Uncertainty looms over timely printing of primary school textbooks for the coming school year, as the World Bank had impose certain conditions to maintain the standard of the textbooks. The World Bank proposed a five per cent hike on the security deposit and also to hold up payment till quality is ensured. The printing press owners termed the condition ‘insulting’ and said they will resort to the law if necessary.
An alliance of local printing press owners was willing to charge 32 per cent less than the estimated rates, in order to block out foreign printing firms. Concerned quarters said it would be impossible to publish standard quality textbooks at such a low price. The World Bank also thinks that the primary level students will be deprived of quality textbooks if they are printed at such a low cost. The World Bank has now imposed a number of conditions to keep pressure on the printing press owners.
The concerned officials are worried that the printing will be delayed if the printing press owners rejected the conditiona imposed by the World Bank. The national curriculum and textbook board (NCTB) remains quiet, under pressure from both the sides.
Education minister Nurul Islam Nahid told Prothom Alo that they are discussing the matter with all sides. The issue will be sorted soon. The minister said, the government prints text books worth almost Taka 1000 crore every year, a boost to the printing presses of the country. Some benefit directly and some indirectly by being involved with this industry.
Most of the concerned people said it was impossible to print textbooks at such low prices. Meetings took place and letters were exchanged between the related ministries of the government, the World Bank, and the printing press owners after a report was published recently in Prothom Alo regarding the issue.
On 20 July last year, NCTB issued a ‘notification of award’ for the printing press owners informing them about the work. The letter has not yet been issued this time. It takes 130 days to print textbook from the day of issuing the letter. But only 128 days are left if the government wants to hand over textbooks on the first of the year. NCTB said it is still uncertain when and how the letter will be issued to the printing press owners.
Certain NCTB officials said the World Bank’s conditions make sense, but the printing press owners have a point too.
World Bank’s conditions: The World Bank said the the bills of the printers and publishers will be paid after the quality of the books are verified by a separate company. Other than that, their performance guarantee (PG) has been raised to 15 per cent from 10 per cent.
NCTB sources said according to the government procurement rule, the security deposit can be increased up to 25 per cent if the quotation is unusually lower than the estimated rate. The World Banks has asked to make it 15 per cent. The tender seekers however said they submitted the tender seeing the conditions, there was no government procurement rule or the conditions of the World Bank.
The World Bank sent a letter to the NCTB chairman on 17 August adding the conditions. The World Bank Dhaka office task team leader Ayesha Vawda signed the letter. A quality assurance protocol (QAP) was also issued with the letter to the NCTB to assure quality standard of the textbook.
NCTB chairman Narayan Chandra Pal told Prothom Alo that the situation is such that NCTB individually cannot do anything. They have informed the ministry.
The chairman also said, both the World Bank and the publishers have their logic. But a solution has to found so the textbooks reach the children in time.
Rejection by the publishers: The publishers rejected the condition of the World Bank. They said no condition will be accepted other than the conditions of the tender. The printing press owners and leaders of their association expressed their protest upon meeting the NCTB chairman.
The Chairman of Bangladesh printing press association, Shahid Serniabat told Prothom Alo that the publishers were the lowest bidders by submitting tender according to the conditions. Now there will be no other option than going to the court and filing a case if the conditions of the World Bank are imposed on them.
Shaheed Serniabat said, they gave a lower price rate despite having the capability of printing 100 per cent of the books. If any owner of printing press fails to provide the books, the board will take action against them, he said.
The government plans to deliver around 35 crores of new text books free for primary and secondary students and it will cost around Tk 773.
The National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) has floated tenders for the printing of textbooks worth Tk 292 crores in primary level, Tk 38 crores in pre-primary level and Tk 443 crores in secondary level.
The bidders submitted less price rates in these three levels than the prices the NCTB floated.
The government wanted to cover the book printing job at Tk 330 crores but the publishers and press owners joined together to complete the work at Tk 221 crores.
Press owners are opposed to having the publishing orders to India, now that the country’s publishing houses are capable.
The NCTB floated an international tender on 29 April for publishing 11 crore textbooks of class I to V. Around 700 companies took part in the tender submission. The publishers formed a syndicate and quoted 31.94 percent less price than that was floated.
Several sources in the NCTB said, the quality of textbooks cannot be god at this price. The publishers, at such a cheap price, cannot publish books with 80 gram white paper, density, brightness and quality print.
The government in 2011 first took the decision of printing colourful textbooks from abroad. Since then, the local publishers have been protesting.