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Durban - The saga of supplying schools with text books took a new turn on Sunday when the KwaZulu-Natal education department said it would eliminate agents and buy textbooks directly from publishers to store in their own warehouses.

Speaking at Durban’s Hilton Hotel, Education MEC Peggy Nkonyeni said providing text books directly to schools would save the department millions and eliminate delays.

She was addressing 500 education officials following a two-day workshop outlining the department’s strategic objectives and priorities for the next five years.

“Yearly procurement using a third party has not saved us any money.

“In some cases it has resulted in problems because agents store books in their own warehouses then hire other people to deliver books to schools which sometimes delayed the process of getting books to teachers and learners on time,” said Nkonyeni.

Supported by her department head, Nkosinathi Sishi, Nkonyeni said 95 percent of schools had already placed orders for next year’s textbooks.

“We will be using FET colleges and education centres as warehouses; each warehouse will service about 30 schools.

“Schools will fetch the books themselves and we expect governing bodies to be present when the schools pick up their books,” said Sishi.

The measure was more cost- effective as government institutions would double as warehouses, and buying directly from the publishers was cheaper.

While both admitted they were expecting some mistakes - as this was the department’s first time embarking on such a huge project, they planned to have completed deliveries to warehouses by the end of November.

On the school feeding scheme - which has also been beset by problems - the department planned to give contractors three-year contracts from September, Sishi said.

“We are making a clean break from the previous nutrition programme which was riddled with corruption.

“This time we want to ensure that people are accountable for the food they feed learners in the 5 022 schools that are part of the programme,” he said.

Nkonyeni said they wanted to train their suppliers on how to run businesses.

Sishi said the department needed to reprioritise some funds as 1 866 of its 2 194 vacant posts were unfunded.

“We haven’t filled clerical positions since 2005 and that means we have some managers and directors without support staff, which results in teachers not getting paid as we had in the uThungulu district recently,” Sishi said.

The Mercury