The state-owned building in reclaimed suburb Hulhumale, where Lale’ Youth International School was previously operated, was handed over to Qualitat Education, which won the bid to develop the building as an international school, against the counsel of the Maldives graft watchdog which had urged the government to launch the bid again, Mihaaru has found out.
The education ministry had held the awarding ceremony to hand over the building to Qualitat Education on Thursday.
The building where Lale School was formerly operated was put up for bid after the previous operator Biz Atolls Pvt Ltd’s term had ended. Qualitat’s win of the bid was followed by corruption allegations raised by Lale School students’ parents, which had prompted the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to temporarily halt the building handover as it probed the case.
ACC had pointed out nine main factors in its counsel to the education ministry after its investigations.
The graft watchdog noted that the ministry had not specified or publicised the breakdown of awarding marks for bid proposals in their original Request for Proposal (RFP) when opening the bid. Nor had the ministry divulged the information during the pre-session held on September 25 to discuss the bidding process. However, the ministry had later compiled and implemented the marking process during the bid evaluation stage.
ACC also said that the ministry’s evaluation criteria were subjective measures to give marks only for bid documents without any weight for supporting documents.
Moreover, the commission highlighted that while 80 percent of the total marks of the evaluation was allocated for technical evaluation, the marks were awarded solely for what was submitted on the bid without any criteria to determine technical aptitude to run a school or marks awarded under subjective criteria.
Stating that competency and experience are vital to operate a school that is to be awarded for 25 years and thus will make a sizeable impact on the education system of an island boasting a large population, ACC brought to light that a policy to award marks for those factors had not been included in the bidding process.
ACC had highlighted several other factors in the bidding process that could facilitate corruption.
The commission stressed the importance of a transparent bidding process that offers equal opportunities for all bidders in awarding a school for such a long period of time. Hence, ACC had urged the ministry to nullify its previous bid, revise the policies and criteria for the bidding process and open the bid again.
However, education ministry’s permanent secretary Dr Abdul Muhsin Mohamed had declared in the signing ceremony to award the building to Qualitat Education that it was being done so based on the ACC’s counsel and after necessary discussions. He had not revealed details of ACC’s counsel to the ministry.
Allegations of involved corruption had arisen over Qualitat Education winning the financial bid with a larger fee than Biz Atolls, which had lobbied the lowest bid, as well as the company being founded only two months prior to the bid opening. Moreover, two stakeholders of Qualitat Education were wives of two High Court Judges, whereas the Anti-Corruption Commission Act lists spouses of High Court judges as persons banned from holding shares of business companies associated with foreign firms. Qualitat Education is working in collaboration with Sri Lanka’s Gateway College.
Though Qualitat Education did not disclose details on how the new school will be operated aside from it being named Gateway International School, they assured that the information will be made public very soon.