Kenya Linux group challenges procurement policies

A Kenya Linux group is challenging government procurement policies.

After losing out on many software tenders to the government, the Linux Professional Association (LPA) will engage the Public Procurement Oversight Authority (PPOA) in Kenya over procurement rules, according to the association chairman.

The association members have been locked out of government tenders because the requests for proposals are usually skewed toward Microsoft products, therefore locking out open-source software developed locally, says LPA Chairman Evans Ikua.

LPA will hold meetings with the PPOA to alert it about the implementation of the Public Procurement and Disposal Act (2005) and how it does not give open-source developers a chance to present their products to government ministries.

The PPOA oversees the implementation of the act and is in charge of ensuring that government ministries and state corporations adhere to requirements stipulated in the act when inviting agencies to supply products.

To constructively engage the authority, Ikua says LPA is conducting research on government spending on software procurement in all government ministries and state corporations.

The findings will give a clearer image of the cost of software. The research will also support the call for adoption of open-source software and give developers a chance to understand government procurement processes, says Ikua.

While the act blocks the government ministries from mentioning any company or trademark in advertising requests for proposals, advertisements specify the system specifications and the software that should be preloaded on computers.

For instance, the Kenya Revenue Authority issued a request for 210 computers with specifications such as Windows XP and other Microsoft products, which does not give an open-source software developer a chance to bid, says Ikua.

With such specifications, Ikua says that a computer that may cost 50,000 shillings (US$827) if loaded with open-source may cost 200,000 shillings with proprietary software costs. The high costs deny the government a chance to further spread access to computers within the ministries.

While LPA can not force the government to adopt open source, Ikua argues that if the members are given a chance to present their proposals, which are usually cheaper, to the tender committee, the committee will become aware of other software options.

Section 34 of the Public Procurement and Disposal Act of 2005 states that: "Technical requirements shall ... relate to performance rather than design or descriptive characteristics and based on national or international standards ... shall not refer to particular trademark, name, patent, design, type producer or service provider ..."

LPA wants to hold meetings with the oversight authority to exchange ideas on how the process can be more inclusive to all developers. LPA would like the ministries to say what they want the software to do, and not to mention specific applications. This way, any developer can provide products and demonstrate how the government can save money.

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