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TETFund: Why we Adopt MOU Instead of Contract in the Execution of ICT Training and Other Content Interventions

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TETFund: Why we Adopt MOU Instead of Contract in the Execution of ICT Training and Other Content Interventions

By Hannatu Lot

…The Nigerian Education ecosystem is witnessing a change for the better. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has made it very clear right from the onset that his presidency understood that education is the real catalyst for National development, likewise the Management of TETFund

In recent times, the Management of Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), was confronted with deliberate misrepresentation and mischief bordering around their ICT Training and Content Interventions execution, haste the need for this clear response with accurate information, facts and purpose of adopting Framework Agreement (MOU) instead of contracts in the execution of ICT Training and other Content Interventions..

The Executive Secretary of Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), Arc. Sunny Echono , speaking at a press briefing yesterday with Journalist, in Abuja, explained with vivid examples the advantages of MOU in the execution of ICT Training and other Content Interventions unlike their other regular interventions.

PURPOSE AND OBJECTIVE:

Framework Agreements and Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) entails partnering, collaboration and cooperation while contracts are strictly an exchange of equal values. Under an MOU, assistance, support and facilitation can be provided without proportionate financial consideration, as with contracts.

Companies /firms adopt this method as a penetration strategy when they desire to break into new markets, expand market share or build long term relationships.

FLEXIBILITY OF TERMS AND CONDITIONS:

Contracts have fixed terms and conditions with respect to scope, duration (contract period) and cost which are binding and enforceable.  Framework Agreements/ (MOUs) are more flexible with only a single or few constants making it more favourable for the Nigerian environment and its peculiarities.

A few illustrations will be useful: –

(a)      In the MOUs for communication skills training and Blackboard digital learning platform, only the tuition/access fees per student/ trainee is fixed, thus allowing variability during implementation, without attendant penalties.

(b)     When the MOUs were executed, there were 253 Beneficiary Institutions, which has now increased to 271 i.e scope change.  Under a contract an Addendum contract will be required with same or different conditions/cost.

(c)      Service contracts involving access or license fees are typically based on availability i,e whether it is used or not and are subject to renewal on an annual basis with the possibility of price adjustment (increase).  The MOUs under reference have 3-5 years duration and the cost per trainee remain fixed for the entire period.  Both parties in an MOU are also interested in the utilization/consumption of the product and work collaboratively to achieve the project objectives.

READINESS OF INSTITUTIONS AND COUNTRY FACTORS

The implementation of the ICT Road Map which commenced in 2016 was predicated on the Report of a study on the state of readiness and relative level of adoption of ICT by beneficiary institutions. It showed that various schools were at different levels, with some requiring additional investments in both infrastructure, systems transformation and personnel training.  Some schools are in remote locations with little or no broadband penetration.  New Schools will need to establish systems, hire and/or upskill personnel before coming onboard.

It is also common knowledge that Nigerians are slow in accepting and adapting to change.  (recall slow response to INEC voters registration and collection of PVCs, BVN, NIN, drivers license, passports and constant appeals for extension of time for JAMB UTME registrations, WAEC and NECO examinations etc).

It will therefore not be in the national interest to enter into annual fixed contracts, when there is every likelihood of slow start/default with stiff penalties.  Our country is replete with examples of such wastage.

THE CHALLENGE OF DATA

It is widely accepted that Nigeria has a serious problem with getting accurate data in a timely manner.  Anybody who has tried to obtain his transcript from his alma mata will attest to this, which is why the present Administration prioritized data collection and management in the Education Sector Road Map.

Predictably, the biggest challenge with the implementation of the two (2) projects is getting credible students data, particularly current email addresses.  Those presented at the point of registration have mostly been changed but the records were not updated resulting in multiple back and forth.  The challenge is now being addressed by involving the DICTs, Registrars and Students Union Government of each beneficiary institution to update the students records and speed up implementation.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS:

The subjects of the MOUs are products covered by intellectual property rights.  They are not standardised products or offerings that can be procured through competitive bidding processes.  They can only be acquired/accessed directly from the owners of the intellectual property or their appointed vendors/representatives.

On the flipside, the level of discount sought and secured can only be granted by the owners of the intellectual property under corporate social responsibility or other concessionary arrangements (MOUs).  Holders of the franchise (Agents, Vendors etc) can only grant discounts on the commissions allowed to them by the parent company.

CONTENT INTERVENTIONS:

Since the inception of the Fund, particularly from 2011, content interventions including academic staff training, research and development etc have had a different funding profile from infrastructure projects.  They are reflective of the realities of the operating environment.

It is also established practice that payment of tuition fees and access charges for digital training in respect of academic staff development and professional training are made at the point of registration (usually in full).  Even students in our beneficiary institutions pay fees and charges at the point of registration and not after the completion of their courses/programmes or after passing their examinations.

To ensure compliance with its enabling law, the Fund negotiated the concession to retain at least 15% payment until after the completion of the entire task to allow for effective monitoring and certification of satisfactory performance/execution.

UNSUITABILITY OF PUBLIC PROCUREMENT ACT 2007 FOR CONTENT INTERVENTIONS:

The overarching principle which underpins the Public Procurement Act 2007, is to achieve value for money through competitive bidding processes. While the contract system is used for over 75% of the Fund’s interventions, especially for infrastructure and equipment procurements, it proved unsuitable for the two ICT training programmes under reference for the following reasons: –

(i)      The training programmes are held under intellectual property rights and both entities have only one Representative/Agent respectively in the Country.  The Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) guidance require the stimulation of competition amongst at least five (5) Vendors of each company which in these cases is unrealizable.

(ii)     Under the subsisting provisions of the Public Procurement Act 2007; the maximum allowable advance payment for contracts is 30%, subject to the presentation of a Performance Bond and Advance Payment Guarantee from a reputable Nigerian Bank.  Subsequent payment milestones are to be based on valuation of performance.  While this is ideal for infrastructure projects, no reputable training institution, academy or software company will accept such payment terms.

(iii)    The training programmes subscribed are globally recognised, with carefully designed modules and packages leading to international certification that renders graduates globally employable and competitive.  They must not be confused with or compared to the quotidian “nyanya” trainings, sometimes with husband and wife being the sole resource persons.

(iv)    When you subscribe to courses from such institutions, they fix their fees and charges and you can only negotiate for volume discounts based on number of participants sponsored.

(v)     There is nothing in the Public Procurement Act, 2007 (as amended) that compels processing of academic staff and students training as contracts.  So, no provision of the Act has been breached.

DELIBERATE MIS-PRESENTATION AND MISCHIEF

The constant and deliberate attempt in some quarters to present these academic/professional development (training) programmes being implemented under Framework Agreements (MOUs) as procurement contracts is designed to draw parallels with the provisions of the Public Procurement Act on approval thresholds and payment terms for contracts.  The goal is to insinuate wrongdoing.

The aggregation of payments on behalf of 253 (now 271) procuring entities/beneficiary institutions each with the specific intervention budgets of between N25million to N50million; was portrayed not for the process efficiency and huge economics of scale that was achieved (75% discount from Blackboard and 87% for edunet) but as a violation of approval threshold.   Imagine 250 institutions, many located in remote locations, making 250 separate applications to the CBN for payment of fees in foreign currency instead of one aggregated request.

Ironically, the Fund has received global recognitions and awards for the same innovations and the dexterity in implementing initiatives leading to rapid transformation of the Nigerian education landscape under the leadership of Mr. President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR.

It is also curious that a baseless allegation on social media, without an iota of evidence of corruption, is being employed to distract and malign the Management of the Fund.  Someone said it is not the business of the Fund to save money for Government and that the process is better than substance.  Yet he failed to acknowledge that the use of Framework Agreements /MOUs as well as aggregation of payments on behalf of beneficiary institutions for academic staff training have been with the Fund for nearly a decade, long before the emergence of the current leadership a little over two (2) years ago. 

The Nigerian Education ecosystem is witnessing a change for the better. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has made it very clear right from the onset that his presidency understood that education is the real catalyst for National development, likewise the Management of TETFund, who are working tirelessly according to the mandate of the fund

Therefore, this leaves no room for incompetence but requires commitment and deliberate effort to ensuring that policies are initiated and executed appropriately, without any bias, incongruity or prejudice.

Education and knowledge sharing are among the most dynamic aspects of human development. Core knowledge today could become obsolete tomorrow. However, the Tinubu government commitment to quality and access to all are constant. Thus, making efforts to bring to an end the out-of-school children syndrome and providing enablement are key to President Tinubu’s inclusive education template.

The Students Loan scheme is a bold step by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to ensure that every eligible child gets quality higher education in Nigeria no matter the circumstances of their birth. It’s launch is not only historic but revolutionary. Children who would have been deprived of access of quality tertiary education will surely be availed such opportunities under the Students Loan scheme.

However, it is imperative to state that allowing misrepresentation and mischief to thrive in the face of viable educational attainment at the Fund is an act of disservice and unpatrotism to the development of our Nation.

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