The US$4 million procurement of educational materials at the Ministry of Education was signed with foreign companies even before the ruling on the application for stay of execution of the High Court judgment pending appeal by Zambian publishers was made, the Daily Nation has learnt.
This is a matter in which the Zambian educational textbook publishers had taken the Ministry of Education to court seeking an order to nullify the awarding of the procurement of textbooks to only foreign publishers .
The information unfolding in the educational textbook saga is that Ministry of Education officials signed the educational material contracts with four foreign publishers on March 27, 2015, the same day Lusaka High Court Judge Judy Mulongoti dismissed the stay of execution, pending appeal.
The signing of the tender contract before the judgment was aimed at blocking out the local textbook publishers from the tender process, in case the judgment went in favour of the Ministry of Education.
The signing of the contract was also aimed at making the Zambian publishers in the supreme court an academic exercise.
It is alleged that some technical staff at the Ministry of Education are conniving with some foreign educational book publishers so that they could personally benefit.
The Zambian publishers lost in the first procurement tender of textbook for grade one, five, eight, and ten.
The local publishers have revealed that apart from the US$4million that is destined for foreign publishers, another tender worth US$7 million was also about to be awarded to foreign publishers.
Speaking to the Daily Nation, Publishers Association of Zambia chairman Ntambaka Kapeso said Zambian publishers wanted intervention from the Head of State before the ministry could sign the tender with foreign companies at the expense of his members.
“We appeal to President Edgar Lungu and the Education Minister Michael Kaingu to intervene and remove officers who are conniving with foreign companies to rip off the country,” he said.
Mr Kapeso challenged the Ministry of Education to explain to the public if it had changed the policy on the procurement of textbooks, in view of President Lungu’s directive that Zambian companies must be involved in all investment projects in Zambia.
“We are concerned about the future of education in our country because so far the Examination Council of Zambia is ready with this year’s examination with a new curriculum and yet the schools had no books for this new curriculum, and as a result we expect poor performance,” Mr Kapeso said.
He argued that the ministry was not following the right procedure, saying the decentralized procurement of textbooks policy allowed teachers to choose the type of books that suited the new Zambian curriculum, contrary to what the foreign companies would offer to the Zambian standard of education.
“If the right procedure is followed in the procurement of the textbooks tender, it means schools countrywide will prefer books written by local publishers which suits the environment, and we are wondering why things have just changed without informing us,” he said.
Mr Kapeso said the criteria the ministry was using of eliminating all Zambian firms in preference for foreign companies some of which had previously failed to deliver should be made clear to the local industry, which had so far lost billions of kwacha in preparing for tender.
He said Zambian publishers had tried to seek audience with the ministry officials without success and were now calling on President Lungu and Dr Kaingu to intervene in the matter.
“For us to have rushed to the court, it is because we have been trying to engage the ministry whom we have written to several times but they keep on threatening us instead of getting to hear our side of the story.
“All along the procurement of textbooks was decentralized and that had even given opportunities to teachers to choose the books they preferred, unlike this time where everything has to be done at the ministry who choose for them,” he said.
Mr Kapeso said it was for this reason the publishers had taken the matter to court to compel Government to award the contract to Zambians who had shown capacity to undertake the task.
The Zambian publishers had spent millions of kwacha developing the books in addition to the money they paid to lodge the tenders. High Court Judge Judy Mulongoti on Friday discharged an application restraining the Government from awarding the contract which had been suspended pending finalization of the court challenge.