Community Schools: Loot in the name of library

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The government appealed to several donors three years ago to help community schools in setting up libraries. Rs 3 billion has been released for the purpose in total since. Unfortunately, hundreds of schools have siphoned off funds meant for library while most others have bought useless books in collusion with book publishers to show purchases and to misappropriate funds.

-Ramji Dahal in Kathmandu, Shrawan Dev in Rajbiraj and Manish Duwadi in Dhading: Centre for Investigative Journalism-Nepal

On March 5, the library at Janata Secondary School, Khurhuriya in Bishnupur Rural Municipality, Saptari, had one copy each of the books titled Technical Education, Computer Device and Circuit, Electric Technology, Micro Processor, Database Management, Web Technology, Model Digital Electronic and Computer Network Key besides some textbooks for grades 9 and 10. This is the list of books said to have been bought with the Rs 650,000 released by the District Education Office (DEO) for managing a library. According to a teacher at the school, books worth Rs 15,000 were bought for the library while the remaining grant remained unaccounted for. Asked about it, headmaster Surya Narayan Yadav said they had not been able to buy books for various reasons and the task would be done shortly. But he failed to explain the reasons. Many head teachers in Tarai districts believe that the grant amount would not be enquired about since the DEO ceases to exist after the end of the Nepali month of Chaitra.

Ganeshkunda Secondary School, Dhading: The books bought for the library are still in sacks. Photo Courtesy: Manish Duwadi

Basbitti Secondary School at Rupani Rural Municipality in Saptari has spent Rs 375,000 meant for library on building construction. “After the bank account having construction funds was frozen, the library funds were spent on that,” said headmaster Shyam Prasad Yadav. “From the library budget, 15 chairs, 3 tables, 2 book racks and 4 showcases were bought for Rs175,000,” he added. This shows that the school received money under the library heading but has not purchased a single book so far.

The library at Kesho Aniruddhawati Secondary School in Rajbiraj has a small number of books. The Sajha Prakashan books have been torn. Headmaster Phuleshwor Mandal, who also chairs the District Federation of Teachers, admitted that the books had not been purchased due to the teachers’ district assembly and examinations. “We’ll procure the books soon,” he said. Many students do not know that the school has a library as the “library” room is mostly closed. “We don’t know here’s a library around,” said Sabitri Kumari Yadav, a ninth grader.

Chandeshwari Higher Secondary School in Nilkantha, Dhading, had prepared a list of books to be purchased with the budget for the earlier fiscal year. Books were purchased but only a few of them are useful. The list was of books related to curricula, teachers’ manuals, reference materials and practice books, among others. “As soon as the grant was received, Sajha Prakashan made about 10 calls a day to collect books,” said headmaster Hari Itani. “Procurement was made with the help of chairman. There was no time even to choose books.”

Itani said they chose Sajha in the belief that it would be easier to get VAT (Value Added Tax) bill and to tally PAN (Permanent Account Number there. Itani agreed that only 10 per cent books were useful even if the list of required books was provided to it. “A sack sent by Sajha was full of Garima magazines,” said librarian Ghanashyam Lamsal. According to school sources, the sack was burnt fearing trouble in future.

‘Rest assured. There’ll be no complaints’
 Punya Prasad Prasain
Chairman, Dikura Publication

If you pay us Rs 100,000, we’ll give you ‘books’ worth Rs 170,000. We give ‘books’ worth Rs 300,000 for payment of Rs 175,000. The discount is yours. We can cooperate. If there are other schools, come together. You can take even if you want to do separately.

On the type of bill, if you buy worth Rs 400,000 of MRP, we charge you Rs 235,000. You’ll get the bill for Rs 4 lakh. That means extra purchase of Rs 165,000. More than you paid for. There [at school] you can deal in your way. It’s easy, not difficult. It will be legal and procedural.

I’ll also give you ‘quotation’. There will be [the names of] three companies. You need a quotation [to show] DEO, we’ll make the quotation too. The quotations you’ll require from three local traders, we’ll send them to you. We give you the quotations along with the bill. They will be valid in the district. I’ll make quotations in the name of three companies based in Kathmandu. Nothing will happen.

All those [schools] I give [books] now, Sir, [they take that way]… many are taking [books] from us. All of them take quotations that way. Those who took last year, their deals have been approved. So many in Chitwan took last year!

We give you the letter of quotation submission on the basis of the purchase notice you have issued. We’ve our own three companies [to issue quotation]. Please rest assured, you won’t face any complaints about our work!

The books purchased by Ganeshkunda Secondary School, Dhading in the last month of the last fiscal year remained in a sack at a corner of the child development classroom for seven months. Headmaster Rabindra Chaudhari said the books had remained unused in the lack of space for library. Neither students nor teachers nor guardians know about the book purchase. “If the library had practice books, attending extra classes would be easier,” said Deuwa Tamang, a tenth grader.

Dhading DEO has information about this. “I’ve been informed that most of the schools have bought useless books. If our monitoring confirms this, such schools will be directed to buy additional books related to the curriculum,” said District Education Officer Madhav Raj Sharma. His statement shows nobody is held accountable for this wrong deed—it suffices to buy additional books.

Most schools that have spent budget haphazardly have not spent all the allotted funds on books. For instance, Balkrishna Adhikari, headmaster at Koshi Secondary School, Mahendranagar, Bagjheda in Sunsari, paid Rs 150,000 to Manjari Prakashan in advance in a book deal in the first month of the current fiscal year. According to Manjari manager Krishna Abiral, the bill had to be cleared by August 30, 2017. “Headmaster Adhikari, got away with the bill but did not buy books,” said Abiral. Adhikari admitted to have taken the bill without buying books as the new building was under construction and there was no room for library. “The building is ready now. We’ll buy all the books when the new session starts,” said Adhikari. Headmaster Mohan Bagale of Mangalmay Secondary School Padajungi, Jhapa, bought books worth Rs 72,000 from Manjari publications alone. But he wanted the bill to be for Rs 200,000, which Abiral claimed to have refused.

More than Rs 3 billion has been spent so far on the One School One Library campaign initiated by the government in the fiscal year 2016/17. Most schools have taken the money but have not built the library. Some even paid for useless books twice their marked price. A majority of the bills issued by publishing houses appear to be fake or do not resemble real ones. Some schools have used up the library budget on the “physical structure” required for it.

Under the School Sector Development Programme (SSDP) implemented in partnership with 15 donor organizations including Asian Development Bank, Australia, DFID, European Union, Finland, Jica, Norway, SDC, Unesco, Unicef, UNDP, USAID, World Food Programme and the Association of International NGOs, each school selected by the District Education Office (DEO) gets grant money of Rs 650,000 to buy necessary books and materials.

In the fiscal year 2017/18, Rs 1,308.05 million has been allocated to set up libraries at 1,945 schools across the country. The smallest number of grant recipients is one school in Manang, two each in Mustang and Mugu districts while the largest number is 61 in Siraha (See map). According to the Department of Education, the grant amount released by the District Education Offices to the schools has to be spent on books, racks, table-chairs and book purchase.

In the previous fiscal, 1,758 government schools in 69 districts except Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Mugu, Humla, Surkhet and Doti had got Rs 1,142.7 million in total from the District Education Offices. In the fiscal year 2013/14, schools numbering 1,053 in total got Rs 66.18 million at the rate of Rs 50,000 per school while in the following fiscal year, 1,000 schools got a total of Rs 1 billion at the rate of Rs 100,000 per school. The budget for FY 2015/16, according to the department, included the library programme but funds were not allocated. So far, Rs 3,528.68 million seems to have been spent under the library heading.

‘Rs 1 million free on purchases worth Rs 1 million’

Books worth Rs 100,000 free on purchases worth Rs 100,000. Rs 1 million free on purchases worth Rs 1 million

This is a Facebook advertisement of the Baggazaar-based Dikura Publication in Kathmandu targeting the One School One Library campaign of the government. This speaks volumes of the quality of books the house publishes.

In another example of loot, Dikura Publications has reprinted the books it announces to provide price discounts on marking nearly double the usual rate. For instance, a translation of Hitler’s Autobiography published by Dikura is now priced Rs 675 while its fourth edition cost Rs 450. Items that the publication offers ‘heavy discounts’ of 50 per cent on are mostly such books. Asked about such unreasonable rate, publication Chairman Punya Prasai cited ‘good quality paper’ used in the new copies. But the paper used in the old and new books is not visibly different.

How does this happen?

Once they know that the District Education Office has approved the Rs 650,000 for a school’s library programme, publishing house owners or their representatives go on a tour of the district. In the process, the seller lures the school headmaster or the management committee chairperson with “attractive discounts”, “home delivery” and a “good deal”. Under their spell, most schools even entrust the seller with preparing the list of books. The publisher seizes the opportunity to push books whose stocks need to be cleared, rather than those benefitting students, or send books that were about to be thrown away for lack of sale.

The “buy 100 get 100 free” advertisement of Dikura Publication is driven by this motive of selling books. Other publishers including Ekta Books and Ratna Pustak Bhandar also offer 30 to 35 per cent discounts to sell books this way. This saying of Rajivdhar Joshi of Kathalaya Publication gives a peek into the inner side of the publishing enterprise: “Books returned from the market, those free of copyright and those translated by novices only can be sold at such discounted rates.”

Rajivdhar cited his experience to say that publications can afford to give 20 per cent price discounts on good books, up to 35 per cent on medium-quality books and 50 per cent on those rarely used. Those seeking discounts of 35 per cent get books that hardly sell; books for 50 per cent discount have to be found among those ready to be scrapped. Books by renowned writers and professional translators cannot be sold at such heavily discounted prices as their production cost is high.

According to experts, a school has to consider the usefulness of a book for students and teachers rather than price discounts offered by publications. However, this important aspect has been overlooked in the greed for commission. As a result, most books available on libraries are of little use for teachers and students there.

Poorly translated and unauthorised autobiographies of Hitler and Che Guevara are among such books. Besides, it is debatable which age group of readers the books are suitable for. Educationist Dr Bidyanath Koirala believes that such books teach nothing more than revolt. “Books like them make children violent, not creative,” says Dr Koirala.

According to Koirala, people who think library is all about books and racks are engaged in such malpractices. “The failure to grasp what kinds of book are useful for teachers and students and the tendency to neglect it even by those who have realization of this while buying books have led to this situation,” he says. Traders themselves come up with ideas to manipulate quotations for extracting commissions, and “undetectable” counterfeit bills. (See box for saying of Dikura Publication Chairman Prasain)

 ‘Loot in discount money’

When the budget meant for setting up libraries to foster reading habit in schools facing deteriorating quality of education was misappropriated, the Department of Education sent directives to the District Education Offices on February 10, 2017. The letter said only textbooks, curriculum, teachers’ guide and reference materials were permitted to be purchased under the library budget. But schools have flouted the instruction.

Books in the school library have to be related to curricula, and teachers’ guide, reference materials and practice books, among others. These become useful study materials. But the books currently available on school libraries have failed to draw attention of teachers and students as they are not useful. Teachers who are motivated to buy books for commission pay no attention to books wanted by students.

Even schools in Kathmandu Valley have grossly misappropriated the library funds in the name of buying books. Headmaster Ekbahadur Bhandari of Mahendra Adarsha Higher Secondary School, Imadol, Lalitpur bought books worth Rs 25,000 from Taranidhi Regmi, a bookseller in Kathmandu. Next year, when the school received Rs 650,00 from the DEO Lalitpur after being selected for the library project, headmaster Bhandari asked Regmi to give him a bill for Rs 200,000 on the basis of the purchases last year. When Regmi said that such a bill would show extra earning by his firm and he would have to pay 25 per cent in taxes, Bhandari was ready even to pay the extra amount necessary to meet the fake transaction cost. Regmi said he did not heed the headmaster’s request. When asked about the incident, headmaster Bhandari said he had to look at the bill as he did not remember the exact amount of purchase.

This shows the level of irregularities in the library project. According to people informed on the matter, many booksellers issue fake bills by charging up to 20 per cent of the stated amount. Krishna Abiral of Manjari Prakashan says many headmasters openly ask for blank bills.

In order to add value to the library, book lists should have been prepared after discussion among teachers and students. Very few schools have the practice of holding a teacher-student meeting to list books for procurement. One of them is Balbodh Secondary School, Hatiya, Makwanpur. The school bought more books with the discount amount on book purchase. When the school bought books worth Rs 400,000 last year, it had got Rs 100,000 back in 25 per cent discount. The school bought more books with the amount. “Even as a list prepared after discussion among teachers, child club members and the school management committee was given to the seller, it sent irrelevant books worth Rs 100,000. We’re in the process of exchanging the books for useful ones,” said headmaster Bhimsen Shrestha. The school has assigned teacher Ratna Kumar Bhandari to manage the library. Bhandari takes up the library duty after teaching the first four periods.

There has been no study to see the quality and usefulness of books in libraries established with donors’ money. The Education Department and the DEOs have maintained silence on it. The Education Ministry has been disbursing huge amounts of money every year without finding out about the established libraries and their use.

Education Department Deputy Director and chief of the programme and budget division Ghanashyam Aryal said, “The DEO, resource centre and the resource person have to monitor the kind of books kept at the libraries.” Education Ministry spokesperson Dr Hari Lamsal said action has to be taken against officials not spending the grant money as specified. Educationist Dr Bidyanath Koirala, however, argues that the library grant should be sent to the local government since the powers governing school education have been transferred to the local level. Koirala suggests that the local federal units need to monitor use of the library grant.

Under the SSDP, the government plans to establish a library in each secondary and lower secondary school within five years. Rs 6.5 billion will be required to set up libraries in nearly 10,000 schools across the country at the rate of Rs 650,000 per school. Due to the tacit cooperation between District Education officials, school headmaster, school management committee chairperson and the book sellers offering “huge discounts”, schools seem to be without proper libraries even when the central budget is spent.

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