27 January 2005

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Investigation into cheap computer plan launched
By Julian Manduca

The Commission for Fair Trading has commenced investigations into the process by which the ministry for information technology has reached an agreement with HP to supply affordable computers to students.
Commission chairman magistrate Silvio Meli started the investigation on Tuesday following representations made by the GRTU. The Commission has also been asked to examine whether the government plans to contravene the public procurement regulations and to consider whether the plans will distort the market.
Speaking to The Malta Financial and Business Times, GRTU vice president and president of its IT section Joe Tabone said that what the government is planning is no different to the bulk buying that used to happen under Labour in the 70s and 80s.
Tabone lambasted the plans saying “Bulk buying was something that the PN, in opposition at the time, had always opposed and the GRTU was at the forefront of the fight against the system.”
On its part the ministry is on record stating that the government will not be buying anything, but this statement proved little consolation to the GRTU and Tabone said: “The bulk buying process never involved the government actually buying itself, it would negotiate on behalf of Maltese importers, and this has now happened again with government's deal with HP.”
Mr Tabone said the EU Commission has also been informed about what the GRTU considers to be unfair interference in the market by the government.
The GRTU IT section is contesting the plans drawn up by the ministry headed by Austin Gatt and accuses the minister of going behind their back to do a deal which will have dire consequences on the business of traders in computers and their accessories. The ministry on its part believes it is providing cheap computers to those that cannot afford them, and is not distorting the market.
The computer traders fear that the computer market in Malta will be dominated by HP and its two agents in Malta who not only will be selling the cheapest computers but will also be in a position to sell accessories and carry out repairs on a large share of the market.
The GRTU considers government's involvement unacceptable and Tabone told this newspaper they never expected to see a government official, let alone a minister, deal with a commercial entity.


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