BASIC Education Minister Angie Motshekga is forging ahead with plans to centralise school textbook procurement from next year in an effort to curb costs and corruption, despite industry concerns.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan had told Ms Motshekga and the nine education MECs on Monday that there would be no more additional money for education in this year's budget, especially as education received the largest budget slice at R6bn, Department of Basic Education spokeswoman Hope Mokgatlhe said on Tuesday.
The government has battled since taking power in 1994 to ensure that all South African school children - about 12-million - get the textbooks they need, delivered on time.
The Presidency gave Ms Motshekga's department an extra R524m to ensure textbooks got to children in public schools early this year.
But, in the latest in a litany of poor logistics, Ms Motshekga last month discovered that seven of SA's poorest- performing high schools, in the Bushbuckridge area of Mpumalanga, the province that fared worst in last year's matric exams, still did not have textbooks at the end of last month .
Worse still, district officials had lied, telling provincial officials the books had been delivered.
"We are in the process of centralising the procurement of learning and teaching support material, and finalising a catalogue of textbooks that will be used by all schools in every province. This will prevent the current situation, where some schools are short of textbooks, while others have storerooms full of unused books," Ms Motshekga said.
The Publishers Association of SA (Pasa) is worried, however, that SA's small, but "very vibrant" textbook industry will feel the pinch if Ms Motshekga's plans to force schools to choose textbooks from a catalogue drawn up by the national department succeed.
"In our opinion centralised procurement has not done well in the rest of the world . teachers no longer have choice (and so it is more difficult) to address particular classroom needs," said a Pasa board member who did not want to be named .
The government spends R1,2bn- R1,5bn on textbooks annually, and the textbook market supports the publication of books in indigenous languages and books on arts and culture, the Pasa representative said.
Total estimated turnover for the South African book market for 2008 was R1,2bn, according to the annual book-publishing industry survey.
Ms Mokgatlhe said the minister was aware of Pasa's concerns and was negotiating with the body to find a solution that suited all. Centralising textbook procurement was one of the recommendations made by a curriculum implementation review committee that Ms Motshekga established in May last year.