Controversy surrounds the impending procurement of 386 hand-held devices or computers, commonly known as iPads (pictured left), for MPs, as some of the bidders have raised eyebrows over the set specifications.
This is the second set of specifications that the parliamentary commission's procurement department has come up with after bidders queried the first ones.
Earlier, bidders complained that the first specifications set were unfair, starting with determining a specific manufacturer Apple yet the commission had called for competitive bidding.
The first specifications required the suppliers to provide training to three parliamentary information and communication technology (ICT) officers, at an Apple-authorised training centre. Sunday Vision has established that about 10 companies have expressed interest in the deal by picking bid documents.
When the commission made changes, they retained the requirement that three parliamentary ICT officers should be trained on how to support the tablet computers in a corporate environment, at the manufacturer's authorised training centre.
Although this time it was not specific on the company to carry out the training, a new condition was added under item 20; that ICT officers' training "should include travel subsistence and per diem (of the officers) at Parliament of Uganda rates."
This has prompted more questions on whether the ICT officers need to be trained at all. "What will the officers' training help? Are they going to be trained so that they teach MPs how to use tablets or on how to repair them in case of a fault?" Wondered one of the bidders who preferred anonymity.
According to item 18 on the requirements schedule, the manufacturer should provide a one-year warranty for the devices and support for one year.
Jalia Bintu, a parliamentary commissioner told Sunday Vision they decided to procure iPads for each MP to cut down on stationery expenditure. Earlier, parliamentary commissioners, Emmanuel Dombo and Dr. Chris Baryomunsi, had echoed Bintu's view.
Bintu, however, said she was not aware of the specifications requiring training of Parliament's ICT officers. But Helen Kawesa, Parliament's spokesperson, said the ICT officers were to be trained to assist MPs on how to use the gadgets.
"It will be a training of trainers. The ICT officers will help MPs who may have questions on how to use the iPads," she said.
On changing specifications, Kawesa said this was done to rectify anomalies. "The contracts committee is allowed to change specifications if there is still time to do so in cases like that (when anomalies are detected)," she explained.
On why the number of iPads is 386 yet the MPs are 375, Kawesa said the number rose (to 386) because they also budgeted for ex-officios. The latest iPad costs about $1,097 (sh2.8m). With 375 MPs and 11 ex-officio members, the Government will spend over sh1b to procure the gadgets.
The decision to buy MPs the latest version of iPads was taken by the parliamentary commission, awaiting execution by the contracts committee of Parliament. The iPads are supposed to be procured before the end of this financial year (2012/13) on June 30.
Sunday Vision recently reported that the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, early last year wrote to the ICT ministry rejecting it's plan to buy MPs computers, because the money was going to be diverted from purchasing computers for rural administrative structures.
In 2011, plans by Uganda Communications Commission, in tandem with the ICT committee of Parliament to buy MPs iPads, ended in failure and controversy as MPs, especially in opposition, objected to the deal.
MPs like Jack Wamanga (Mbale Municipality) and Odonga Otto (Aruu County) cited parliamentary rules of procedure which do not allow MPs to be facilitated by ministries and government departments in their oversight role for fear of getting compromised.
The money was to be got from the Rural Communications Development Fund which is used to buy computers for schools, hospitals and for RDCs among others.