Department of Education fails to crack down on uniform cartels

Economy

Department of Education fails to crack down on uniform cartels


Attendants serve parents and their children at the Patmat bookstore and uniform stores in Nakuru city on December 28, 2020, ahead of the reopening of schools on January 4, 2021. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • The Ministry of Education has ignored advice from Kenya’s competition watchdog to draw up guidelines preventing headteachers from forcing parents to buy uniforms from particular suppliers.
  • The guidelines are expected to dismantle cartels that have thrived on opaque deals with school administrators and bring prices down as the lucrative segment opens up to competition.
  • The notice was published over five years ago. Cabinet Secretary for Education George Magoha did not respond to the Monday business daily calls and messages on the issue in press time.

The Ministry of Education has ignored advice from Kenya’s competition watchdog to draw up guidelines preventing headteachers from forcing parents to buy uniforms from particular suppliers.

The guidelines are expected to dismantle cartels that have thrived on opaque deals with school administrators and bring prices down as the lucrative segment opens up to competition.

Most school administrators require uniforms to be purchased at specific outlets, which limits the choices of parents looking for bargain prices.

In addition to helping increase sales volumes, parents and insiders say, this strategy has been abused by some marketers to charge exorbitant prices, fearing that some school administrators will benefit from the proceeds from the inflated costs.

The Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) says the Ministry of Education has failed to act on an opinion from the watchdog over guidelines on the purchase of uniforms in public schools.

The notice was published over five years ago. Cabinet Secretary for Education George Magoha did not respond to the Monday business daily calls and messages on the issue in press time.

“The CAK has investigated this matter and determined that it does not fall within its jurisdiction under the provisions of the Competition Act No. 12 of 2010 as schools are not deemed to be in commerce,” said the CAK in response to the business daily requests.

“However, we noted that the practice had the potential to distort the forces of supply and demand by signaling the market price. We therefore advised the Ministry of Education to issue guidelines or policy directives to schools across the country regarding the purchase of school uniforms without compromising quality.

A spot check of several uniform outlets in Nairobi showed that most schools had issued admission letters with instructions on where to purchase them. Some of the admission letters even included maps of the physical locations of Uniform outlets.

Providing school uniforms is a multi-billion shilling business, as thousands of students join secondary schools every year.

Professor Magoha announced this month that the 1,225,502 candidates who sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) 2021 exams will appear in secondary schools from May 3.

Many parents of current students are also expected to finalize their uniform purchases this week as schools reopen this week.

Amid the mad rush to stores, a parent lobby group said it had received numerous complaints from parents across the country concerned about skyrocketing prices and the quality of uniforms purchased under the exclusive deals.

The National Parents’ Association has urged the Ministry of Education to provide guidelines for parents to buy uniforms from any retailer to end school uniform supply monopolies.

“A parent should have a choice and the prices should be reasonable. Our parents must be protected from profiteering from rogue suppliers, school leaders and management,” said lobby chairman Nicholas Maiyo. business daily in an interview.

Some of the parents said they had to pay up to an additional 1,500 shillings per uniform item at the schools’ designated stores.

“Schools prevent us from buying cheaper uniforms in any store. We hope the authorities can step in and ensure that every parent has the opportunity to shop for affordable, quality uniforms,” said Elizabeth Ondichu, a mother of four in Nairobi.

The school uniform industry caters to millions of students in private and public schools.

The rise of private academies, which often require parents to buy expensive designer clothes from an approved supplier, has also increased the financial burden for many parents.

Mr Maiyo said a school told a parent to only stock up on trousers retailing for Sh1,500 from a shop in town which the parent bought for Sh750 at the popular Gikomba market .

“At a time when the government is acting to guarantee the country free and universal primary and secondary education, it is painful to have complicit cartels to harvest from us, unhappy parents,” said Esther Mumbi, mother of three, then that she was shopping at a store in town. in the central business district of Nairobi.

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