‘‘THERE are a lot of clandestine activities at the Ministry of Education regarding the procurement of textbooks for schools and we are not surprised that the local publishers have been left out in the awarding of contracts,’’the Basic Education Teachers Union of Zambia (BETUZ) has observed.
BETUZ secretary general Jeffrey Simunthala wondered why the ministry had decided to change the procurement process from the initial engagement where schools bought textbooks from publishers of their choice through District Education Board Secretaries (DEBS).
Mr. Simunthala said the Ministry of Education needed to come out clear on its tendering process which he said raised concerns due to its seeming bias towards foreign publishing companies at the expense of local ones.
He said local publishers had demonstrated in the past that they were capable of supplying books to schools and that overlooking them at this time of economic hardship would make most of them fold up.
“This issue of centralising the procurement of textbooks has given room for corruption and local publishers are right and we shall side with them. We never used to have these problems when the process was done by schools themselves through DEBS offices.
He called on the ministry to go ahead and award any contract to any of the companies until investigations into its corruption allegations by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) were concluded.
The Ministry of Education has come under intense pressure after allegations emerged that State House was used to promote the business interest of a Ugandan firm that has now won a US$5 million textbook publishing tender, which has left Zambian publishers protesting.
In September this year, MK Publishers, a Ugandan company, donated 11,000 books worth over K500,000 to First Lady Esther Lungu for free distribution in schools after it was advised by its allies at the ministry, the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) and the Zambia Educational Publishing House (ZEPH) that there was a tender coming.
But MK Publishers chief editor Agness Nyendwa said the donated books were a gift to the underprivileged children in the country.
MK Publishers is the same company that has been awarded a contract worth over US$5 million to print school textbooks.
According to senior sources in these institutions, MK Publishers has extended its tentacles at the ministry, CDC and ZEPH as some officers in these institutions were direct beneficiaries of the company.
Due to this syndicate, MK Publishers have even been given the lee-way to attend the tender evaluation exercise which was held in Kabwe.
The company is also alleged to have facilitated the travel for some senior officials at the CDC to its head office in Uganda in unclear circumstances.