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Monday, July 23, 2012

Nparks and Brompton Bikes

The issue over Nparks purchase of the Brompton Bikes have been raging on for some time. The net have been abuzz with speculation and one smart guy even did a "CSI" investigation and came up with several theories and innuendoes. I am a bit kiasee wait kena sue so I am not going to repeat what was written but I am going to go through what our Minister for National Development said in the defence of Nparks purchase and rebut his defence.

1. Why foldable bikes? The good Minister said: "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. Just like a good baby stroller, NParks officers could just rely on public transport and carry the foldable bikes up and down our trains and buses, without breaking their backs or inconveniencing the public". 

Sure but how many Nparks officers are really going to carry their foldable bikes around, take public transport and to to the parks for their rounds? Since January until now when the bikes were purchased, have anybody seen any? I for one can't imagine any public servant willing to lug the bike around say from Nparks office, take the train to Bedok MRT and then cycle to Bedok Town Park and continue to cycle there. The bikes may not be that heavy but try carrying it around the whole day and I guarantee no Npark staff is going to be thankful to their office for "improving their productivity"

2. Why Brompton? NParks clarified that it had no particular brand in mind. It was open to considering all brands. Hence, the quotation on the Government website adopted general specifications to ensure that as many dealers as possible could come in.
Unfortunately, at the close of the quotation, only one vendor responded with two options, offering Brompton and another brand (at a higher price). NParks made some research, tested the equipment and after noting that the Brompton bid price was lower than the listed retail price of the same model, proceeded with the procurement.

As the smart CSI had investigated and stated in his post, in fact the Nparks appear to have a particular brand in mind judging from the very specific specifications that was stated in the tender. Further, the tender period was unnaturally short, lasting all of 5 days including a weekend and during the CNY festive period to boot, and therefore did not attract the attention of any other bike supplier. Instead of accepting that only one vendor had responded, the Nparks should have called for another tender and this time giving a longer notice period. But of course there seems to be some reasons why this could not be done.

3. Right bike? Mr Khaw said "Cyclists who are familiar with foldable bikes assured me that a Brompton bike, while costing more upfront, is durable and requires less maintenance, especially if heavy usage is anticipated. Its unique folding mechanism also makes it easy to carry and store. This is a useful feature for the female staff. 
I have accepted NParks’ explanation.
It looks like NParks has bought the right equipment."

Yes the Brompton is without doubt a good bike. I have a friend who have 2 of them and he swears by them but even he disagreed with the Minister's view.

i). The Brompton bike is durable but it is a road bike first and foremost. The Nparks officer in their course of work will have to cycle within the parks. Some parks are pretty straight forward like Punggol Waterway. Others are a mixture of pavement and trails like Admiralty Park. So what happen when the Nparks spot something in the bush or trees further away and has to take a closer look? Are they going to ride the bike onto the grass? push it? or leave it on the PCN and walk into the bush? 

ii) Durable and require less maintenance. Less maintenance does not mean no maintenance and from what I heard, the vendor in this case is not the authorised dealer and will not be able to provide the necessary support notwithstanding that they have given a 1 year warranty. And everybody knows that the maintenance parts really only kick in by the 2nd or 3rd year by which time the warranty would be over. What then? Write off the bike? And by the way, if Nparks had got the bike from the authorised dealer, the guarantee will be for 5 years!

Right equipment? I doubt!

Finally, there are serious allegations being raised on the web about the tendering process. Whether these allegations are unfounded or not, the authorities should initial an investigation. If there are impropriety by anybody, the culprits should be punished according to the government's usual high standard of governance. If there is no wrongdoings, then those people who have been named in the postings can be exonerated and maybe even sue their accusers for defamation.

In the name of greater transparency and to satisfy the public clamour, why not ask the CAD, CPIB or the Auditor General to launch an investigation? What say you, Mr Khaw?

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