Limpopo textbooks: Urgent application fails

Court action by Oxford University Press has failed to derail the delivery of textbooks for the 2014 academic year to Limpopo schools.

The North Gauteng High Court yesterday dismissed with costs the company’s urgent application to force the department of education in Limpopo not to place textbook orders for grades 7, 8, 9 and 12. These grades need new textbooks as they will be implementing the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements.

The company asked the court to review and set aside the decision to pick the publishers the department selected for the printing and delivery of textbooks for the 2014 academic year.

It also asked the court to force the department to issue an instruction to all preferred publishers not to proceed with the printing of textbooks if orders had already been placed with them.

Limpopo education spokesperson Phuti Seloba confirmed that the application was dismissed with costs. “Our view is that it’s sour grapes. They lost fair and square to their own competitors. Fortunately the judge agrees with us that they are out of order.” In its founding affidavit, Oxford University Press argues that the department changed and incorrectly captured its prices, resulting in the department ranking the company as the most expensive service provider. “Because of this, Oxford University Press’ textbooks were in many cases ranked as the most expensive, when they were in fact the cheapest. This error resulted in an unlawful procurement process … in that it was not fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost effective. The company adds that this unlawful procurement will cause the department to incur wasteful and irregular expenditure in that it will now pay R6 million more for textbooks than it would have paid had it procured from Oxford University Press.

“Furthermore, the irregilarities will cause lost revenue to Oxford University Press of more than R40 million for the 2014 school year, as well as a further R32 million over the following four years. This is a significant portion of Oxford University Press’ turnover,” the court papers read.

A letter attached to papers from the department’s administrator, Mzwandile Matthews, says the company’s prices were verified and captured correctly and fairly.

Oxford University Press had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

The provision of textbooks in Limpopo has been fraught with problems since 2010, when the department made a decision to outsource the purchasing and distribution of books to scandal-prone EduSolutions.

Last year, the national department of education cancelled EduSolutions’ contract when major flaws were discovered. The company rushed to court in a bid to have the contract reinstated. It failed, and now it is suing the department for R150 million in lost revenue.

Said Seloba: “Our view is that we are committed to clean, transparent and credible government. Our processes were fair. We have already received 2 million of the 6 million books we ordered and we are ready to roll. Quality teaching and learning in Limpopo must start on the first day of school in 2014.”

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