Following public concerns over the quality of computers produced by Positivo BGH, the manufacturer of the first ‘Made-in-Rwanda’ laptops, the firm says the issue was not quality but rather a mismatch between demand and supply.
In an exclusive interview with The New Times, the managing director of the Rwandan subsidiary of the South American multinational, Zoran Gordic, said the laptops in question were made in conformity with the terms of their contract with the Government of Rwanda.
However, he said, the firm has recently started producing upgraded units.
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“When we started out, we were producing Intel classmate laptops that were meant for students in primary and secondary schools. But we later learnt that the market needs were different,” he said at the company’s Rwanda headquarters at the Kigali Special Economic Zone in Gasabo District.
This is contrary to the terms of the non-disclosure agreement that the Latin American company had entered with the Government back in 2014, he said.
Initially, the Positivo executive said, they were supposed to produce low-cost personal computers for children.
However, the Positivo BGH laptops soon ended up in the hands of varsity students and public officers who need more sophisticated computers to perform their tasks.
This, Gordic explained, created a misunderstanding among members of the public that the company did not have the capacity to produce high quality products that were market specific, an impression he said was wrong.
“We have the capacity to produce any kind of computer depending on who the consumers are, depending on the target market. The implementation of this project didn’t fail because of our low expertise in producing quality devices,” he noted, adding that last year they started to produce advanced laptops suitable for both varsity students and other users.
Their first lot of laptops had two gigabytes of random-access memory (RAM) and 320 gigabytes of hard disk, and were running on Celeron, a low-end processor.
This could not allow certain users, like university students to perform complex functions like coding and programming.
According to Gordic, upon the request of the Government, the company last year started making adjustments on the specifications of the laptops to meet the expectations of consumers, which saw them open a production of i5 and i7 computers.
He said more than 18,000 of these high-end computers have since been produced for the Rwandan market.
Initially, the firm was producing 150,000 computers per year, but it has since downsized to 40,000 a year.
Firm to start producing power metres
Meanwhile, Gordic said the company was exploring other avenues in the market, disclosing they were moving to produce electricity metres and wireless connectivity devices.
“We are starting to produce the first Made-in-Rwanda electricity metres and connecting access points (caps), which will be unveiled this month,” he noted.
Connecting access points are wireless connectivity devices which, according to the firm, will be used in the education sector, particularly in different schools to help provide access to internet to students across the country.
In the long term, they say they will be producing billing machines, air conditioners and off-grid solar systems.
According to the country’s ‘ICT in Education Policy’, there is a plan to ensure that technology is integrated in all education processes, including in preparation, delivery of lessons, assessments and research.
In the policy, it is indicated that all teachers will be provided with a laptop complete with internet connectivity, courtesy of the Ministry of Education.
Students use POSITIVO GBH laptops during an IT class at Groupe Scolaire Rweru in Bugesera District. Available documentation revealed that government is at risk of losing up to Rwf4.7 billion from the laptop purchase deal. / Photo: Sam Ngendahimana.
Members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have tasked officials from Rwanda Information Society Authority (RISA) to expose whoever that is responsible for potential loss stemming from defective POSITIVO laptops.
Officials from RISA were appearing virtually in a PAC public hearing on Friday, September 18, to respond to queries on poor public asset management cases identified in the Auditor General’s report of 2018/2019.
The report showed a concern over potential huge loss of funds associated with managing the distribution of POSITIVO laptops between RISA and Africa Investment Smart Distribution (ASID).
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In the light of implementing the agreement between POSIVO BGH and the government of Rwanda, the government hired ASID as sole distributor of POSITIVO laptops.
Government procured laptops from POSIVO GBH – which locally produced the gadgets – following its contractual commitment, and then handed them over to ASID in form of stock on credit for sale.
The move, according to Innocent Muhizi, the Chief Executive Officer of RISA, was in line with engaging the private sector in the distribution and sale of computers in the country so as to scale up access to laptops to many Rwandans especially students.
ASID had an obligation of paying back government after selling laptops.
However, review of available documentation revealed that government is at risk of losing funds amounting to Rwf4.7 billion.
These funds relate to 19,449 laptops distributed by ASID and 7,246 defective laptops returned to RISA, the AG report revealed in his report.
Through the review of availed documentation, the audit identified 7,246 defective laptops worth Rwf1.35 billion.
These defective laptops were to be repaired by POSITIVO GBH. However, inquiry made with management revealed that these laptops had not been repaired at the time of audit in June 2019.
The AG’s report suggested that POSITIVO GBH delayed to repair them for a period of 384 days, and that these funds may be lost if these laptops are not repaired or replaced for use.
This situation implies that the warranty period of one year was over according to RISA CEO, Muhizi.
Muhizi said that an assessment the Authority carried out in 2019 on the computer stock found that 12,000 of the 19,000 the computers were safe, and were given to Rwanda Education Board (REB) for distribution in schools.
MP Christine Bakundufite said that if the computers were checked to establish their state within the warranty period and they were found to be defective, POSITIVO should would compensate for them.
“More than a year elapsed but those laptops were not yet repaired. What happened for the computers to take all that time without being repaired? And, who is responsible for that Rwf1.4 billion loss?” MP Bakundufite asked RISA officials.
Muhizi replied that that the issue was due to the fact that the detection of mechanical defects required specialised equipment and testing lab which were not available in Rwanda.
Asked to indicate who pays the cost of repair, Muhizi replied that it is REB.
However, MPs did not understand why REB should incur the cost of repairing computers whose defects is not its mistake. They said that the expenditure constitutes a loss for the Government.
PAC asked RISA to provide figures of how much was spent on repairing the computers, which it promised to do by the end of next week (September 27, 2020).
Low rate of loan recovery
The AG’s report also casts doubt on the recoverability of ASID’s debt to government due to low rate of repayment.
It indicated that in January 2018, ASID owed to the government a debt of Rwf3.5 billion resulting from unpaid stock of 19,449 POSITIVO laptops received from government for sale.
According to debt settlement agreement signed between the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and ASID, this debt was to be repaid in 30 monthly instalments starting from 30 January 2018 up to 30 June 2020.
Hence, monthly instalment of Rwf117 million. As at 30 June 2019, ASID was supposed to have repaid an amount of Rwf2.1bn.
However, the audit noted that only Rwf167 million had been repaid which represented 8 percent of due amount as at 30 June 2019.
The report suggested that due to the low rate of repayment, a debt of Rwf3.35 billion is at risk of being lost.
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“We are doing our best to ensure that we recover the money from sold computers,” he made a commitment to PAC.
Established in Rwanda in 2014, Positivo-BGH, a Latin American firm that set up shop in Kigali following a deal with the Government to locally manufacture computers.
Production started in 2015.