Feb 26, 2012 News Comments Off on Dealer blows lid on Education Ministry’s book scam…Billions spent on outdated text books
– manipulates procurement procedures
“You have to understand that there is no clear-cut text book policy in Guyana. Many of the books being ordered…there is no way to determine whether they are relevant to the curriculum or not. So books are being ordered and sometimes even the teachers don’t want them.”
A local book dealer is calling on President Donald Ramotar to immediately launch an investigation
into the system of text book ordering. He is claiming that there are widespread irregularities and fraud involved in the process.
According to Bholan Boodhoo, owner of the Horizon Bookshop in Alberttown, and a long time dealer of text books, the procurement system is deliberately being manipulated so that specific companies are granted the contract.
The Auditor General’s report covering government accounts of 2010, excerpts of which were published in this newspaper last Sunday, found instances in which hundreds of millions of dollars were written up in cheques, months before the contracts were awarded.
It not only signaled that there were serious irregularities but also that there was the shocking possibility that the procurement process in Guyana through the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board may have been compromised.
The report also suggested that books were also being partially delivered.
Kaieteur News was told that people high up in the Ministry of Education and specific dealers awarded the contracts, deliberately delivered short and would split the proceeds.
Text books dealing in Guyana is a billion dollar business.
According to Boodhoo, the way the procurement system is being run in Guyana is hugely unfair to other dealers and may even threaten the level of education in the country.
“You have to understand that there is no clear-cut text book policy in Guyana. For many of the books being ordered…there is no way to determine whether they are relevant to the curriculum. So books are being ordered and sometimes even the teachers don’t want them. They are distributed in the schools and left in the storeroom.”
Another major issue over the ordering of text books is that a large percentage ordered are called infringed copies– photocopies. A business on West Coast Demerara (name given) is the main supplier of photocopied text books.
“This is a clear violation of several regional and international laws. It saves money but how could a ministry and government by extension, sanction an illegality? We have legitimate book dealers in Guyana who are answerable to their companies.
“We have books that we are scared to even put on shelves because they are being bought and then photocopied or infringed and then resold,” the businessman said.
Many of the contracts awarded are through sole sourcing procurement procedures, meaning that the Ministry has already decided which company will get the contract.
“This is clearly a breach of what sole tendering is all about. For one company to be eligible as a sole tender, the ministry will have to show that it can’t buy from anywhere else and the orders must be with all the relevant specifications included.
“This may be true if you are ordering a Wartsila engine or Caterpillar set…then you will have to go to the company that makes them. In the Guyana case, only some books could be ordered through sole sourcing…not all as is being done,” Boodhoo stressed.
However, in many cases, the contracts are just being awarded as sole sourcing without evidence being presented that the books are not available elsewhere.
And how is it being done?
“On the approval granted by the Cabinet, the list will more than likely have general descriptions of texts but no names of the books wanted. This is another way in which legitimate dealers are being shafted because they don’t have a clear idea of what is needed.”
In many cases, the Ministry of Education just does not advertise for the books.
“In the absence of a Procurement Commission, it is hard to complain,” the dealer said.
That commission is the body which would have heard complaints being filed by aggrieved parties on alleged instances where government’s procurement processes were not followed. The commission, despite public clamouring, has not yet been established by the government.
“Many of the books being ordered are not revised and outdated.”
At least three businesses are now selling infringed copies of text books at a fraction of the costs. One is located in Water Street and another on Croal Street.
“Those infringed copies are of poor qualities and in black and white in most cases. In almost all the cases the businesses selling the books are not dealers or are just not authorized.”
Meanwhile, Kaieteur News was told that when text books are purchased, whether they are infringed or not, they are delivered to the Ministry of Education’s Book Distribution Unit.
The Auditor General report on the Ministry’s 2010 accounts found that in most cases, records of that unit did not match up with what was ordered. Insiders are saying records are deliberately not being provided to state auditors.
In most cases, the Book Distribution Unit is not provided or made aware of what was ordered from the supplier…only what is being delivered.
Further, even records being kept at the unit are poor and sources at the Education Ministry again say that this is deliberately so that in cases of checks, it will be hard to track instances of short delivery, among other fraudulent activities.
In the Auditor General’s report of the 2010 accounts, auditors found one instance where a massive $110M order was made for text books but two cheques for the amount were made months before the contract was awarded.
According to the report, the fact that the payments took place in the fourth and ninth months of 2011, confirms the use of a strategy to defeat the controls as set out in the government’s Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMA), by the withdrawal of sums appropriated in one year and holding them for extended periods for spending in another year during the life of another Appropriation Act.
“It is even more disturbing that such a serious breach is aided and abetted by the Ministry of Finance, through a process in which stale dated cheques are extended for use at current dates. This was the case of the second cheque which was updated on June 9, 2011.”
In charge of the Ministry at the time was Minister Shaik Baksh, who was not included in the current Cabinet under new President Donald Ramotar. He was also embroiled in a questionable contract involving the delivery of computers to a number of schools.
In 2009, cheques were also written up days before the end of the year for book orders that would have been delivered in 2010, an occurrence that the state auditors found disturbing.
It was this same supplier who was given contracts in 2010 to the tune of $230M but cheques were drawn up in December 2009. There were several discrepancies also with those contracts including one that was “surprisingly” dated one year later on January 21, 2011.
According to the report, the Tender Board approval did not disclose details of the orders, including the book titles, authors, quantities or even costs.
On request, the Ministry of Education provided two contracts and three book lists that give details of the order.
“The Audit Office was unable to validate delivery on the orders, as the state of accounting at the Book Delivery Unit (BDU) made accounting for the books impractical. It should be noted that the BDU provided delivery invoices with supply details of several books. However, these invoices were not referenced to the related orders and did not include the prices of the books supplied.”
National Centre of Educational Resource Development (NCERD), an arm of the Ministry of Education, is the department that is reportedly in charge of ordering text books.
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