Warning against uncompetitive conduct as schools prepare to reopen

The Competition Commission has vowed to take action against schools and suppliers taking part in anti-competitive procurement processes.
Image: The Herald

As schools prepare for the 2021 academic year, the Competition Commission has vowed to take action against those not complying with the Competition Act and guidelines regarding procurement of uniforms and learning materials.

The commission says bringing down the cost of learning-related items remains a priority.

In 2019 the commission reached agreements with several schools, including private school groups, to end uniform-supplier monopolies.

The commission has urged schools and parents to observe the circular on “Procurement of School Uniform and other Learning-Related Goods and Services”.

The circular was jointly published by the commission and the department of basic education on November 16, to provide schools and other relevant stakeholders with guidance on best practices relating to all procurement undertaken by schools.

According to the commission, the circular is aimed at curbing anticompetitive procurement practices at schools.

In the era of Covid-19, the commission’s scope has expanded to other learning-related goods and services which schools require pupils to purchase, including face masks, hand sanitisers, technological gadgets for e-learning and other items.

To expand its reach to more schools, the commission says it has identified school governing body associations as key stakeholders with whom to partner.

“In showing their commitment, in 2018, the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA (Fedsas) and the Independent Schools of Southern Africa (Isasa), representing public and private schools respectively, made a public pledge to adhere to the school uniform guidelines aimed at curbing anticompetitive behaviour at schools,” reads a statement by the commission.

Further, the governing body associations that represent public schools have, during 2020, begun discussions on developing memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with the commission. The commission said it is excited about these partnerships and believes that through these it will be able to raise awareness and monitoring compliance to competitive procurement practices by schools.

The commission added that its interventions in the procurement of school uniforms over the years has yielded some positive results in changing behaviour by schools and retailers. It said it was encouraged by the progress made by various schools in making school uniforms more affordable and accessible.

The guidelines for pro-competitive school procurement include the following:

School uniforms should be as generic as possible such that it is obtainable from more than one supplier;

  • Exclusivity should be limited to items that the schools regard as necessary to obtain from preselected suppliers;
  • Schools should follow a competitive bidding process when appointing suppliers for school uniforms and learning-related items;
  • Supplier agreements should be of limited duration and not for excessively long periods; and
  • Schools must not compel parents to purchase new/additional school uniform items for clothes rotation during the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, schools should consider alternative interventions including permitting the wearing of civilian clothing by pupils on some days.

by Belinda Pheto

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