Now under way: Probe on Cambodia textbook misappropriation

Students use textbooks during class in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A report by a local education NGO in the country revealed that textbooks funded by the Asian Development Bank ended up either for sale or were not delivered to the intended schools at all. Photo by: Charles Pieters / CC BY-NC-ND

The Asian Development Bank is working with the Cambodian education ministry to investigate a recent report about misappropriation of educational materials involving local officials and businessmen.

The report was published by local education NGO Khmer Institute for National Development and regional foundation Affiliated Network for Social Accountability - East Asia and the Pacific. It revealed that textbooks under the $27.1 million Enhancing Education Quality Program funded by the Asian Development Bank ended up either for sale or were not delivered to the intended schools at all.

“There are concerns over the ghost service delivery [of textbooks]. The number of textbooks received and the number stated in the receipt may differ,” KIND and ANSA-EAP said in a feedback report, adding that textbooks were also seen in market stalls all around the country including the provinces of Kompong Cham, Kompong Speu and the capital Phnom Penh.

Started in 2007, the ADB-funded project was a partnership between the regional bank and the Cambodian education ministry as part of the country’s strategic plan to provide free textbooks of all subjects to first to 12th grade students. Several local printing and distribution houses have received over a million dollars for the printing and delivery of these educational materials to designated schools.

This responsibility of the publishing houses is where the main problem lies, according to KIND founder and ANSA-EAP Country Network Fellow, San Chey: “Contract violation by the printing and distribution houses [was the main problem].”

Of the 33 secondary schools surveyed in the report, 23 or 70 percent revealed they received the textbooks from the district education office instead of being delivered by the publication houses. This resulted in several school administrations shouldering additional transportation fees to deliver the textbooks to their schools.

“When I received the textbooks from [the district education office], the officials usually ask me to leave at least 10 textbooks for each subjects. I was [also] asked to pay for the transportation fee and that budget is allocated from public budget or personal money,” a respondent stated in the report.

Aside from logistical lapses and misappropriation, indirect delivery of publishing houses to district education offices instead of designated schools open up opportunities for other concerns that will significantly affect educational progress of Cambodian students and, in the long run, of the whole country.

Asked what should be done to address this issue and prevent these kinds of cases from happening again, Chey revealed that “a vertical flow of distribution” should be enforced and engagement of all sectors of society should be observed to promote transparency and collaboration.

“Make textbook [delivery follow a] straight flow from publishing houses to schools and many school leaders, at least two, should sign and verify the arrival,” he explained.

Chey urged school leaders to also engage students and teachers in the process, by allowing them to help count the number of textbook arriving at each school.

“It is good if they can have a note of the number of textbook and subject they had seen to school,” he said.

Asked about ADB’s level of responsibility about the issue, Chey said the bank is not at fault although it might affect its image and put some strain in its relationship with the Cambodian government and several local contractors.

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About the author

  • Lean 2

    Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Prior to joining Devex, he covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics. Lean is based in Manila.