TEC alien to safety considerations when selecting suitable tabs for A/L students?

By Rathindra Kuruwita 

The Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) to deciding on what tablet computer should be procured for GCE A/L students and teachers in 2017 had selected three different devices, the Presidential Commission investigating frauds under the current administration was informed yesterday.

Senior Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Mahesh Hewawitharana told the PCoI that there had been a lengthy process to determine to whom the contract should be granted. The main requirement was that the products offered by various companies should have the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) certification. It was a certification mark mandatory on electronic products manufactured or sold in the United States, which certified that the electromagnetic interference from the device was under limits approved by the FCC.

Although former Secretary to the Ministry of Education, Sunil Hettiarachchi had recommended a product by a company (Metropolitan Pvt. Ltd) based on its reliability or safety for students who were expected to use tabs for a minimum of eight hours a day, the TEC had not come to such a conclusion on any of the products offered, Hewawitharana said.

"So, how did Sunil Hettiarachchi come up with this recommendation? Did he come up with this in his head?" Retired Supreme Court judge Upali Abeyrathne who heads the commission asked.

"I don’t know how he came up with that but I can’t find such a recommendation in the documents," Hewawitharana said.

He said the documents also showed that a rival company (Abans) had protested against the decision stating that the necessity of the FCC certificate was not defined in the bid document.

The Senior Additional Secretary said that later the Procurement Appeal Board (PAB) who reconsidered the tender decided to overrule the TEC decision and recommended the devise proposed by the rival company. Although procurement guidelines required the line minister to follow through and inform the Cabinet, Minister of Education, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam obtained cabinet approval to get the TEC to re-evaluate the devices for durability, specifications and safety yet again, the documents show.

"Has the Secretary of the Ministry decided to include the initial company who got the bid, despite the PAB recommending another product?" Abeyrathne asked.

Hewawitharana said that if the TEC had called for a clarification from the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) things could have been clearer. He also revealed that the bid document stated that the successful bidder must open a branch at each district before awarding of the tender and the distribution of the tablet computers. However, the company that was initially selected did not have the required number of branches.

Thus, the attempts by the Ministry to award the tender to the initial bid winner appeared suspicious, the PCoI noted. However, at the end the TEC decided to select a completely new device.

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