May 12, 2019 News
As the Audit Office prepares to probe the questionable procurement of hundreds of millions of dollars in exercise and text books, there are indications that the Ministry of Education got duped on what was delivered.
According to information for a quantity of chequered-lined books delivered to the Ministry’s Book Distribution Unit, Guyana National Printers Limited (GNPL) supplied 56-page books instead of the standard 80 pages.
Over the years, the Ministry has been ordering 80-page exercise books, including double lines and chequered-lined books.
Following a number of stories about the book procurement contracts, which have been handled by GNPL, on behalf of the Ministry of Education, Kaieteur News was given a number of photographs which indicated that the people of Guyana did not get what the Ministry ordered and thus lost tens of millions of dollars overtime.
This was among one of a number of schemes devised to defraud the system of procurement of text and exercise books.
National Printers is under fire for sidelining local printers and instead going to a supplier in Trinidad.
Local printers insist they have capacity. They want Guyana National Printers, a state-owned company, to explain and make public the figures of what was paid and other details.
The Ministry of Education has distanced itself from the book orders, insisting in a statement, that it only contracted National Printers and that no other company was involved.
National Printers has insisted that local printers had no capacity and it was forced to turn to Trinidad for the books to be produced.
A number of printers met last week to complain about what they say is a clear plan by Government to kill their business.
They are planning to ask President David Granger for a meeting.
Representatives of the local printers said that there is more than enough capacity and competitive pricing in Guyana to comfortably handle any orders for books that the Government of Guyana needs.
Gathered at a meeting to ponder their next move were the biggest printers in the country- A1 Printery, Kimoke Printery, Kaieteur Books Inc. and F&H Printing Establishment, among others.
There are at least four other large printers who are angry over the situation and are planning to ask President David Granger for a meeting.
The Ministry of Education has more than $500M earmarked this year for producing text and exercise books for the scores of primary and secondary schools that the state manages across the country.
However, very little work is coming the way of the local printers since 2017.
Instead, the Ministry of Education has contracted GNPL to produce the books.
GNPL is in essence competing with private printers, receiving a price that is more than double than what local printers can produce, Kaieteur News was told.
The printers are calling on President David Granger to ensure that there is a level playing field. “We have workers. We pay our taxes. We pay VAT. We don’t get tax breaks on equipment. We are not being subsidised. We are asking for a level-playing field.
“The government has been talking about building capacity. We have capacity. We are inviting them to visit us to see what we have,” a spokesman of the printers said last week.
Under the arrangements, GNPL was supposed to produce local textbooks and exercise books.
It was granted a $100M loan for a printery in 2017, but that printer has not been operating.
In any case, the entity on its own is unable to meet the demands of the Ministry.
There were questions raised also about the secrecy of the orders by the Ministry.
No one seems to have an idea what the Ministry of Education has ordered. No one can say what was delivered and at what cost.
The Ministry insisted that it contracted GNPL for books and not any other company.
The Ministry made no mention of the price and what it ordered.
Since 2017, the orders for books have not been publicly tendered.
In fact, the printing officials said, their companies have not even been pre-qualified.
“We have cases where documents we have submitted have mysteriously disappeared during the procurement phase. There is a lot that is wrong with the procurement of books. We understand that by exposing this we are open for discrimination but we believe that the President is a serious man who will not tolerate this.”
The President in 2016 had toured GNPL’s La Penitence operations where the conditions were noted.
Granger announced he will make funding available for the printing operations to be made more competitive and modern.
However, technical issues have plagued the corporation with a second-hand press experiencing electrical and other issues.
The printers said they have written President Granger, former Minister of State, Joseph Harmon and even Finance Minister, Winston Jordan, at varying times.
“We were not consulted for orders. GNPL will have to provide proof whether there was a tender to sub-contract and how it decided to choose a particular printer over another. What we know is that we reading in the paper that they went to Trinidad,” an official from a prominent city printer said.
The disclosures by the printers would bolster claims that GNPL did not consult local companies to fulfill a major order by the Ministry of Education. Rather, it went to Trinidad directly.
“Here is the nonsense from GNPL. They are saying that we can’t fulfill within a particular time frame. We have been fulfilling it all the time. Then you go to Trinidad and place the same order and it can be delivered cheaper, inclusive of shipping and handling? Somebody is lying.”
Printers said they were asked to use papers that GNPL acquired elsewhere to produce exercise books.
On Wednesday, under pressure to explain why it bypassed local companies, GNPL admitted that it ordered books from Trinidad and Tobago.
The Audit Office of Guyana has said that it is preparing to investigate whether proper procurement procedures were followed and whether Guyana got value for its money.
Rackets involving the procurement of exercise and textbooks, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, have been ongoing for years now.
The Coalition Government has vowed to stamp out the corruption.
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