NSFAS laptop tender saga proves how state procurement encourages corruption
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When President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the National Assembly for his first State of the Nation Address on February 16, 2018, he promised weary South Africans his government would root out corruption in state institutions.
While corruption is not endemic across all state institutions, some would argue government procurement encourages corruption as a viable business strategy.
Such is the case with the drawn-out R3.2 billion tender, issued last year by the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to supply 730 000 laptops to 430000 university students and 300 000 TVET college students, which has been mired in corruption.
Many bidders were disqualified for not meeting government’s BEE-EE criteria, while others failed on other benchmarks like local sourcing of laptop bags and for not having partnerships with laptop makers.
The tender was part of government’s Covid-19 relief efforts, to provide students the opportunity to participate in remote learning as the pandemic closed schools, colleges and universities.
But like all procurement related to Covid-19, the tender for the provision of these laptops was scrapped twice last year over concerns the award process had been corrupt.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union, which represents NSFAS staff, has alleged before Parliament the relationship between Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and the scheme’s administrator Randall Carollissen was corrupt and the awarding of the tender was manipulated.
In November, five companies were announced to have successfully bid for the supply of the laptops. But even that process, on the eve of a new academic year, now stands in doubt.
Now the South African Students Congress, representing most students at tertiary institutions, has threatened to take Nzimande to court to ensure the laptops are delivered. But one of the losing bidders is threatening legal action to halt the process, in all likelihood alleging skulduggery in awarding the tender.
What government should do when issuing tenders is to add layers of transparency to the procurement process so there can be no legal challenges from losing bidders when winners are finally announced.