Education Ministry, ADB to Probe Textbook Theft

The Education Ministry and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said Monday that they had begun a joint investigation into the misappropriation of textbooks intended for secondary school students under an ADB-funded scheme.

Two NGOs on Thursday released results of an investigation into 33 secondary schools, which showed that district-level education officials were pilfering stocks of ADB-funded textbooks—intended to be provided to students directly and free of charge—and selling them in bookstores and markets.

Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said Monday that media reports on Friday alerted him to the issue. He said there would be a thorough investigation into the matter if the NGOs’ allegations proved true.

“If we identify that education officials are taking textbooks and selling them, we will take action,” Mr. Chuon Naron said.

“But first we must confirm that the quotes from the NGOs are correct and impartial—some textbooks are published to be provided to the students for free but some are also published for sale.”

At a number of stores in the streets surrounding Bak Touk High School in Phnom Penh on Monday, textbooks marked with a red and yellow banner “Not for Sale, Property of the State” were on sale next to others marked “For Sale.”

The “For Sale” textbooks retailed for between 8,000 and 10,000 riel, about $2 to $2.50, while those marked “Not for Sale” were priced between 5,000, about $1.25, and 8,000 riel.

At one store, salesclerk Thai Kimneang said that the “Not for Sale” textbooks were good for business.

“It is cheaper for us to buy the ‘Not for Sale’ textbooks,” Mr. Kimneang said, unnerved by the fact that the texts were unlawfully obtained.

“We always know how much the ‘For Sale’ [textbooks] will cost, but the ‘Not for Sale’ price depends on the businessman from the Ministry of Education who sells to the ‘library,’” he said.

At Bac Touk Library, which supplies many of the smaller stalls around the school, duty manager Chay Muy Vouch said that the “Not for Sale” textbooks were delivered to her upon request.

“They [the textbooks] come from the Ministry of Education,” she said.                         “The businessman comes here when I call him to deliver the books.”

Peter Brimble, deputy country director for ADB, which in 2008 pledged $1.7 million for the publishing and distribution of textbooks, confirmed that he was working with the ministry on the investigation.

“We are currently following up with the project team to see what knowledge they have [of the misappropriation],” he added.

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