A brazen attempt by the Ministry of Education to launder a corrupt book publishing contract has been exposed.
The ministry has awarded the highly disputed publishing contract to foreign owned companies ahead of an investigation by a Parliamentary Select Committee that has accorded aggrieved Zambian publishers a hearing.
The contracts will be signed in the next seven days ahead of the Parliamentary sub-committee’s meeting, thereby rendering the outcome academic, null and void.
“These people know that this matter is before Parliament because all other officials to have failed to resolve this problem and yet the senior Government official has gone ahead to award the contracts; why are they rushing?” asked a concerned Zambian publisher.
The impunity, the publishers have revealed, is on account of “high political connections” that the foreign publishers enjoy, making them immune from scrutiny and investigations.
Minister of General Education Dr. John Phiri said he was unable to comment on the issue because he was on official tour in Lundazi and would only comment when he returned to Lusaka on Thursday.
Zambian publishers have cried foul.
They want to know why the Anti-Corruption Commission, Zambia Public Procurement Authority and all relevant institutions are allowing a situation where foreign institutions are obtaining undue advantage over Zambian publishers.
“It would be common courtesy for the ministry to invite all Zambian publishers and explain the process that is being used instead of keeping quiet and awarding these contracts to companies that will obviously take scarce foreign exchange out of the country,” another publisher said.
In particular they want to know which approved book list is being used and why it has not been made public for all interested parties to know the
manner in which it was arrived at in order for the bidding process to be transparent.
“How did a bookseller get contracts to publish books ahead of Zambian publishers who have been in the publishing business for many years?” they asked.
Zambian publishers have called for an independent investigation conducted by academicians and impartial parties to determine why more than US$10 million will be paid to non-indigenous publishing houses, leaving out Zambian-owned companies which have the capacity to undertake the task.
In one case a Ugandan book publishing company has been given a contract worth US$5 million.
Indigenous Zambian publishers are disappointed that the Zambia Public Procurement Authority (ZPPA) has not even bothered to reply to complaints.
The Daily Nation has been informed that there was a possibility that some people at State House with links to some of the foreign publishers had influenced the awarding of the tender and that was why the ACC and ZPPA had ignored the corruption investigations and awarded the tender to supply and deliver school textbooks.
According to a letter from the Ministry of General Education, the Government had awarded the disputed contracts involving the publication of school textbooks for Grades 2, 6, 9, and 11 under the Public Procurement Regulations, which had been breached.
The publishers believe that the Ministry of Education is in breach of regulation 93 (f) of the Public Procurement Regulation as they proceeded re-evaluation of the bids that were invalid and did not request bidders to extend their bid validity.
In accordance with the Solicitation Document, all bids became invalid on or about August 6th, 2015 and therefore the whole tender consequently was technically cancelled.
“We have been advised and verily believe to be true that in fact some individuals who participated in the initial evaluation at Ndozo Lodge were part of the re-evaluation team at Mika Lodge which makes our prayer in our appeal totally disregarded.”
The Attorney General Likando Kalaluka to whom an appeal was also directed advised the publishing houses to forward their complaints to ZPPA, which has made no effort to respond.
Zambian publishers had challenged Government to establish an independent team of education academicians to undertake a forensic audit to determine if really Zambian publishers were incapable of delivering the textbooks, when they had done so for decades.