Education Ministry Issues Ban on Sale of ‘Free’ Textbooks

The Ministry of Education has warned the country’s book vendors to stop selling books meant to be given to school students free of charge.

The announcement from the ministry, dated Friday, comes just one month after Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said he was launching an investigation into claims government officials were pilfering textbooks from government stock and selling them on to vendors.

“We have seen that the books are now on sale in markets, libraries and bookshops in Phnom Penh and the provinces and this will have a hugely negative effect on education,” Friday’s announcement—which was also broadcast on television and radio—reads.

Books with the words: “Not for sale, possession of the state,” printed on the covers are intended to be given out free to pupils. Any vendors found to be selling them for profit would have the books confiscated and could face a fine, the ministry said.

“Therefore all booksellers and the public must stop selling and buying books labeled ‘possession of the state,’” the announcement reads.

In December, a report by two NGOs showed that district-level education officials were stealing stocks of books funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), leading the ADB and Education Ministry to launch an investigation into their misappropriation.

Chan Sophea, director of the primary school department at the Ministry of Education, said Sunday that the ministry intends to conduct regular inspections of markets and bookstores starting this week.

“We have already prepared teams to find people selling these books,” he said, adding that booksellers sometimes buy the books off teachers who neglect to return them at the end of the school year.

Vendors on Sunday were unperturbed, however, saying that since officials from the ministry or teachers sold them the books, they did not see how they were doing anything illegal.

“We have been buying books from when the school term begins from people who say they are from the Ministry of Education,” said Uth Sopheap, a bookseller at Psar Chas in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district.

Ms. Sopheap was selling one set of four books for fifth grade students with the words “Not for Sale. Possession of the State” on them. She said she bought the set for $4 and will sell it for $4.50.

Bovisoth Vorndy, another bookseller at the market, was also selling the pilfered books at his stall Sunday.

“Sometimes I buy up to 20 books a day when the school session starts. I understand that this is forbidden because the books are supposed to be free, but if I don’t buy them someone else will,” he said.

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