Minister in computerisation scam

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PRIMARY and Secondary Education minister Lazarus Dokora has been sucked into multi-million-dollar computerisation scam. This comes amid reports that he incorporated a privately-owned company which he handpicked without going to tender to work with the state-owned entity Zarnet in a donor-funded schools computerisation programme.

BY ELIAS MAMBO

Dokora Lazarus

The Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) has also been dragged into the scandal as it emerged Dokora was being pressured by the office to cut the dodgy deal.

So far US$15 million has been released by donors to computerise 1 384 schools. The programme aims to computerise 8 000 schools.

Zarnet is a government–owned entity which provides internet service and ICT solutions for government institutions, companies and other entities in Zimbabwe. The company also offers fibre, VSAT, and WiMAX broadband internet, management and server solutions.

Its products include Online Schools Directory, an online directory for institutions of learning that range from nursery, primary and secondary schools, to universities.

However, despite it being a government entity, Dokora has insisted it should accommodate E-Learning Solutions, a privately-owned digital education solution provider (ESP), founded and owned by Itai Masimirembwa without going to tender.

Itai is suspended Zanu PF member Godwills Masimirembwa’s brother.

According to documents seen by the Zimbabwe Independent, Dokora, in a meeting held on June 6, “made clear the role that E-Learning Solutions and Zarnet would play in the implementation of the ministry’s Wide Area Network (WAN), that is E-Learning Solutions were to concentrate on applications while Zarnet focusses on infrastructure”.
The documents also reveal that E-Learning Solutions was given the opportunity to “independently submit to the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education (MoPSE) proposals to connect as many schools they wish as long as they can conform to the requirements of the ministry.” However, in a letter dated June 21, Zarnet chief executive officer Evans Vete questioned the role of E-Learning Solutions in a government operation.

“A noticeable problem is that MoPSE is deviating from its core business by both taking the role of providing a technical solution and of trying to appoint who can do projects, a roll that the SPB (State Procurement Board) does,” reads part of the letter.

“Approaching E-Learning Solutions indicates that MoPSE does not appreciate, recognise and or understand Zarnet’s mandate as given by the government of Zimbabwe. MoPSE is seeing E-Learning Solutions, a private content provider company, as competitor to Zarnet, a government internet access provider.”

Education secretary Sylvia Utete-Masango said her ministry was following a directive from the OPC.

“We are working directly with OPC and some of the decisions are coming from the top,” she said.

Government sources say E-Learning was dictating how the programme should run because of “backing from the top” and had taken over Zarnet’s role.

Sources also said there are many other private companies that can also play the role of E-Learning and questions are being raised on how this company was chosen to partner Zarnet.

“This company did not go to tender to clinch the deal at the same time government has no financial capacity to outsource services which are being offered by a state entity.”

Ministry sources said efforts to stop the unscrupulous deal have hit a brick wall amid revelations E-Learning had Dokora’s support.

“There was a meeting last week on Friday and the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education stuck to its guns that E-Learning should be part of the deal,” another ministry official said. “Dokora was supposed to address us, but he failed to turn up and sent the permanent secretary who insisted E-Learning should be part of the deal.”

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