Sunday, 28 January 2018

SCHOOL HEADS, RETAILERS COLLUDING TO HIKE PRICES

Parliament is investigating school heads and retailers who are colluding to hike uniform prices, with a senior Government official’s company figuring in the probe.

Investigators are mainly targeting Harare-based learning institutions and shops, though several boarding schools could also come under scrutiny.

Schools opened on January 10 with uniform prices pegged at up to US$750. On average, a Grade One set is going for US$110 while A-level uniforms cost between US$250 and US$290 in school thrift shops.

It is understood some schools get at least five percent commission on each uniform sold.
Secretary for Primary and Secondary Education Dr Sylvia Utete-Masango owns a Marondera-based textiles firm which is now a subject of Parliamentary investigation. Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education, Sports and Arts Cde Kenneth Musanhi confirmed the probe.

“I have received a letter of complaint stating that school uniform price increases are largely a result of some school heads who are working with suppliers to enrich themselves at the expense of parents. After investigating, we will forward our findings to the relevant authorities.

“Parliament is investigating other allegations, looking into why manufacturers themselves have increased uniform prices beyond the reach of many parents. I can assure you that we will get to the bottom of this matter and that the culprits will be brought to book.”

On Dr Utete-Masango’s company, Cde Musanhi said, “We are investigating allegations against the Permanent Secretary for Primary and Secondary Education. It has been brought to our attention that she owns a company in Marondera that supplies uniforms to a number of schools. We will look into the matter, even if it means roping in the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission for further inquiries.”

Dr Utete-Masango told our Harare Bureau that her company manufactures uniforms and protective clothing, but denied inflating prices.

“We have a factory which manufactures uniforms and other materials like protective clothing in Marondera. Like any other business, we are given certain orders and we do supply.
“Some schools flight tenders for uniform supply; those who would have won tenders place orders with us and we supply. It’s not as though we are going directly to schools, imposing our services/products to them.

“We are in a partnership with a company in Mt Pleasant, Harare. Uniforms are supplied jointly and this is mainly to former group A schools. So, the claim that we are supplying every school in Zimbabwe at an inflated price is unjustified.”

Dr Utete-Masango said the Parliamentary investigation should proceed unencumbered. Zimbabwe Teachers Association president Mr Paul Gundani implored Government to get to the bottom of “this uniform pricing madness”.

He said, “As teachers, we are affected by commercialisation of uniforms as this affects children in class. When school uniforms become expensive and a pupil is coming with a tattered uniform, it becomes a major concern to us. It becomes difficult for us to put a pupil with a torn uniform and another with a new uniform on the same page. So, Government should urgently address this issue.” Sunday News

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