THE manner in which tenders have been floated and contracts awarded for the publication of school text books to publishers by the Ministry of General Education has always raised concerns from the stakeholders and the nation at large.
There has been an outcry from the local publishers that the centralised procurement system, and not the decentralised system, adopted by the Ministry of General Education favours a selected few foreign publishers. These companies were strategically registered with the Patent and Companies Agency (PACRA) with the sole purpose of putting local private publishing houses at a disadvantage.
Previously, the Ministry justified their action of not awarding tenders to local companies by citing lack of capacity to compete with other publishers to produce books.
We do not think the explanation given by the Ministry is true. There must be something sinister with the manner in which the whole tendering procedure is done.
In our view, giving preference to a foreign publisher simply because the company is registered with PACRA, Citizen Economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC) and the Book Publishers of Zambia (BPAZ) does not make a company indigenous and does not automatically guarantee that the services offered would meet the standard set by the Ministry.
These foreign companies are registered in Zambia purely for the benefit of the centralised tendering process and not that they have capacity to produce quality text books meant for use in our schools. Their printing facilities are invariably out of Zambia. It is a ploy aimed at disadvantaging the local publishers and writers who have been fighting the new system.
It is evident that the companies which had been awarded contracts following the floating of the 2014 tenders for publication of text books were the same that got the subsequent ones.
And the text books that were produced by these companies ended up being rejected in schools due to poor and shallow content.
The quality of text books that ought to be distributed to our schools must be thoroughly scrutinised for compliance with appropriate content, correct translations and orthography.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case with many of the books that the Ministry has been distributing to schools since the introduction of the centralised procurement system. The flurry of compromises can only point to one thing- grand corruption.
We know that the effective process of the book publication entails the Ministry providing guidelines on book development to publishers who in turn contract authors at their own risk and expense before the book is approved by the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC).
How did CDC fail to detect the shallow and compromised content in the books which have been rejected in schools? How effective is the book evaluation to ensure the syllabi and curriculum are adhered to?
We are particularly concerned that the Ministry of General Education has defied the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee that suggested the Ministry to revert to the old system of purchasing books that gives room for schools to choose books for themselves and allow for all publishers to participate in the process by floating the tender for publishing of Grade 3, 7 and 12 text to the same bidders.
Why should the same companies that failed to produce quality text books be awarded the tender this time round? What is the role of the review committees in the Ministry of General Education?
We think it is critically important for the Ministry to handle the tendering process for printing of books meticulously.
There is need for seriousness considering that the books to be produced are meant for developing their mental faculties of young minds, and using wrong, sub-standard information is the worst disservice to humanity.
Therefore, we think this must never be allowed to continue. There is need for a holistic approach to ameliorate this malaise engulfing our education system. Time to dismantle cartels in the text book tendering process is now!