Parents cautioned against suppliers hiking prices of school essentials
Cape Town - As Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is expected to speak today on the state of readiness to open schools in the context of Covid-19, the Competition Commission has urged parents to be cautious of suppliers who are hiking the prices of school essentials.
Commission spokesperson Siyabulela Makunga said the commission has already received 27 cases, of which 10 are from the Western Cape, and others from KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and Gauteng were under investigation.
Equal Education Law Centre senior attorneys Tarryn Cooper-Bell said learning materials including school uniforms and textbooks were all essential components of the right to basic education, and that school uniforms needed to be made accessible.
Cooper-Bell said the actions of suppliers in hiking prices created an inaccessible environment and increased the hurdles learners faced to access their right to basic education.
Independent Schools’ Association of Southern Africa (Isasa), executive director Lebogang Montjane said over the years, the association had engaged with the Competition Commission regarding its concerns with prohibited practices by uniform suppliers.
Montjane said Isasa had communicated with its membership about the process of securing suppliers in a manner consistent with the guidelines of the Competition Commission and how best to maintain a fair and transparent process for the procurement of school uniforms in a pro-competitive manner.
Western Cape Education Department (WCED) spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said learner uniforms needed to be agreed on by the school governing bodies (SGBs), taking into account the communities they served
Hammond said schools also needed to adhere to the requirements of the Competition Commission in that regard. "Preferably school uniforms should be as generic as possible such that they are obtainable from many suppliers."
Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools legal services manager Juané van der Merwe, said SGBs were allowed to enter into procurement agreements/ contracts with service providers or suppliers, but those agreements were subject to the Competition Act.
Van der Merwe said supply might occur exclusively through a school clothing shop or manufacturer supplying one or more local retailers, but the cost of uniforms should not place an unaffordable financial burden on parents.
Makunga urged schools and parents to observe the circular on “procurement of school uniforms and other learning-related goods and services” – jointly published by the commission and the Department of Basic Education on November 16 – for guidance on best practices relating to all procurement undertaken by schools.
"The circular is aimed at curbing anti-competitive procurement practices at schools, and emphasises the principles articulated in the school uniform guidelines previously published in May 2015 by the DBE."
He said in the era of Covid-19, the commission’s scope has expanded to other learning-related goods and services which schools require learners to purchase, including masks, hand sanitisers and technological gadgets for e-learning purposes.