serikali on time? What’s that? Never, you say? Do you see where I’m going with this? Ah hell, I’m being too harsh on the poor buggers, everyone knows we the people have no idea what 100 days looks like, that’s why they keep using the line, and why we keep buying it. Let’s lynch the government instead, that’s much easier than admitting our own foolishness.

Because everyone, plus their mother, has a vague theory on this laptop saga, myself included (ahem), I’ve sought to restrict my quest for clarity as much as possible to one source, the government itself. In these days of e-government there’s no need to rely on the idiots masquerading as press in this town, you can go straight to the mouth of the horse. The Ministry of Education has a lovely blue website with all sorts of handy information.

On 02 August 2013, they published this notice, Laptop Advertisement, in the papers, and then scanned it and stuck it on their website 2 weeks later.  Classy, no? No. The ad is an invitation to bid, thus gives us only the pertinent details, that is, the money they require you to have before you can do business with them. See, this was not a wee little tender to supply staplers, this was the real deal, which is why they expected bidders to have at least Ksh 228M sitting in a bank account somewhere, a real bank account. Despite these seemingly huge obstacles, reports say 126 firms bought bid documents. Don’t get excited, only 20 of them put in bids, the rest no doubt dissuaded by the elaborate requirements of the tender. What requirements? Apologies, I did not have the foresight to go buy a set of said documents, because this is not my job, and I am quite cheap, and lazy, and therefore I have no idea what said requirements were. Don’t look at me like that, neither do the journos who claim to investigate, and they get paid to do it.

Fortunately for all of us, the ministry issued an addendum, answering questions raised by bidders and in the process giving us a glimpse into the madness that is public procurement. It’s an 11 page document this Addendum One, so forgive me while I cut and paste with reckless abandon. Just for the record, the dodgy spelling and grammar is all theirs, bidders and ministry alike.

In question 3, it’s indicated that they, the ministry, were looking to buy 1,378,622 laptops and 20,637 printers and projectors each. The question was, “It needs a huge budget, if Kenya has enough budget for this project in Education? If Kenya government will apply for financial support from other countries?” The answer was most helpful, “Please note that the Government of the Republic of Kenya has enough budgetary allocation for the project this financial year and is not depending on the financial support of other countries to procure the equipment.” See? We got cash.

Q 4. “Do teachers and students use same model of laptops? If not what about the amount for each? Should they be shipped with different software pre-installed?” The reply, “The requested model of laptops is only for pupils and should be shipped according to the specifications in the bid documents. The teacher’s laptops are not included in the tender.” Keep this in mind, for later.

Q 5. “There are over 50% of the schools which do not have electricity, is there already a solution for the power supply? If so please provide specifications. If not should we provide solution?” These bidders were eager, no? Alas, the ministry was not interested, “Government of Kenya has provided budgetary allocation for connecting schools with electricity.

Q 13. “Do deliveries have to be made to MoEST county offices in each county or are they to be delivered to each named school?” It would appear the tender included countrywide delivery. The ministry responded, “The deliveries shall be made to MoEST district education offices situated at the district headquarters as per the attached distribution list.” The follow up, Q 14, “Please give distances in kilometers (km) for each school/ county office from Nairobi.” Now slightly vexed, I assume, the ministry chap says, “Bidders need to calculate transport costs. It is the duty of the bidder to get the information from the ministry responsible for transport and from other sources.” You gotta love the state, they are nothing if not most helpful.

Q 19. “Will the students be keeping the devices at school or allowed to take device home?” This question was probably asked by a bidder looking to invest in second hand laptops, post tender. Just saying. The reply, “The laptops will be kept at school.” If I may ask a silly question, where ‘at school’? Are they building special stores and whatnot or…

Q 21. “Local manufacturing- page 32 of tender cites OEM of the proposed hardware gadgets with demonstrable manufacturing capacity and a willingness to set up a local manufacturing / assembly facility for the proposed equipment in Kenya employing local residents. Is it a requirement that devices manufactured for lot 1 have been manufactured or assembled in Kenya?” Now this is where the digital part of the government would have stepped in, and said yes. But no, “The devices do not need to have been manufactured or assembled in Kenya.” Why would we want to manufacture laptops? That’s just silly. Ahem.

Q 45. “The device should have unique identifier and should be able to be tracked in case of theft of loss. Specified mechanism should be within the means of OEM. Appropriate locking mechanism should be integrated in the device to allow automatic lock feature (within predefined period ) to be activated at school level.” Tracking devices and locking mechanisms? The ministry says, yes, “Documentation detailing a security plan with possible options for recovery of the device should be given as proposed in the bid document. Mechanism for actualizing this at school level need also be detailed in the description.” What kind of laptops were we buying again?

Q 56. “Is it a requirement that digital content to be provided by the supplier as part of the bid?” they asked. The government replied, “The main digital content shall be supplied by the Ministry to the bidders. However the bidders may specify any free learning resources they want to preload on the laptops.” Which is to say they do not object to freebies thrown in, just. Q 58. “Bid describes the need for a fully functional learning system; does the procuring entity have a student information/management system (SIS) in place? If yes, what is it? Is there a requirement to sync data between the SIS and the content sharing platform?” Wait for this elaborate answer. “No.” Succinct, no? I’m not sure if he meant the government has no system, or has no plan to integrate their system with whatever they were getting, either way, no. Q 59. “Does the procuring entity have an existing learning management system. Is there a requirement for it to integrate with the Content Sharing Platform defined in 3.3?” Again, “No.” I’m starting to get a bad feeling about this… Q 60. “The Tender document states: “Pupil should be able to browse internet on the controlled list of websites”. Has a controlled list been created?” And one more time, “No.” At this point he was just checking the boxes, waiting for 5:00 pm. Woi…

And because this is government, and these buggers are most thorough, they then proceeded to issue a second addendum. No, I’m not making this shit up. There were more questions that needed to be answered, not too surprising given the answers the first time around.

Q 30. “Knowing that the majority of sites have no access to a power source, can the MOEST clarify the timeline for deploying the solar infrastructure? What exactly will each solar unit be powering? Will it be only the items included in the tender ie, computing devices, a printer and a projector? Or, will the solar infrastructure need to power lights and other peripherals? Since about 14,000 schools are not connected to the national electric grid, we humbly request that you consider procuring solar powered laptops to service these schools, and which can provide more than 8 hours of continuous power ( instead of 5 hours) as this enable more students to access e-education and will serve to fix the “power” problem.” These sound like realistic concerns, right? How are the devices going to be powered, and why not go for solar powered laptops instead? The ministry, in their impressive fashion, responded, “Not part of the scope of this tender.” I foresee a tender for solar power in the near future, if it hasn’t already been done.

Q 31. “We are not aware of any tablet that can meet the other specifications listed, i.e. “Built in mouse with touchpad, built in qwerty keyboard”. Can the MOEST narrow down exactly what kind of computing devices they will accept? This is paramount to figuring out the charging requirements for the cabinets and solar units.” Now these buggers were getting cheeky, at what point did the tender mention tablets? The terse reply, “MOEST is purchasing a laptop and not a tablet.

Q 32. “Since charging cabinets are not formally listed in the tender, by what other means does the MOEST plan to charge, store and secure up to 40 devices? Please note, no other charging means besides a charging cabinet can supply up to (40) outlets in a single, physical space. Physical security and storage of the devices is also not addressed; is there an alternative plan? We also request most humbly that you reconsider your stand on the procurement of storage and charging cabinets for powering the laptops at the end of every schooling day ready for use the following day and in case where there is no grid power , the charging cabinets can be powered by stand-alone solar power units. This technology is available and is cost effective as without overnight charge the laptops will be rendered useless.” Again, these seem like logical queries, they’re even making humble suggestions. Helpful, yes? The ministry didn’t seem to think so. “The Ministry will ensure the availability of the charging equipment. The bidder should ensure placement/positioning of the charging port on the laptop is placed in a location which will allow for ease of connection to a charging cabinet.” Just out of curiosity, what exactly is a charging port? The thingi where the power cable slots in, as seen on pretty much every laptop since the beginning of laptops? And why did they ignore the security bit?

Q 42. “How will theft deterrent solution be provisioned for each device?” Remember the strange security requirements in addendum 1? The ministry clarified,“Refer to addendum I Item no. 45 : Revised to read: “Branding with Government of Kenya Coat of Arms. TPM for hardware based security support.” The rest will be done by MOEST.” I can’t make this shit up if you pay me.

Q 43. “MOE has insisted on HDMI ports for the Laptop, because they would be connected to the Projectors. However, the specifications for the Projector do not mention HDMI ports. How does the HDMI port on the Laptop facilitate connecting the Projector?” This shouldn’t be funny, but it is. What questions are these now? The ministry chap was getting condescending, “The specifications are not specific to connecting to a particular device. HDMI is a multipurpose port.” You can almost see him slitting his wrists in frustration.

Q 44. “MOE has asked for Parallel Ports for the Printer. However, the laptop specifications for not mention requirement of Parallel port. How does the Parallel Port on the Printer facilitate connecting to the laptop ?” Now this is comedy. Says the man, “This port is optional.

Apart from my cheeky interjections, all this is copy/paste from serikali, so the next time you think civil servants are underemployed, think again, my friend, they have addenda all over the place. Moving on swiftly…

After a lengthy and somewhat convoluted process, this tender was later cancelled, with the ministry claiming that the bids were overpriced by 20B.

Kaimenyi cited an untenable Sh20 billion deficit, which was above the government’s anticipated budget of Sh12 billion to buy 1.3 million laptops class one pupils in public primary schools. The lowest bidder quoted Sh32 billion. Kaimenyi said the tender bid per laptop ranged from Sh23,000 to Sh28,000 as per the 20 companies. Laptops tender process halted

Slight detour, if you’ve read through the addenda, take a look at this:

According to the firms familiar with the tender details, the cost per laptop shot up due to the specifications (specs) outlined by the ministry. The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) is said to have asked for computers that would be loaded with digital content it had developed. The bidders also claim the ministry revised the original tender documents twice, with new specs in each addendum. Companies give their side of cancelled laptops tender story.

Now I’m a sceptic, always ready to think the worst of my government, but these buggers are being somewhat economical with the truth, no? I also suspect the author of this brilliance hadn’t read the bloody addenda, if he had he would probably have asked a few more questions.

Kaimenyi said last week that bidders may have colluded to set higher prices.

I’m inclined to agree with Prof, these buggers are classic tenderpreneurs. Unfortunately, Prof then added,

He also said implementation of the Value Added Tax (VAT) law may have also caused prices to increase.

Own worst enemy, this government. Detour over.

The digital government, not content to let this sleeping dog of a project lie, sent out a tender, again. Our children must have laptops, see?  Now this looks like a serious tender, Advertisement for Laptops, it’s in colour, man. They made it cheaper to bid, and this time they asked for separate technical and financial bids, as is the norm. They also limited the bids to original equipment manufacturers, probably to lock out out the guys of ‘sharas, the ones ‘who know a guy’. You’d think this plan could not possibly fail, right? Let us all pause and laugh hysterically.

Government changes school laptops tender rules

“This process is a bit different from the initial one because we have opted for a very selective process that allows the government to negotiate with the shortlisted vendors to arrive at a reasonable price,” Prof Kaimenyi said. The government has also reduced the Bid Bond to Sh50 million from Sh228 million and the performance bond to Sh150 million from Sh3 billion to increase participation. The number of laptops to be procured in the initial tender has also been reduced to 1.28 million from 1.38 million. Additional 20,537 laptops for teachers will be bought separately, Prof Kaimenyi said. Restricting the tender to original equipment manufacturers blocks out companies such as Telkom Kenya and Symphony Technologies, who had expressed interest in the job. Telkom Kenya had submitted a joint bid with Olive Technologies in the initial tendering process.

Does Symphony Technologies ring a bell? They, or a company similarly named, were bidders in the IEBC tender saga last year, The Façade that is the IEBC, but I digress.

That leaves the competition to HP Commercial, Huawei PTE, Samsung Electronics, Haier Technologies, ZTE Corporation and Samsung Electronics who participated in the initial tendering process that was cancelled in August. HP Commercial had quoted Sh28.7 billion or more than twice the budget and translating to a unit price of Sh20,639. Chinese firm Huawei PTE, was the highest bidder having quoted Sh60.5 billion. Others were Samsung Electronics (Sh39.1 billion), Symphony Technologies (Sh38 billion), Haier Technologies (Sh34 billion), ZTE Corporation (Sh33 billion) and Telcom Kenya (Sh32 billion). Mastec EA placed two bids quoting Sh32.6 billion in one and Sh31.3 billion in another while Shen Zhen Auto Digital quoted Sh30.3 billion.

From all accounts I’ve read, looks like they didn’t change too many other details in the tender, seeing as how there have been no lovely addenda and such like. They talked about including laptops for teachers, and not much else. That tender went out in November, last year.

Come January, this year, complaints about the preferential treatment of one bidder started to leak.

Laptop tender raises queries over company 

When the tender documents were first opened on December 10, HP was the lowest bidder at US$291 million (Sh24.7 billion) followed by Olive at $313 million (Sh26.6 billion) and Haier at US$322 million (Sh27.4 billion). The PPOA then announced a second stage where the companies had to give a ‘Best and Final Offer’. HP reduced its original offer by $3 million to US$288 million (Sh24.5 billion) while Olive slashed its price by a massive $40 million to US$268 million (Sh22.8 million (sic)). Haier went down to $290 million (Sh24.6 billion). Later Olive asked to be allowed to amend its price to US$284 million (Sh24.1 million) by adding in costs like transport and technological support. Therefore Olive remained marginally cheaper than HP and Haier.

There are also claims that Olive contacted Haier asking if the Chinese company could manufacture the laptops for Olive. “Could you share with me your standard one page ODM (Original Design Manufacturer) and OEM agreement for contract manufacturing. We need to sign and send the same before delegation arrives,” Olive Director of Sales Ajay Jain reportedly emailed Haier on January 4. The delegation was from the Kenyan government which was due to visit the three shortlisted bidders to confirm that they had manufacturing plants.

Then this month said company, Olive Technologies, was awarded the tender, for 24.6B.

Indian firm wins Sh24 billion laptops tender 

“Olive is the lowest and most advantageous bidder at a total price of only Sh24,687,360,497.41. The Government has therefore awarded a negotiated phased-out delivery approach contract to Olive,” Kaimenyi said yesterday. He claimed the government had saved Sh8 billion by contracting Olive since the lowest bidder last year stood at Sh34 billion against a budget of Sh12 billion. The project was then re-tendered to try and cut costs. “This saving is attributed to the application of the Specially Permitted Procurement Procedure (section 92 of the Public Procurement and Disposal Act 2005) which allowed for competitive negotiations,” Kaimenyi said yesterday.

Can I point out that the ‘saving’ made is in fact not a saving as the original budget was 12B, and the plan has always been a bit flawed?

The reporter continues:

He refused to discuss the ownership of Olive. “It is not in my interest to give the information. You can do it yourself. You can Google. This is a digital government,” he said. He said government cannot react to rumours that Olive does not manufacture laptops. He said that government dispatched officers to do due diligence on Olive and they came up “with good tidings.”

And it gets worse…

Olive does not need a factory – Education PS

Education PS Belio Kipsang defended Olive arguing that it was the most competitive and advantageous. He told MPs that Olive was an Original Equipment Manufacturer, as required by the tender, because its designs will be assembled by China New Century Optronics. ”Original Device Manufacturers assemble the design, patent and brands for the Original Equipment Manufacturer,” Kipsang said. Kipsang argued that an OEM does not need to own a factory and insisted, “the Ministry for Education followed procedure in this tender.” He said HP, Olive and Haier all have manufacturing plants in China although Olive has its headquarters (sic). The PS told the committee that Olive has deployed laptops in Uzbekistan and India. He said due diligence was carried out on Olive because it quoted the lowest price.

As tends to be happen with these things, the saga continues, the other two bidders are appealing this decision.

HP appeals Olive laptops supply tender 

They are disgruntled because the tender specified that the supplier should be an ‘Original Equipment Manufacturer’, meaning that the supplier should have its own factory. They claim that Olive does not have its own factory so it cannot be an OEM.

Haier also appeals against laptop award

The Chinese company will also argue that the sample ‘Classmate’ laptop given to the Ministry of Education by Olive was in fact manufactured at the ECS factory in Suzhou which is 48 percent owned by Haier. Haier will seek to prove that ECS manufactured the laptop for Intel in India but that the branding was later changed to Olive.

To recap, on the first tender the lowest bid was 32B (ministry said so last year), or 34B (ministry says so this year), or 28.7B (HP, according to the Business Daily).  Then on the second tender, the lowest bid was 24.7B (HP, according to the Star).  Then they had further negotiations, and settled on a price of 24.6B, with Olive Technologies, the same price being offered by Haier, and marginally higher than HP’s 24.5B.  And Olive are subcontracting the manufacture to either Haier or other random Chinese dudes.

First tender, 28.7B. Second tender, 24.6B. Original budget, 12B.

Remember what I said about knowing how to shop?  List, window-shop, budget, buy.  My government doesn’t know how to shop.  They budget, then list, then buy, then window-shop to mendaciously justify what they’ve bought that grossly exceeded their budget, but hey, they’re saving us money, right?