In one day the Ministry of Education issued two press statements denying corruption. This must be a record of some kind.
The first statement vehemently denied any corruption in the recruitment of untrained teachers as alleged by the teachers unions which disclosed that qualified teachers, some with superior qualifications, were left out in preference for trainees some of whom were still in college.
The second statement categorically denied the existence of any irregularly or corruption in the procurement of textbooks as alleged by Zambian publishers who feel aggrieved that one Ugandan company could have been given a contract to publish 65 text book, while only one went to an indigenous Zambian publisher.
As the newspaper that published the stories we were naturally at the centre of the controversy which the ministry has denied categorically.
We published the teachers’ story on Sunday and the denial statement was issued yesterday, meaning that the response was a gut reaction from civil servants who quickly rendered a statement to the minister to issue publicly.
We went back to the unions and they have insisted their statement is true and that they have proof of irregular recruitment.
Similarly the textbook rebuttal was a repetition of what has been said before and a misrepresentation that the matter brought by Zambian textbook publishers had been concluded. Far from it the matter is still in court.
Last time we checked the Anti-Corruption Commission was still investigating the matter making the statement redundant.
We have great respect for Dr. Phiri and would be loath to engage him in polemics, but it is our duty to point out wrongs in the protection of national interest. It is unfortunate that the minister and his permanent secretary have placed absolute trust in their civil servant operatives who undoubtedly prepared the statements.
Our advice to the minister is that it is not advisable to underestimate the intelligence, integrity and goodwill of individuals who raise issues about shortcomings in Government.
The President has set the example by going to the mines to hear their justification for layoffs. Similarly the best the minister could have done was to set up a meeting with complainants to hear them out.
This would have cost him nothing instead of antagonizing them. Antagonizing working partners is not a very good strategy.
Why is the ministry avoiding face to face discussion, resorting instead to paid and unpaid press statements in the media?
As for the textbooks, we stand firm that a process that awards textbook publication to foreign-owned companies is treasonous and must not be accepted at any cost. We have the printing and intellectual capacity to prepare textbooks and sufficient know how to publish books.
There is absolutely no need to export jobs and scarce foreign exchange.