Sadtu, publisher in sweetheart deal?

2013-05-19 14:00

Teachers’ union orders members to ‘support’ company.

The SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) in Mpumalanga has ordered its members to “support” textbook publisher Shuter & Shooter – because the company is providing its members with training on the new curriculum.

City Press was this week leaked a copy of a memo from Sadtu’s Mpumalanga branch, addressed to “all regions and branches” and signed by the provincial secretary, Walter Hlaise.

In the memo, part of which Sadtu retracted in response to a request by Shuter & Shooter and action by the Publishers’ Association of SA (Pasa), Hlaise wrote: “All Sadtu members will support Shuter & Shooter by purchasing their books when orders for (textbooks and other learning materials) are made.”

He also wrote that the company would “sponsor activities of Sadtu (Mpumalanga)”.

In the memo, Hlaise wrote the union had resolved at its 2012 provincial general council to enter into an agreement with the company in which it would “run and fund Caps (curriculum) workshops for Sadtu members in the province on an intensive scale”.

The memo concludes: “We hereby remind all structures to initiate compliance with this decision and ensure principals of schools who are our members are aware of it.”

The Pasa wrote to Shuter & Shooter on Monday, registering its concern about the memo.

On Wednesday, the union retracted the clause encouraging teachers to buy the company’s books.

Shuter & Shooter’s managing director, Primi Chetty, said the memo “does not correctly reflect the nature of our relationship with Sadtu Mpumalanga”.

Chetty said the training provided by the company “is standard industry practice and teachers in the province will benefit from the training received.

There is no agreement between ourselves and Sadtu whereby their members are compelled in any way to purchase our product,” she said, adding that she was confident the training did not constitute a corrupt relationship.

But Steven Powell, a former state advocate and head of Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs’ forensic division, said a case could be made that the arrangement outlined in the memo “is a corrupt relationship based on the gratification provided to the union in the form of the sponsorship by the supplier of the union’s training functions”.

He said: “The quid pro quo is the instruction to use that company when orders are placed for learning material.”

He said the arrangement may also be an “anticompetitive practice”.

Officials, Powell said, would be abusing state funds if they preferred the sponsor’s product over better-quality or better-priced products as a result of the company’s “gratification” to the union.

“This could potentially also result in wasteful expenditure in contravention of the Public Finance Management Act,” said Powell.

When asked to clarify, Hlaise denied the memo amounted to a direct order for members to buy the publisher’s books.

“There is nothing sinister about it. We’re not saying we’re only buying Shuter & Shooter books,” he said.

“Supporting the publisher is not an instruction. We’re saying where our members can support them they must.

“Shuter & Shooter are helping us with teacher training. Why not support them when they are helping us for free?” He said rival publishers did nothing for the union.

“They’re just appropriating profits.”

Mandla Balisa, the chairman of Pasa, said the association was aware of the memo and had “started a process of engaging the publisher concerned and informing the department of education about the letter”.

He denied that other publishers did not provide teacher training, and said such training was facilitated through unions and provincial departments. Other publishers who spoke to City Press confirmed they had done training in Mpumalanga, but said they had dealt with education department district offices.

Mpumalanga education spokesperson Jasper Zwane distanced himself from the “so-called agreement in question”.

He said: “The arrangement is that schools are given a catalogue from which they order stationery or textbooks and each school or teacher would order based on their needs.

“At no stage would schools or teachers be instructed into choosing a particular publisher.”

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