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E12.5M LAPTOPS LYING IDLE AT EDUCATION FOR 3YRS

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MBABANE – Government’s rollout of the e-government programme seems impeded by negligence and poor handling of laptops and computers worth millions of Emalangeni.

At least 390 laptops purchased by the Ministry of Education and Training at a cost of E12.5 million, remain unutilised, after three years. An unstated number of them have already been stolen. The Auditor General (AG), Timothy Matsebula, in his Financial Audit Report for the year ended March 31, 2023, also found that the laptops were purchased without requisitions.
He said the absence of the requisitions from the intended users gave the impression that the procurement was not properly planned. In one incident, the AG said some officials said they were involved in an accident while travelling with the laptops and the gadgets were broken. However, there was no paperwork served to the AG to corroborate this story.  

There were 50 laptops with the specification: HP Intel core i5-1135 4GB laptop plus carry bag, costing E1 590 000.  Another type with specifications: HP Intel core i7-10510U 8GB laptop plus carry bag cost E10 948 000 for 32 units. “Information gathered during the audit revealed that the recipients of the gadgets did not know what to do with them and how to distribute them, hence they remained in their custody and unutilised, while some were stolen,” the AG said. He said this was in violation of Section 33(1) of the Public Procurement Regulations of 2020, which states that “every procurement requirement should be documented by a procurement requisition.” Subsection 3 of this section further states that; “the requisition should be approved by the controlling officer or an officer so designated by the controlling officer, prior to the initiation of procurement proceedings.”

Also, subsection 4(a) emphasises that “approval of requisitions should include confirmation of the need of the items and authority to proceed with the procurement.” Subsection 5 then explains that approved requisitions should be submitted to the appropriate procuring entity to initiate procurement proceedings. Matsebula observed that the purchase may not have been informed by need, in excess of requirements and not of the appropriate specification. “I am also concerned about fruitless and wasteful expenditure that may have been incurred through the purchase of unnecessary laptops. The purchased laptops may remain unutilised or stolen thereby depriving the government of value on the money spent,” he said. He advised the principal secretary (PS) to ensure that all procurement was properly planned in compliance with government procurement laws, regulations and procedures. “All procurement should be initiated through a duly approved requisition subject to confirmation of the need,” he said.

Missing

On another note, the AG found that there were missing and idle laptops found during a verification exercise. “I further reported that during the physical verification of durable material in the custody of the ministry conducted in December 2023, it was noted that out of 586 computer laptops that were supplied to various responsibility centres of the ministry, between December 2021 and September 2023, only 247 (less than half of them) were issued to users, while 88 were missing and 251 remained idle. As such, government had not derived full value on the money spent in the acquisition of the laptops,” he said. The physical verification further revealed that 44 laptops had been lying idle at the ministry headquarters for 10 months, while 56 laptops had been idle at the Hhohho Regional Education Office (REO) (32), Lubombo REO (2) and Shiselweni REO (22) for two full years. The AG said further enquiry from the REOs revealed that there was no instruction from the ministry on how the gadgets should be distributed, hence most of them remained idle and vulnerable to theft.  

Regarding the missing 88 laptops, the six laptops missing from the ministry headquarters and 38 laptops missing from the Lubombo REO were reported as stolen to the Royal Eswatini Police Service. “However, the Manzini and Shiselweni regional education officers did not provide any information regarding the missing 38 and 6 laptops from their custody as they had not reported the losses to the police.

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