KARACHI: The Sindh government has cancelled an over Rs3 billion tender released for the purchase of benches for government schools across the province at exorbitant prices following the recommendations of a committee formed to find out irregularities in the matter, it emerged on Saturday.

Talking to Dawn, Education Minister Syed Sardar Shah said that a departmental committee had recommended the cancellation of the ‘controversial’ contract and a notification to this effect would be issued on Monday.

“As per recommendation of the departmental committee now the procurement of furniture would be made at divisional level,” he added.

This was the third tender for purchase of school benches which was cancelled.

Opposition leader has alleged education dept is purchasing a school desk for Rs29,000 while its market price is Rs5,000

Issue highlighted by TIP

The issue of purchase of school desks at an excessive price was initially raised by Transparency International Pakistan (TIP) and brought in the limelight by Leader of the Opposition in Sindh Assembly Haleem Adil Sheikh.

Mr Sheikh alleged that the provincial government was purchasing a school desk for over Rs29,000, while the same was available in the open market for just Rs5,000.

The controversy took a dramatic turn when Information Minister Saeed Ghani, who was the education minister before the recent reshuffle in the provincial cabinet, had told a press conference that the purchase of furniture was approved by the chief minister, who had then held the portfolio of education.

Later, giving an explanation on the floor of the Sindh Assembly, the information minister refuted allegations of procuring desks for schools on exorbitant prices and said that a central procurement committee had undertaken the entire process to procure the furniture for the government-run schools in the province.

He said that central procurement committee formed for the purpose had asked the National Accountability Bureau, Transparency International, Sindh High Court and provincial Anti-Corruption Establishment to nominate their representative to become a part of the process.

He said that furniture for the government schools had not been purchased for the last eight years as in the year 2018 it had been decided to constitute a central procurement committee for the purpose.

Defending the approved bid, Minister Ghani had said that the price of Sheesham wood had increased and estimates were set at a higher value in order to avoid any issues during the implementation process.

However, sources said that there was no role of the chief minister in the procurement of school furniture.

They said that CM Murad Ali Shah had only approved a summary eight years ago, while the tendering process was conducted by the officials of the education department.

They said that Minister Sardar Shah had discussed the issue with the chief minister, who asked him to cancel the contract if there were anomalies.

Procurement at divisional level recommended

They said that the minister constituted a departmental committee, headed by the education secretary, which recommended cancellation of the tender.

The sources said that the education department had now decided to procure school furniture at divisional level.

They said that six divisional committees would be formed for as many divisions in the province for the purpose, adding that the divisional committees would be notified shortly.

The sources said that the decision to procure school furniture at divisional level was taken to make the process transparent.

They said that the purchase of school furniture at local level would also save transportation charges.

They said that committee formed to find out irregularities in the award of contract had recommended review of the prices of the school desks before purchase.

The sources said that the committee further recommended purchasing of the desks for the schools at the divisional level as per rules, adding that the process of procurement would be monitored by the divisional committees at the district level.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2021

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