US$5m textbooks scandal deepens

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.

It was learnt yesterday that the Ugandan company donated boxes of books worth thousands of Kwacha for free distribution to schools and in the process consolidated its status and standing which has now won the company the tender to publish 65 textbooks valued at US$5 million compared to only one contract valued at US$4,000 awarded to a Zambian company.

“Those people from the Ministry of Education were abusing State House because they knew that a tender would soon be floated and that this company would win the majority of books to be published,” a publisher told the Daily Nation yesterday. The intention was to legitimise the award and suppress any outcry from Zambian publishers whose companies were folding up due to lack of publishing contracts, claims the publisher.

Investigations have revealed that there was a highly organised syndicate which involved senior officers at the ministry and other supporting institutions such as the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) and the Zambia Education Publishing House (ZEPH).

Daily Nation investigations have revealed that even the Government’s own publishing house – ZEPH of which the Ministry of Education permanent secretary is chairman – is nowhere in contention  of the US$5 million contract because technocrats at CDC have allegedly hijacked the entire textbook publishing business for themselves.

The problem, according to investigations by the Nation, was the “formula”- a system used for evaluation which has not been disclosed other publishers.

“The Ugandan company attended a meeting of evaluators that was held in Kabwe contrary to procedures, because publishers are not supposed to interact with book evaluators. Worse still some of the evaluators from CDC visited Uganda as guests of this company,” a source close to the process told this newspaper.

“Until you started running stories on this matter, we had no idea what had happened to our previous submission but in the last few days we have started  receiving evaluations, but why now and what formula was used?” a publisher asked.

“We submitted the books last year after paying an evaluation fee but nothing was heard until your story started running following the award of the tender,” he said.

“We were equally surprised last year when we were asked to submit prices for our books and later it was announced that the Ugandan company had the lowest prices,” said a publisher.

The first step in unlocking this corruption gridlock, the nation told, was to establish the authenticity and identity of the authors of the books that have been passed.

‘‘An investigation must also be undertaken to compare the content of the books to other books in the region where this company has published textbooks and thereafter determine the formula that was used to evaluate and pass the books.”

Zambian publishers fear that most of the 65 books won by the Ugandan company were ‘‘ghost written’’ by evaluation officers in the Curriculum Development Centre and others were adaptations of books printed by the company in Uganda and elsewhere.

The danger, they explained, was that if the 65 books were awarded to the Ugandan company royalties in foreign currency would continue to flow out of the country for many years to come.

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