TECHNOCRATS at the Ministry of General Education must be hanging their heads in shame today following the revelations about high-profile corruption and misconduct coming out clearly from the submissions of the Parliamentary Select Committee on education.
For months now we have been hammering on this issue, pleading with senior Government officials and the technocrats themselves at the ministry to own up and admit that there is something seriously wrong with the tendering process and distribution of textbooks to Zambian schools.
We have repeatedly pleaded the case for local publishers, saying the textbook publishing, tendering and delivery system at the Ministry of Education headquarters was technically and logistically flawed. We have said, and the teachers’ unions agree with us, that it was wrong for the ministry to centralize the procurement process because it has bred corruption, bribery and inefficiency as well as being too costly. Again we have been proved right.
We got to a point where our fight for justice for those who had no voice and less money was beginning to look like our motives were less than honourable. Today we have been vindicated. Something is seriously wrong with textbook tender at the Ministry of Education.
Over the past several days book publishing company executives, academicians and now teachers’ unions have come out in unison to say that the Ministry of Education staff are involved in a huge scam and misconduct which are likely to cost the country huge sums of money and render the entire educational reforms not only a nullity, but also deprive the local publishing industry of growth and sustainability.
Only yesterday two eminent unionists and educationalists told the Parliamentary Select Committee that senior ministry officers at the Curriculum Development Centre, the nerve centre and think tank of Zambia’s educational system, are compromised and have accepted to work privately for book publishers who were tendering for jobs at the ministry. And they were the ones to choose the tender bid winners. What a shame.
The witnesses revealed that because of the unprofessional and suspect relationship between senior ministry staff and certain publishers, mostly foreigners, there has been glaring mistakes and scandalous ineptitude in the writing, printing and distribution of school textbooks which have rendered the educational system a flop and an academic mockery.
The experts say the textbooks paid for at great cost to the Zambian taxpayer were shallow in terms of content compared to the old ones and teachers were compelled to keep referring to the old textbooks ‘‘to enrich their lessons’’. To make matters worse the new textbooks contain elementary spelling errors and wrong vernacular translations. How possible!
Obviously this is the work of people who don’t care. After being paid huge ‘‘consultancy’’ fees under the table by foreign publishers they can afford to relax and allow their ‘‘customers’’ to deliver a poor quality product to Government as essential reading on which the Zambia education system depends to produce a Zambian child equipped to face the challenges of the technologically and electronically advanced 21st Century.
If it were not for its grave consequences on the future well-being of Zambia as a sovereign State we would say the saga at the Ministry of Education is laughable.
Perhaps it is now understandable why the ministry bigwigs could afford to ignore the cries of Zambian publishers who went as far as the courts to prove their point. There is so much money involved in textbook procurement and the officers at the Ministry of Education have hit a jackpot.
What is hard to understand is how the entire Government system, including those agencies mandated to sniff out vices that destroy a country’s economy and integrity, can turn a blind eye to such happenings in a critical Government department such as Education. It boggles the mind.
It had to take a Parliamentary Select Committee to confirm what we have feared all along. The totality of evidence from that committee is that staff at the Ministry of Education are undermining this Government. They are condemning our children, Zambia’s greatest resource, to illiteracy and poverty of mind.
Why is the Government dragging its feet over the affair?