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The textbook wrangle

KP Elementary & Secondary Education Department’s decision to not allow competitive bidding to procure textbooks is under question

The textbook wrangle

Elementary & Secondary Education (E&SE) Department Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has announced, for the first time, not to hold competitive bidding for printing textbooks for levels prep to grade 12 of public schools in the province. According to the letter issued by E&SE, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Textbook Board (KPTB) will directly purchase printed books from publishers this year rather than annual open competitive bidding for textbooks printing. This decision will be valid for 140 out of a total of 240 textbooks.

Apparently, this is in clear violation of some rules. According to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Public Procurement Regulatory Authority’s (KPPRA) rule 14-(1), the procuring entity shall use open competitive bidding as the principal method of procurement for goods over the value of Rs100,000. Further, paragraph 11(i) of Financial Regulation 1992 framed by KPTB states all expenditures of Rs500 or more shall be made after inviting tenders, except in cases of emergency.

But, in the notification issued by the E&SE on Sept 9, 2018, the board has applied KPPRA rule 10-d(ii) to avoid competitive bidding for developing manuscript and printing. The rule states a procuring entity may engage in negotiated tendering with one or more suppliers or contractors without publication of procurement advertisement when reasons are connected with protection of exclusive rights or intellectual property.

“The process of developing manuscripts and printing has been a big issue throughout these years,” says Chairman KPTB Dawood Khan while talking to TNS. “We have to prevent piracy during the printing process. The publishers who win competitive bidding usually outsource printing work to other printers who are allowed to print a specific number of textbooks but they do not follow the due process.”

Publishers and printers across the country are unhappy with the KPTB decision, and consider it against the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (KPPRA) and Financial Regulations 1992.

“This is also against the KPTLM (Khyber Paktunkhwa Textbooks and Learning Materials) policy 2017,” says Zubair Saeed, Secretary General Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association in conversation with TNS. “A group inside KPTB is trying to create a monopoly of a specific publishing group, by adopting the ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ approach. The printing of 140 books are being given to a group and its allied companies owned by one man. It is a clear indication of nepotism and corruption.”

Chairman KPTB Khan refuses to accept this criticism. “It’s our responsibility to ensure intellectual property rights under KPPRA rule 10. We cannot compromise the quality of paper (68gm) and ink used for printing.”

The clause c(i) of KPPRA rule 10 ‘Alternate methods for procurement of goods’ states that a procurement entity shall only engage in alternate method if repeat orders are required within a period of six months: provided it does not exceed 15 per cent of the original contract value.

Khan adds publishers and printers will be invited for competitive bidding for the remaining 100 out of a total of 240 textbooks.

One publisher based in Peshawar dismisses Khan’s claim to protect the intellectual property rights as “completely flawed”, since KPTB approves manuscripts according to the rules and regulations of the education department.  “In competitive bidding, each publisher must submit two paper samples along with the details of ink brand and printing capacity. Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR) Lahore and Peshawar examine the paper samples and ink brands before approving the bids offered by the contractors,” he says.

Educationist Faisal Bari thinks Dawood Khan’s argument to protect intellectual property rights (IPR) is weak. “IPR is linked with the process of developing manuscripts and printing textbooks doesn’t fall under this rule.”

He adds, “intellectual property rights don’t get compromised if a publisher prints textbooks for open market more than the sanctioned number. The concerned authority can ensure due process by improving its administrative structure”.

KPTB has a central role in the development of textbook manuscripts, printing and distribution of textbooks. Since 2008, the board has been providing free textbooks to all students, from prep (katchi) to grade 12.

The KPTLM policy 2017 requires ‘not for sale’ to be printed on each textbook because these are the property of KPTB. But publishers are allowed to print a specific number of textbooks for open market without printing ‘not for sale’ under the license, and KPTB gets 7.5 per cent of the total print value.

The number of government schools in KPK from primary to higher secondary is 29,037, where 4.381 million students are enrolled. In 2013-14, more than 45 million books were procured from publishers and printers, which over the years increased to around 60 million. The increase in the number of books increased the cost from Rs1.46 billion in 2011-12 to more than Rs2.5 billion in 2017.

Till 2014, the process for printing of books in KP was limited to bidders that ran printing presses within the territorial jurisdiction of the province and are registered with KPTB. Atif Khan, former Education Minister KP, revised this policy in 2015 and opened tenders to publishers based in other parts of the country to bring the policy of competitive bidding in line with other provinces.

“The previous policy was unjust. The government moved to change this ‘like’ and ‘dislike’, favouring one bidder over the other policy,” says Atif Khan.

The competitive bidding process benefits the government as it usually brings down the cost of textbooks. For instance, in 2017, the Punjab Textbook Board budgeted Rs3.25 billion for the purpose that was reduced to Rs2.5 billion in 2018.

“Likewise, KP Textbook Board spent Rs2.70 billion in 2015, Rs2.5 billion in 2016 and Rs2.25 billion in 2017. It is expected to further decrease this year if the board goes for competitive bidding,” says Salim Malik, Vice-President Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association.

“The notice issued by E&SE Department states that the price formula will be reset according to the usual increase and adjustment of paper price clearly indicating a high level of corruption in the process of printing textbooks,” he adds.

Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association has sent letters to Chief Minister KP Mahmood Khan and Prime Minister Imran Khan to take action against deviation from the rule by KPTB. Meanwhile it is up to KPPRA, Auditor General of Pakistan and Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of KP assembly to ensure transparency in the procurement method.

Shehryar Warraich

The author is a member of the staff

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