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MBABANE – Turmoil lurks for head teachers and parents come next week Tuesday when schools open for the first term.
This is because many pupils in public schools will find themselves without stationery.

The pounding headache for head teachers, parents and the pupils alike, will emanate from the fact that stationery suppliers have put their foot down and relayed that they would not be rendering their services to public schools, as a majority of the learning institutions were in arrears.

According to the chairperson of Eswatini Stationery and Book Trade Association, Hezekiel Mabuza, a vast number of schools were in arrears with many of their members. He said the outstanding balance by some schools were from the past academic year.

Mabuza was quick to also highlight that not all schools were having trouble settling their balance with the stationery providers. The entrepreneur said most of the schools that stood to go haywire when the academic calendar commences next week, were those located in rural areas.
He said: “Schools in the rural areas have a low intake and when they get the grants, they fail to settle our outstanding balances. Most complain that they are heavily indebted.”

This, Mabuza said, was a trend with schools that solely depended on government for their revenue. Mabuza said most of the challenges for stationery suppliers were from primary schools, as they were the ones depending mostly on government for the free primary education (FPE) grants.

Currently, government pays about E560 per pupil enrolled under the FPE programme. A pupil in the lower Grades (Grade I – III) studies about seven subjects.
Per subject, each pupil needs a class work exercise book and a test exercise book. This tallies to about 14 exercise books and seven books per pupil, while between Grades IV – VII, the number of stationery required triples as the scholars will require an exercise book for taking notes, class work and tests.
The country has about 652 primary schools and about 240 000 pupils are said to be enrolled under the FPE programme.

Meanwhile, the challenges faced by schools stationery suppliers were further confirmed by a stationery and book supplier located in Manzini.
The businessman acknowledged that there were schools that owed his entity.

The entrepreneur said the amount owed to his stationery shop was around E300 000.
“Imagine if someone owes you this amount for the whole year while you also have to pay rent, suppliers and remunerate staff; it just sends you under (sic),” the businessman said.

 He further said while they had these bills that were outstanding, they also had to pay tax to Eswatini Revenue Authority (SRA) despite that they did not get the money immediately.

This, the businessman said, was quite frustrating such that they had to seek loans to have running capital. The entrepreneur further highlighted that not all schools were indebted to them.

He said ‘big schools’ (which are those with a high intake) were paying on time and or met their agreements of settling each bill within stipulated months. An estimated figure for stationery and books, according to the businessman, varies between E1 000 and E5 000 per pupil – depending on the grade that particular pupil is enrolled in.

The stance by some of the stationery suppliers comes at a time when there is a stand-off between the Ministry of Education and Training with head teachers. The ministry last week relayed to schools that there should be no additional fees paid by parents.
This, according to the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Training, Dr Sibongile Mtshali, was because head teachers had failed to adhere to a procedure laid down by the ministry when seeking to charge top-up fees.

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