Sunday 15 July 2012

NParks acknowledges bicycle purchase could have been handled better

WE THANK the writers for last Saturday's feedback ('Seeking clarity over $2,200-bike purchase' by Mr Tan Buck Yam; and 'Shocked by $2,200 price tag' by Mr Thong Kok Kheong and 'Target price should have been less than $1,000' by Mr Wong Kah Khoon, both on Forum Online).

As a public agency, we are aware of our duty to ensure value for money when public funds are involved. We acknowledge that we could have handled this purchase better.

Upon closing of the quotation, we received two offers from one vendor, both of which met our specifications. We chose the cheaper model of bicycle offered as the price quoted was lower than the retail price, and within our estimated budget.

In hindsight, we could have set a longer quotation period, and considered recalling the quotation when only one vendor made a bid.

All three writers asked why foldable bicycles were needed.

Productivity enhancement was a major consideration as our officers' workload has increased significantly. For example, we have increased tree inspection frequency by at least 30 per cent due to adverse weather patterns, and opened up another 50km of park connectors in the past two years.

We had to find ways to boost productivity as an alternative to hiring more people.

Our staff used to take public transport and walk to various locations to inspect roadside trees and park connectors.

As an alternative, we introduced non-foldable bicycles, but we needed a van to ferry these around.

With foldable bicycles, staff can use public transport to reach various locations, and cycle within their work sites, halving inspection times and delivering $600 of savings per month per officer.

We believe it is important to equip our staff with the right tools to perform their work well. As our staff cycle 30km to 40km daily, sometimes over rough terrain, we require good foldable bicycles that are compact, lightweight and durable.

To ensure that the appropriate equipment is procured, we also tested foldable bikes of different sizes and makes on public transport.

Prevailing government procurement guidelines require agencies to put up purchases up to $70,000 through an open invitation-to-quote process via GeBIZ, which is open to all vendors. This process is more transparent than notifying a few vendors to quote, as suggested by Mr Tan.

We adhered to the procedures by putting up specifications on GeBIZ over a six-day period, including four working days. We did not indicate any brands in our quotation.

We will work with the Ministry of National Development to draw lessons from this purchase.

Poon Hong Yuen
Chief Executive Officer
National Parks Board (NParks)
ST Forum, 14 Jul 2012

Brompton bikes are value for money
I LIVE in Punggol and have witnessed the wonderful park connector network grow in the estate and throughout Singapore.

The network has played a major role in the surge of cycling activities. I now go to the parks more regularly to cycle along the network and enjoy the scenery.

The National Parks Board (NParks) has been prompt in attending to feedback.

For instance, I once reported a fallen tree to its staff when I was out riding, and when I returned to the spot, the tree had already been removed.

As the park connector network grows, it has become extremely challenging for NParks staff to cover their field duties effectively on foot. So NParks purchased 26 Brompton bicycles to help them perform well ('Khaw okay with NParks' purchase of $2,200 bikes'; July 5).

While I understand the public sentiments over the price, there is really a difference in these bicycles' ride, build quality and foldability (for multi-modal transport) compared to those of other makes.

After owning a number of foldable bicycles, including Brompton, I can vouch for the brand's durability.

While there is certainly room for improvement, NParks deserves credit for its success in making the parks enjoyable places for all.
Woon Taiwoon
ST Forum, 14 Jul 2012

Seeking clarity over $2,200-bike purchase
AS A taxpayer for the past 34 years and an avid cyclist, I find it hard to comprehend how the National Parks Board's (NParks) bulk bicycle purchase was value for money ('Khaw okay with NParks' purchase of $2,200 bikes'; Thursday).

I agree that NParks officers need bicycles for their field duties, which are demanding. However, to acquire foldable bicycles at $2,200 each may not reflect well on the Government's call for prudence and austerity.

I own four bicycles - a hybrid costing $420, two mountain bikes at about $200 each and a foldable 20-inch bicycle at $98. All were purchased from Carrefour supermarket.

I assume that NParks invited tenders for the 26 bicycles via GeBiz, the government procurement portal. This would have automatically factored in a cost of almost $2,700 per bicycle, at the least.

This is because a tender process is required if the estimated purchase exceeds $70,000.

If NParks had intended to buy cheaper bicycles, a simpler process - the request for quotation, in which only three quotations were needed - would have sufficed. So why resort to a tender process when a simpler one was available?

A bicycle marque like Brompton - which was one of the options offered by the vendor responding to the tender - must have met NParks' specifications.

What were these requirements that resulted in Brompton bicycles being the cheapest and most prudent purchase?

What was the process of scrutiny by senior management?

Perhaps the public could be shown a comparison of a similar purchase by the police, who recently acquired bicycles for their officers to patrol neighbourhoods. What was the cost of these bicycles?
Tan Buck Yam
ST Forum, 7 Jul 2012

Shocked by $2,200 price tag
I WAS shocked to read that the National Parks Board paid $2,200 each for 26 foldable bicycles ('Khaw okay with NParks' purchase of $2,200 bikes'; Thursday). It makes me wonder how the purchase was approved.

Did the officer who approved this purchase feel it was a reasonable price to pay, despite the fact that foldable bicycles are available at any hypermart for only 10 per cent of the price quoted?

The price puts this bicycle in the luxury segment. Most park visitors ride bicycles that cost only a few hundred dollars.
Thong Kok Kheong
ST Forum, 7 Jul 2012

Target price should have been less than $1,000
WHAT kind of tender process do civil servants adopt that would simply approve the buying of bicycles that border on the 'luxury' class range ('Khaw okay with NParks' purchase of $2,200 bikes'; Thursday)?

The National Parks Board's (NParks) explanation that because only one vendor had responded, and therefore Brompton bicycles (the cheaper of the two options offered) were chosen, is questionable. It is like saying that because only Porsche responded to a tender for sports cars, one has practically no choice but to accept it.

In Singapore, a decent work-horse bicycle, foldable or otherwise, is available for less than $1,000 - and NParks should have made this the target price for the tender. Therefore, if no vendor had submitted a bid close to that figure, a waiver could have been granted that would allow NParks to go for a reasonable and better deal.
Wong Kah Khoon
ST Forum, 7 Jul 2012

Khaw okay with NParks' purchase of $2,200 bikes
He accepts explanation that the bikes raise staff productivity, and were cheaper choice in tender
By Jennani Duraim The Straits Times, 5 Jul 2012

THE National Parks Board's (NParks') recent acquisition of a particular brand of foldable bicycles prompted National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan to launch his own personal investigation into whether the purchase was worth the money spent.

After reading an article in Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao on the purchase of the 26 Brompton bikes - a British brand - at $2,200 each, he wrote in his blog yesterday that he had 'wondered if it was the right decision'.

He contacted NParks and users of such foldable bicycles to find out more. He said his unease stemmed from not knowing why there was a need for them and why that brand was chosen.

The purchase raised some eyebrows on online forums last week. The bicycles were bought after a tender was issued in January.

Mr Khaw wrote that NParks had explained to him that there were more demands on its staff to do field and tree inspections, as park connectors were now 50km longer.

'Providing staff with bikes was thought to be a simple and effective way to raise staff productivity as it enables the officer to cover more ground and do more inspections within the same time. And if the bikes are foldable, it would eliminate the need for an office van to transport the bikes and the staff to the areas of their daily rounds,' he said.

He added that each officer in NParks' Park Connector Division covered some 30km to 40km each day as part of their inspections.

As for the choice of brand, NParks clarified 'it had no particular brand in mind', he wrote. At the close of the tender put up on a government website, only one vendor had responded with two options - Brompton and another more expensive brand.

NParks chose Brompton after researching, testing and noting that the price was lower than the listed retail price of the model it was looking at.

Mr Khaw said he is satisfied with its explanation. 'It looks like NParks has bought the right equipment,' he concluded.

However, he added that it may have been able to snag a better deal if more vendors had participated in the tender.

He has asked his ministry to discuss this particular case with government agencies to see if there are lessons to be drawn.

He said: 'In all purchases, we should always satisfy the criteria of 'value for money' when public funds are involved.'

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