Ministry botches textbooks deal

  • Term 1 ends without textbooks
  • Teachers told to refer to old curriculum

A wangle between the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) and a supplier left junior secondary students going through the first term of 2016/17 academic year without approved textbooks for the new curriculum.

Wadi: The company was not given the right to reply

In June 2016, MoEST overturned its own decision to award the supply of textbooks to Tradewings Worldwide Limited, the lowest of the three bidders, because the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) was investigating the company over its involvement in Cashgate—the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill.

However, Tradewings Worldwide Limited has forced MoEST to suspend the procurement process of supplying textbooks to secondary schools, resulting in the current school calendar’s first term ending without government providing textbooks to junior secondary school students to roll out the new curriculum.

The lack of textbooks, as one teacher stated, made it difficult for  implementation of the new learner-centred curriculum for junior secondary schools. Instead, the teacher said, they were advised to use textbooks for the old curriculum for reference.

“The new curriculum requires that the learner gets involved, not just the teacher explaining. At the moment, we are being told to refer to old textbooks, but it is difficult because we were supposed to start implementing the new curriculum,” said one Blantyre-based teacher.

In January this year, MoEST, using K7 billion funding from an African Development Bank (AfDB) loan, awarded a tender to Tradewings Limited to supply textbooks between January 2017 and June 2017 before it transpired that the selected company was under probe for possible involvement in Cashgate.

But the company has counter-argued that it was not guilty of any crime and the country’s laws allows it to take part in any tender.

Tradewings has since demanded that MoEST should withhold the award of the tender to any other bidder, withdraw and reverse the decision to award the contract to other bidders. It said the initial decision should be upheld.

In a letter to MoEST, lawyer representing Tradewings, Ishmail Wadi, argued that his clients acquired legitimate expectations and almost a vested interest having emerged as the successful bidder at evaluation in respect of all the three lots of MoEST having sought a no-objection letter from the Office of the Director of Public Procurement which is believed to have been granted.

In a telephone interview this week, Wadi referred the matter to MoEST, saying it was the legitimate institution to comment on the matter.

But in the letter, which The Nation has seen, Wadi argued that the company was not given the right to reply when the internal procurement committee (IPC) of MoEST made the decision to withdraw the offer. He said the IPC was under obligation to fully accord Tradewings the right to administrative justice as enshrined in Section 43 of the Constitution.

On the argument that the company was under investigation, Wadi said in the letter that he did not agree with the general proposition that an entity under investigation by the ACB is ineligible to participate in a tender or transact any business with the Malawi Government.

Reads Wadi’s letter: “In conclusion, please note that the standard put under the Public Procurement Act is one of ‘conviction of a bidder, or of its directors or officers, of any criminal offence related to their professional conduct’. If Parliament had intended that even an investigation can warrant disqualification of a bidder, it would clearly have stated so in the Act.”

MoEST Principal Secretary Dr Ken Ndala, in response to the Tradewings letter, said the ministry dismissed the argument on the grounds that it had not communicated to Tradewings Worldwide Limited that it was the lowest evaluated bidder or that it had been awarded the contract.

He said his ministry was bound to accept the lowest evaluated bid or any other bid received.

Ndala explained to the company that the ministry cross-checked with the ACB and that the bureau responded confirming that Tradewings Worldwide Limited were under a corruption investigation.

He said: “This ministry does not believe it ought to have accorded Tradewings Worldwide Limited a hearing on the fact that they are under some corrupt investigation as it was not contractually bound to accept the lowest or any bid in any case. In the circumstances, the procuring entity believes it is not in breach of any statutory duty justifying a review/revision of its decision under Section 37 of the Public Procurement Act.”

In an e-mail response to The Nation Inquiry, MoEST spokesperson Lindiwe Chide said the ministry indeed completed procurement process for textbooks and all necessary government approvals were obtained.

On the implications, Chide, in a telephone interview, said the delays were inevitable, but that the process was important to maintain the integrity of the ministry’s public procurement.

She said the Ministry has since asked AfDB for loan extension.

ACB spokesperson Egrita Ndala confirmed that the bureau was investigating Tradewings, but said it has not yet invited the company for interview because the investigation has not reached that stage.

However, she said the bureau does not have the authority to disqualify any individual or organisation from participating in a tender.

Reacting to the developments, Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) executive director Benedicto Kondowe told The Nation that MoEST’s failure to provide textbooks to government secondary school was a systematic perpetuation of discrimination as children from well to do families are accessing good education in up-market schools while children of poor Malawians are even denied basic rights to education.

He said: “Secondary schools in Malawi are not well resourced. This compromises quality and ability of students to acquire and generate new knowledge on their own. The inputs which support our education are of poor quality.”

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) figures show that nearly 32 percent of female youths of secondary school age are out of school compared to 23 percent of male youths of the same age and that for youth of secondary school age, the biggest disparity can be seen between the poorest and the richest youth. n

 

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