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E-Learning Jamaica, supplier of tablets at odds

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundewrsa@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

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E-LEARNING Jamaica and one of its suppliers, GeoTech Vision Enterprises, are now at odds over a

multimillion-dollar contract for which the Government agency issued a notice of termination on September 16, but the firm is insistent that the agreement is still valid.

Chief executive officer (CEO) of e-Learning Jamaica, Keith Smith told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that the agency is willing to hold discussions, but the contract has been terminated and the agency is, in fact, in the progress of recalling the bond from the vendor.

“...The contract makes provisions around discussions that would take place in the event of termination, but there is no contract between e-Learning and GeoTech at this point,” Smith insisted.

GeoTech Vision, he said, had filed an ex partae injunction in the Supreme Court last Friday, blocking e-Learning from recalling the irrecoverable bank bond, but that the court dismissed the filing and awarded cost to e-Learning.

Information communication technologies project manager at GeoTech, Stephen Wedderburn said the company believes the termination notice was not proper, and that the contract is still in place.

“Our lawyers and their lawyers are talking, but GeoTech's position is that it is not a proper termination notice. The avenues in the contract have not been exhausted and therefore we are seeking to go through the dispute resolution method that's set out in the contract,” he stated.

The company was initially contracted in December 2018 to provide 18,000 student tablets for the Tablets in Schools programme, within six weeks, according to Smith.

He said there was an adjustment to the contract in February to provide more than 1,000 additional tablets instead of the 465 charging cards which were to be a part of the original order.

“These tablets were expected in May, and to date we have not received any; we received 11 sample tablets and none of which worked,” Smith told the Observer. He said the devices did not meet specifications, and countered GeoTech's claims that more than half of the tablets have been in the island since July.

The US$16-million contract with GeoTech is for the supply of tablets over 11 years, and, so far, according to Smith, US$6.16 million has been expended under the drawdown purchase order mechanism.

He further explained that when the project was conceptualised it was to provide tablets for both teachers and students, but that a separate programme has been put in place under an agreement between the Government and the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), as part of salary negotiations, to procure 25,000 tablets over the next eight years for teachers.

Opposition spokesman on technology, Julian Robinson, who highlighted the issue in the media yesterday and tabled related questions in the House of Representatives, has questioned the quality of the devices being procured for teachers, compared to those for students.

Wedderburn agreed that the specs for the teacher devices were lower than the student devices, but Smith is disputing this claim as well. “That is not true. There was an initial agreement between ourselves and the JTA on the specifications for tablets, and earlier this year we put out an RFP (request for proposal) to acquire tablets with the specifications that was agreed, and for the amount that was agreed and there was a conflict with the specifications of the tablets that could be provided at that dollar amount,” he explained.

He said that, in consultation with the JTA, e-Learning adjusted the specifications to bring it in line with the agreed contract sum, and that the tender is now about to go to market with the full agreement of the JTA.

GeoTech's Stephen Wedderburn said the student tablets are Android 9 devices, which are up to date with full specifications, while the teacher tablet specs are lower.

He said the final set of tablets are expected to arrive in the island this week. “We have had the first batch of tablets since July; e-Learning has not taken possession of any of them,” he said.

In the meantime, the Tablets in Schools project is being redesigned, but Smith said the timeline for completion is a policy decision. This means that no tablets are currently being issued to students.

“The plan is that the programme will resume as soon as we are in a position to do so. Clearly, this situation that faces us is a new one and we are in the process of tidying up; and through the ministry we will announce future plans for the programme,” he stated.


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