Thailand coy on naming supplier of tablets

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - The Thai government is facing a possible deadline crisis over its One Tablet Per Child (OTPC) project after its committee yesterday failed to disclose the name of the chosen supplier.

The government insisted that the bid winner has been selected, as it tried to allay fears about a delay. Observers, however, see a tight time-frame as Pathom 1 students will begin their new semester on May 15, the time by which they should have the tablets in hand, downloaded with proper programmes for learning.

The big question is whether the government will be able to provide well-equipped devices to the children in time.

Information and Communications Technology Minister Gp Capt Anudith Nakornthap emerged from the meeting of the OTPC policy committee yesterday, saying the committee had already picked the supplier but its name would not be released to the public for the time being.

"We will disclose the name after we sign the purchase contract with the Chinese government," he said, "We have to inform the Chinese of our chosen supplier and wait for their response."

He said the procurement panel for the OTPC project has chosen just one supplier and the OTPC policy committee has approved it.

"The price per unit is cheaper than 2,400 baht and the conditions are even better than what earlier appeared in news reports," Anudith said.

He said three suppliers had revised their quotations on March 9.

Anudith said he did not know what would happen if the Chinese government recommended another supplier.

The Thai government has been preparing to procure 900,000 tablets from a Chinese supplier via a government-to-government contract.

China has reportedly recommended four suppliers. They are Shenzhen Scope Scientific Development, TCL Corporation, Haier Information Technology (Shenzhen) and Huawei Technology. They have offered US$81 (Bt2,400), $89, $103 and $135 per tablet computer respectively.

Last week, Anudit suggested that he would ask the Cabinet to approve the purchase of tablets from Shenzhen Scope Scientific Development that offered to sell for just $81 per unit, excluding transportation costs. However, the Cabinet meeting on March 6 took place without any approval for the purchase.

On March 13, the Cabinet convened another meeting but again there was no conclusion about the supplier for the OTPC project.

Therefore, all eyes were on the OTPC policy committee meeting yesterday because many relevant parties wanted to have clear-cut information and determine how to prepare for the upcoming semester.

Anudith, however, did not seem so sure about the next steps. He even said that he was worried about the possibility of the procurement of tablets becoming another big scandal like what happened in the procurement of fire vehicles from an Austrian supplier many years ago.

According to Anudith, the OTPC policy committee has already instructed the Foreign Ministry to inform the Chinese government of the supplier chosen and the legal procedures required by Thailand.

The ICT minister said he expected the Chinese government to reply within one week.

Anudit said the procurement plan would be placed before the Cabinet only after China responds.

Education Minister Suchart Tadathamrongvej presided over the OTPC policy committee yesterday.

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