What started as a well-intentioned scheme to help students pursuing higher education in Pakistan has failed in many ways.
The Prime Minister’s Laptop Scheme (formerly CM’s laptop scheme) has now become a program that is being abused by most stake holders, seriously impacting the intentions behind the entire scheme and uptake of education at higher levels.
We take a look at how much this scheme is been abused, and how it has affected the educational bottom line in Pakistan.
Students & PM Laptops Scheme
According to the promotional content that comes with the scheme, laptops given through it are supposed to be used for educational purposes and are intended to help students in improving their studies.
The laptops were envisioned to “bring a paradigm shift in the current education and research culture in the country”.
Only students that score good grades and are just starting their higher education can apply for a laptop through the scheme.
As mentioned earlier, students need to apply themselves in order to get laptops through this scheme. They need to create a profile and the application needs to be approved by the university. Following that, the student is selected or refused based on their CGPA.
However, even though students get these laptops for their studies (the sole purpose of the scheme), it has been observed that many of them sell their laptops as soon as they get them.
Which begs the question, “Why get the laptop at all?”
Laptops on Sale
According to the terms and conditions of the scheme, the receiver of a laptop is not allowed to sell any of the gifted assets. The image below is from the online form a student fills and accepts before applying for a laptop.
A brief search on OLX shows several laptops from the PM’s Laptop Scheme on sale. Take a look at some of them below:
As you can see, most laptops are being sold for between Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 30,000. A little bargaining can reduce the price by up 2-3K according to some users.
Head over to Hafeez Centre, Dubai Plaza or PakGamers and you will see several more laptops from PM’s scheme on sale.
Putting aside reasons of commercial interest aside, the students are essentially violating the agreement that they entered into the day they got these laptops. They were never meant to be sold off for few thousands only.
By violating these contracts, students lose the right to call the government corrupt no matter which political party they support.
Additionally, if students do not require these laptops, they should not apply to get one. By getting these laptops, they are depriving someone who actually needs them (but can’t afford it) of their legitimate right.
It also wastes the government’s efforts and money on non-deserving students. At the very least, these students should give these laptops to those who need them.
Simply getting one to sell is the equivalent of fraud.
PM’s Laptop Scheme Or A Vote Buying Scheme?
PM’s Laptop Scheme has often been criticized for being a front to buy out the youth by giving them free laptops.
Schemes like these also seem to be a gateway to make good headlines.
Why not offer students scholarships and discount their fees, the aspect which really matters to someone who is needy and is facing trouble in funding for his higher studies.
If someone is already scoring a high CGPA, does he/she really need a laptop or do they need support and better educational facilities to improve their capabilities?
Governments throughout the world encourage students with incentives. Usually, it is some sort of a scholarship which actually helps the student. Subsidizing university fees, funding for advanced and latest lab equipment should be the government’s focus if they want to uplift the educational standards of the country.
If the government really wants to promote education, it should offer scholarships to talented and needy students. More practical solutions can be explored.
Laptop Scheme & Corruption
To further add insult to injury, the laptops scheme has been plagued by corruption allegations since its inception. There have been reports on its corruption and mismanagement in the past as well.
Here are some of them:
Rs. 2 billion lost, in laptops scheme due to unknown reasons
Back in 2014, detailed report of Auditor General’s office revealed that laptop prices received sudden price hike from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 37,950 without any change in specifications or hardware.
This caused a loss of Rs. 2 billion to the national exchequer due to “unknown” reasons. Another Rs. 2 billion were diverted from School Education Department to Higher Education Department’s laptop scheme violating the rules.
Contractor given special favors, Rs. 1.6 billion paid before fulfillment of order
Furthermore, public officials managing the scheme gave “special” favors to the contractor, violating the contract in the process. On five occasions, a total of Rs. 1.6 billion was debited from the national treasury before receiving any of the ordered laptops.
Rs. 22 million paid in fake excise duty
Special Excise Duty is exempted on computer hardware including laptops. However, the contractor was paid Rs. 200 per laptop (1%) as excise duty without any reasons.
What’s more interesting is that due to the price hike, even if the excise duty was to be paid, it should have been Rs. 302. This alone caused a loss of Rs. 22 million.
Rs. 140 million not recovered from contractor
The government was due to collect advance income tax at a rate of 3.5% of the Rs.4.1 billion paid to the contractor. That tax of Rs. 140 million was never deducted or recovered from the contractor M/S Inbox.
Rs. 31 million not recovered as late delivery charges
According to the contract, late delivery of laptops would be fined at a rate of 2% in liquidated damages. However, 80,000 laptops were delivered late yet only Rs 14 million of the Rs 45 million were recovered.
Rs. 11 million lost due to irregular taxation
The Higher Education Department is exempt from paying any excise duty, advance tax or sales tax, yet Rs. 102 per laptop were paid to the contractor in the shape of “other taxes/duties” causing damages of Rs. 11 million.
Furthermore, the law prevents public universities from incurring any expenditure unless approved beforehand. Yet Rs. 1 million in distribution ceremonies and Rs. 28 million in distribution charges were incurred by certain institutions.
There have also been official reports of hundreds of laptops being allocated to students without considering the eligibility criteria.
More corruption revealed
Recently, another news story has popped up on several news agencies claiming that wide scale irregularities have been witnessed in the laptop scheme yet again. Relatively newer phases of the scheme are yet to be investigated which might reveal similar news keeping the trend in notice.
The laptop scheme has its fair share of critics and admirers. However the facts have been provided here to better inform readers about making their own conclusions regarding the PM Laptop Scheme.
In short, the students are violating their contracts and selling their laptops, the government isn’t focusing on education to practically improve the educational system, the laptops scheme fails in its envisioned aim of helping the needy and talented students,.
Moreover with corruption scandals popping up regularly through the government’s accountant general’s official reports, perhaps the stakeholders need to go back to the drawing board and chart out a program that raises education standards all across the country in real essence.