THE Zambian Government will tomorrow award a US$5 million textbook publishing contract to a Ugandan company that is fronted by a former official in the Ministry of Education, who was sacked for misconduct.
We understand that ministry officials have justified themselves with State House and the Vice President’s office for this award which will see another US$4 million awarded to four non-indigenous owned companies, including the Oxford University Press because they are locally registered in Zambia and therefore qualify.
Where is our pride as a nation?
Only one token Zambian publisher has been earmarked a US$4,000 contract. This is an insult to Zambian publishers who have served this country diligently for decades. It’s not true, neither is it logical, to suggest that Zambians do not have the capacity to produce textbooks.
The truth which our political leaders may not know is that in 2014 Zambian publishers went to a lot of expense to produce manuscripts for the new curriculum. These were submitted to the Ministry of Education for evaluation.
That evaluation is seemingly ongoing because there has been no feedback to the publishers.
Instead, midstream and without notice, the ministry has changed criteria introducing a tender procedure that has nothing to do with the quality, content and competence of the books. The closed tendering process to which the publishers are not privy, but in which ministry officials and the Curriculum Development Centre are final arbiters, has resulted in foreign “locally” registered companies including bookshops and booksellers succeeding.
This is why Zambian publishers are crying foul.
Why is there so much secrecy regarding the criteria being used for evaluation? What is being considered? Is it the technical ability to print or the quality of the manuscripts?
Is it true that Zambian publishers who have been serving the market for decades are suddenly incapable of publishing new books under the new system?
We have nothing against foreigners being awarded contracts, but we have everything against corrupt awards that are shrouded in confusion and overt tendering manoeuvres intended to disadvantage competent Zambian publishers.
We believe that before Government finally authorizes this huge disbursement an effort at transparency should be made.
At the very minimum an independent evaluation of all the manuscripts produced by Zambian publishers should be openly compared with those that have now won the bid from which Zambians have stayed away because of the prohibitive and complicated tendering process.
If the country is to err, it better do so in favour of justice, equity and fairness rather that by dint of an opaque and manipulated process.
The country has enough academics at the various public and private universities who should constitute a forensic investigative team to get to the bottom of this scandal.
It will be wrong, unjustified and a great disservice to this country if US$10 million will be placed for eventual externalization at a time when Zambian publishers are being forced to lay off workers because jobs have been externalized.