Philippines orders fraud probe after paying MacBook prices for slow Celeron laptops

Education Department planned to buy 70,000 laptops, blew its budget and bought just 40,000

When COVID-19 closed schools in The Philippines, the nation’s government acted to ensure its teachers had the kit they needed to keep working by allocating funds to acquire nearly 70,000 laptops.

The laptops have long since arrived but their purchase has now become a political scandal as it has emerged that the nation significantly overpaid for the kit it procured, and was able to acquire fewer machines as a result.

The problems with the program were detailed by the Philippines Commission of Audit, which found that the Department of Education allocated P35,046.50 ($627) to each laptop, but agreed to pay P58,300 ($1042) apiece despite one bidder offering a lower price of P43,000 ($770).

That price hike saw the planned purchase plunge from 68,500 laptops to 39,583 machines.

It gets worse: the auditor found that the laptops purchased under the program at $1042 apiece used Intel’s very, very, low-end Celeron processor, which is not very useful for many modern tasks and are these days most often found in budget machines or Chromebooks.

The auditor also noted that in 2020 the Department of Education paid $581 apiece for machines running an 8th-gen Core i5. The audit office also did a little price comparison and found Dell currently offers a machine far better than the Celerons at less than half the price paid by the Department of Education.

As pointed out by Filipino investigative outlet Rappler, the base model of Apple’s latest MacBook Air sells for $999 - $43 bucks less than the Philippines has shelled out for Celeron-powered machines.

Interest in just why so much was spent on such inferior machines has naturally been keen. So keen that yesterday, as reported by the Philippines national news agency, education minister and vice president Sara Duterte has ordered the Department of Education to request the Commission of Audit to conduct a fraud inquiry.

“While we are not yet declaring that there is a fraudulent transaction that happened at that time, we’re also not saying that there is none,” Duterte said.

Documents have already been summoned and despatched to the Commission of Audit.

No timeframe has been set for findings to be delivered but The Register will keep an eye on this one out of sheer curiosity to learn how it was possible to blow millions of dollars on Celerons. ®

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