The Laptop scandal which has engulfed the PPP government of Guyana has reinforced allegations of rampant and systemic corruption in the PPP government, and that the schemes and devices of this racketeering ruling elite are perpetrated with impunity in plain public view. The commission of criminal and unlawful acts with impunity has burgeoned into a culture of corruption that vitiates the rule of law in Guyana today. Amidst this public debauchery of fleecing of taxpayers and the Treasury, no PPP government official has ever been investigated, charged and prosecuted for corruption! There seems to be no sentinels at the exchequer; no enforcers of the law; no merchants of justice. This insidious culture has become so pervasive, that it has perverted our polity and institutions of government, and render indistinguishable our values system of right and wrong; propriety and impropriety.
It is against this backdrop, that the laptop scandal has emerged. Its genesis is in Minister Webster’s disclosure to the Parliament on February 1, 2011, that each Laptop, for the PPP’s “One Laptop Per Family Program” (OLPF) will cost G$295,000.00 – the equivalent of US$1.500.00. Webster said that the government would procure 27,000 laptops for distribution in 2011 and had budgeted 1.8 billion dollars – US 9 million dollars for the project in 2011 (a general election year). She forecasted that ultimately 90,000 computers would be purchased for distribution countrywide at a cost at approximately 5 billion dollars.
The following day Kaieteur Newspaper in a front page article captioned “Each cost $295,000 = US$1,500,” reported that “The cost for one of the laptops under OLPF Project would cost $295,000 even with the absence of any public bidding process thus far.” The ridiculous cost of US$1,500.00 per Laptop, infuriated the public and ignited a firestorm. On February 2, Minister Webster rushed back to Parliament with what she called a clarification. She told the Parliament “I now wish to clarify that the budget assumes a unit cost of US$295 per laptop and not $295,000 as previously stated inadvertently.”
On February 3, the Kaieteur Newspaper in another article captioned “Laptop Flip-Flop” reported that Minister Webster corrected her figures to “US$295, or about US$60,000” for each laptop. Government owned Guyana Chronicle newspaper on February 3, in an article titled “Consideration of estimates opens with questions on government spending,” quoted Webster as saying “some of the money would be coming from the Chinese Government.”
On February 3, Webster, attempting to quell growing criticism of the astronomical cost of the Laptop and the secrecy of the project, confounded the issue and stymied the nation by revealing at a press conference that the government is still to tender for the computers for the OLPF project – The Kaieteur Newspaper on February 4, in an article captioned “US$295 is an estimated cost – Minister Webster,” stated that “Webster said that the price quoted, US$295, is an estimate. The unit cost could be less. The government is still to decide on the specifications and it is this that is holding up the tender process.”
These are the facts on the public record, which were reported with commonality and consistency across the board in the media. At no time did Minister Webster or any other representative of the government impugn the veracity or accuracy of these facts. Consequently, they seem to be Minister Webster’s own words, and are indubitable.
I therefore put it to Minister Jennifer, that if the “tender process” has not yet commenced and bids have not yet been invited, submitted or awarded, as prescribed by law for projects of this nature, how did she or the government arrive at a “Unit cost of US$295.00? How did the government determine that it will procure 27,000 laptops in 2011 at a cost of US$9 million? How did they determine that 90,000 Laptops would be procured by the end of the project, costing over 4 billion dollars, if the “tender process” has not yet commenced? And, who authorized expenditures of significant sums of monies under this supposed project?
The Chronicle in an article titled “President launches Government’s laptop project,” published on January 22, 2011, reported that President Jagdeo launched this project on January 21, 2011. The article also reported that “During the opening, students of four pilot communities received a number of computers. These are Abrams Zuil Secondary School on the Essequibo Coast, the Volunteer Youth Corps of Durban Backlands, St. Francis Community Developers of Berbice and the Hinterland Scholarship Students of the Amerindian Hostel.”
The Procurement Act of 2003 Section 30 (1) mandates that “A procuring entity shall solicit tenders by causing an invitation to tender to be published in newspapers of wide circulation and posted in public places.” There has been no publication of an invitation to tender or a RFP. So again I put it to Minister Webster, in the absence of full compliance with the law, why was this project launched and the distribution of Laptops commenced?
If this OLPF program has not yet been subjected to the “tender process” why was President Jagdeo complicit with this material breach of the law? From whence did President Jagdeo “procure” the Laptops which he distributed at the launch? Who appointed Mr. Sesh Sukhdeo to the position Senior Project Manager of this project and approved expenditures prior to the tender process or even Parliament approving the requisite funds? What is Mr. Sukhdeo managing, if the Tender Board has not even awarded a contract for procurement of computers, as Minister Webster would have us believe?
I submit that Minister Webster’s hollow attestations about the cost being an estimate, strains credulity and insults the nation’s collective intelligence. Whether or not the “tender process” has commenced, the facts in evidence establish that implementation of the OLPF project has commenced and is current and may be unlawful. If the latter is true, then officials of the Government of Guyana have apparently committed multiple, criminal violations of the law, namely the “PROCUREMENT ACT 2003.”
Moreover, Minister Webster’s statements that (I) the cost of US$295.00 is an estimate and that the actual cost could be less, and (ii) a determination of the specifications is delaying the “tender process,” are farcical. Clearly the government knows the cost and specifications of the laptops it purchased for President Jagdeo to distribute at the launch. Minister Webster is trying, albeit clumsily, to cover up for the Jagdeo regime’s contempt for and violation of the law.
Her problem however, is that she is not being properly advised on the law nor is she coherent in her attempts to whitewash the actions of the government. She seems to have had an amnesic shock, and fails to realize that she has already provided a cost for an item to be procured even before, as she claims, the invitation, acceptance and award of a tender, and without contemplation of the fact that computers have already been procured and distributed. Suffice it to say that in spite of all this, she wants us to believe that specifications of the laptops to be acquired are yet to be determined. Hogwash!
Inherent in her comments about the stated cost being an estimate is an intimation that the government may be shopping around for a perfect deal. If this is so, this is also a violation of the law. The intent of some provisions of the Procurement Act is to eschew wheeling and dealing. Section 27 (4) of the Act states that: “Each supplier or contractor is permitted to give only one price quotation and is not permitted to change its quotation.” Furthermore, both Sections 27 and 41 expressly prohibit negotiations between the government and the supplier or the government and the bidder, as this could lead to corruption. The mandate of the tender board is to evaluate the bids based on the requirements of the invitation to tender, and award the contract to a qualified bidder with the lowest bid who is in compliance with the established standards and prerequisites of the tender.
The requirements set out in the law are clear. Minister Webster’s comments as well as the facts established in the public record, when juxtaposed with those requirements, reveal the government’s continued disregard for the rule of law. The government seems determined to squander the resources of the State in corrupt deals and to deceive the nation about corrupt enterprises. This became manifest when the office of the President deliberately lied about the cost and quantity of computers it has procured, and only corrected it’s mendacious deeds when Kaieteur news exposed it by publishing copies of the contract of sale. Confronted with the facts, it had no choice but to come clean. Yet there has been no accountability for this grave breach of the public trust.
This brings us back full circle to the insidious culture of corruption that shrouds the PPP government; its complicity with alleged serious criminals and/or unlawful acts, with impunity and its patent disregard for law. I reiterate, that amidst this public debauchery of fleecing, no one in the PPP government is being held to account. They act as though their are all above the law. Hence I question, are there no sentinels at the exchequer; no enforcers of the law or tmerchants of justice? I wait to see who will bell this cat. Would it be the Police Commissioner, the Auditor General or the DPP or all of the above?
Finally, Section 16 (1) of the Procurement Act invests the Minister of Finance with statutory jurisdiction of the National Tender Borad. This matter is consequently within purview of the office of Minister of Finance. Although Minister Webster is a Minister within the Ministry of Finance, she is not the Minister of Finance. Ashni Kumar Singh is. Minister Singh has a fiduciary duty under the law to account to the nation for his stewardship of the national Treasury. I therefore put the above questions to Minister Singh.
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