Kenya abandons school laptop project, moves to computer labs

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The Kenyan government has abandoned its school laptop program, valued at more than US$600 million, following a controversy over the manner in which the contract for the project was awarded to India’s Olive Telecommunications.

Kenya’s Public Procurement Administrative Review Board (PPARB) revoked the bid award last year, prompting Olive to take the matter to court.

PPARB ruled after a review of the bidding that the project was wrongly awarded to Olive because the Indian company is not an original equipment manufacturer, as required by the Kenyan project requirement.

Olive reportedly uses Chinese subcontractors to manufacture Olive-branded devices, and allegedly added computers to its list of products only after it was shortlisted by the Kenyan government.

PPARB also alleged that Ministry of Education officials had inflated the price by 1.4 billion Kenyan shillings (about $17 million).

The Kenyan government said however that it picked Olive to supply the laptops because it was the lowest bid for the three companies that were shortlisted for the tender.

Under the project, Olive was to deliver 1.3 million laptops to the Kenyan government for the nationwide school project.

PPARB was forced to review the bid process after Hewlett-Packard and Haier Electrical Appliances of China—who were knocked out of the running by Olive—appealed the award decision, criticizing it as being flawed.

PPARB also said that Olive does not have the capacity to supply the laptops and ordered the Ministry of Education’s bid committee to award to award the project to either Hewlett-Packard or Haier Electrical.

However, Olive contended, among other things, that it has the ability and financial capacity to execute the project and decided to take the matter to court for arbitration. While the country’s High Court was still determining the matter, the Kenyan government announced it was abandoning the project, effectively putting an end to the case.

Instead, the Kenyan government said it will now borrow an idea from Brazil: establishing computer labs in schools. Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi said at a media briefing last week that the court hurdle prompted the Kenyan government to look at computer labs as the best option of introducing ICT in schools.

While the government is committed to bring ICT to schools, the Olive case threatened to derail the laptop project, Kaimenyi said.

As a result, the ministry has studied a Brazilian computer project for schools, which the South American country implemented with the support of UNESCO. That project model—which has also been implemented in Indonesia and India—can be replicated in Kenya, the ministry believes.

With the new plan, the Kenyan government falls in the footsteps of Nigeria and Zambia, which are also implementing computer labs in schools.

Nigeria and Zambian are creating computer labs in schools in a bid to create a critical mass of youths with ICT skills in order to narrow the digital divide between Africa, America and Europe.

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