How did an election promise result in overpriced Chromebooks?

Leading up to the 13th General Election, the Barisan Nasional (BN) government was replete with promises. One particular promise, as quoted by The Star in a report dated 9 April 2013, stated: “The Government will provide every school student with a laptop next year if Barisan Nasional is returned to power.”[1]

Today, with the next general election looming around the corner, what has come of this promise? Certainly, the five million students in Malaysian schools have not been provided with individual laptops for their personal use, or even any kind of device for that matter.

In fact, the most the government has been done was to purchase 116,399 units of Chromebooks, a laptop based on Google’s Chrome Operating System, at a cost of RM248 million from YTL, the same company that was awarded the multi-billion ringgit 1BestariNet project.

Obviously, 116,399 units is nowhere near the number of students we have in the country. In fact, if we were to divide the Chromebooks by the 10,000 schools that we have, it corresponds to an average of 20 units per school. I would agree if the government feels that it would be too expensive to provide one Chromebook or even any kind of device to each and every student in the country, but if that is the case, how can such a promise be made and then conveniently forgotten?

At the same time, the cost of the Chromebooks also raises many questions. According to a parliamentary reply I received last year, the government spent RM248 million, which amounts to RM2,130 per Chromebook. This is an exorbitant amount, especially when a basic Chromebook manufactured by Acer retails from RM999 per unit.[2]

In order to justify the extra premium paid for the Chromebooks, Deputy Education Minister Dato’ P Kamalanathan replied to my question in parliament during the recent supplementary budget debate by stating that the supply of Chromebooks also includes a package of seven other services including software and support services.

There are too many questions that need answering. Firstly, the government needs to explain whether an open tender was conducted for the procurement of the Chromebooks. Secondly, why do they cost so much? Thirdly, why were they purchased from YTL, which is not a computer hardware manufacturer, when it would be cheaper to procure them from manufacturers such as Acer or Samsung? Lastly, why did the government pay a premium price for additional services to YTL when the same company is already paid billions of ringgit to provide software and support services through the 1BestariNet project?

The government needs to explain why an overly ambitious election promise has degenerated into yet another profligate project for a company that has already been awarded a monopoly on internet infrastructure and education technology in the Malaysian education system.

Zairil Khir Johari
Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera
DAP Parliamentary Spokesperson for Education, Science and Technology



NB: This press statement was released on 5 April 2017 in Kuala Lumpur.


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