— but no further action was taken by Coalition Gov’t, Public Accounts Committee hears
WHEN the Coalition Government assumed office in 2015, it refashioned its predecessor’s ‘One Laptop Per Family’ initiative into the ‘One Laptop Per Teacher’ programme. As part of that programme, 9,609 computers were procured at the approximate cost of $1.6 billion.
When the laptops were delivered in February 2015, it was found that 2,959 of the devices, valued at $495 million were defective, and even after five years, the country has not been compensated for these significant losses.
On Monday, the matter engaged the attention of the bipartisan Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which heard that, under the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Government, the supplier was informed of the faults, but no further actions were taken.
Further, the PAC was told by the General Manager of the National Data Management Authority (NDMA), Francis Simmons, that the quality of the laptops was “extremely poor” and that they were damaged largely due to heat and the length of time they were being stored. The constitutional committee was informed, too, that the possibility exists that the laptops were already damaged when they were delivered.
Appearing before the 17th PAC meeting on Monday was the former Permanent Secretary of the then Ministry of Public Telecommunications, Derrick Cummings, who attempted to provide some answers.
He explained that the purchase of the laptops was made by the E-Governance Unit, which was, at the time, under the purview of the Ministry of the Presidency. When the supplies were delivered, the unit had been transferred to what was then the newly established Ministry of Public Telecommunications.
However, Cummings explained that even though the unit had been transferred, some of the responsibilities took time to be transitioned over to the ministry.
As the PAC began to seek further clarity on the issue, the matter attracted more questions than answers, forcing government representative of the PAC, Dharamkumar Seeraj, to call for a detailed technical report on how and when the computers were damaged.
His colleague, Juan Edghill, also the Minister of Public Works, interjected to ask that several questions relating to the purchase be answered and submitted to the PAC in a written format.
MUST PROVIDE CLARITY
The responses, according to Edghill, must provide clarity on when and where the laptops were delivered; which agency handled the acceptance and distribution of the laptops; where they were stored; when the damages were discovered and what the circumstances were that led to the discovery, etcetera.
Additionally, Edghill also wants a copy of the report which was presumably compiled when the damages were detected in 2016, as well as evidence of meetings, or correspondences which were sent to the supplier, stating the damages to the devices.
“Did the report ascribe culpability? What is the current position of the recovery of the sums and where are the current damaged laptops being held?” Edghill queried
APNU+AFC Member of Parliament and Chairman of the PAC, Jermaine Figueira, agreed to give PS Cummings two weeks to have the lingering questions answered. Figueira went further to seek clarity on the matter pertaining to the 2014 theft of 103 laptops which were purchased for the One Laptop Per Family initiative 2014. The stolen devices were valued at $17 million.
He was informed that the matter of the stolen computers was reported and is still being investigated by the police. This was much to the annoyance of Opposition PAC Member, David Patterson, who lamented the need for a detailed police report to be submitted, updating the PAC on the status of the case.
“At minimum, it’s over six years; has the police responded on the status of the investigation?
Who was charged? What actions were taken? Has it ever [even] reached the courts?” Patterson questioned.
His colleague APNU+AFC member, Ganesh Mahipaul, also decried the manner in which the laptop ‘inquests’ were handled, referencing the fact that year after year, the matters continued to be flagged in the Auditor General’s reports, with no resolution.
“It seems as though we don’t care about government money,” Mahipaul determined. Ironically, it was the APNU+AFC which had been in office throughout the period 2015-2020, when, ideally, the matter should have been resolved.