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19 October 2019
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Gheorghe Russu

Vice-director, The Center for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption

Parties-Phantoms, Parties - State Institutions, Parties - State Enterprises

Ion PREAŞCĂ

20 parties have registered in the current election campaign. Many people say it is a too big number for such a small country as Moldova. At the same time, much more parties could take part in the election campaign.

Last week illustrated
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Activists launch Moldova’s first ‘Space Camp’ © Susan Coughtrie

THE TEXTBOOK BUSINESS or who wins when others lose

Publishing of school textbooks became profitable ten years after the creation of the Special Fund for Textbooks. A Government Decision promoted by the Deputy Prime Minister Victor Stepaniuc stipulates that over 20 million lei collected on an annual basis from parents for textbook rent shall be spent as a Council headed by the Deputy Prime Minister decides.
Vitalie DOGARU, 29 January 2009, 14:54

  Publishing houses have been excluded from the competition so that the business was done directly with the authors. Several organizations and experts say that the new Regulations can destroy the education system and the Center for Analysis and Prevention of Corruption has established that the paper contravenes the Constitution, while its provisions could encourage corruption.

             The Government Says "Yes", the Ministries Say "No"

                                 Sources from the Ministry of Education and Youth say that the Deputy Prime Minister Victor Stepaniuc has been trying to amend the old Regulations from his first appointment in the Government when Victor Tvircun was the Minister of Education. The latter, however, did not accept the idea, because he considered that schools could be left without textbooks as a result of conflicts of interests between authors and publishing houses. After the appointment of Greceanii Cabinet, Victor Stepaniuc managed to promote Larisa Savga as the Minister of Education and Youth who showed more understanding of proposals to amend the process of textbook publishing.

Thus, on April 8, Vladimir Voronin gathered the councilors and members of Government to discuss the system of textbook publishing and made the conclusion that it "had to be improved based on principles of loyal competition by selecting textbook offers".

At the Government meeting on May 28, 2008, Larisa Savga said that the need to develop new Regulations was determined by the need to improve the procedure of selection and publishing of textbooks. However, the Prime Minister Zinaida Greceanii had several objections that she tried to pass on to the legal department within the Government Administration. At first sight, the Prime Minister was concerned with the name of the National Council for Textbook Approval, the abbreviation of which (CNAM in Romanian) could be confused with the name of the National Health Insurance Company (also CNAM in Romanian). Besides, Mrs. Greceanii was not happy with the negative comments on the document received from the ministries that she tries to ignore mentioning that the draft had to be finalized before signed. Despite all that, the Government Decision was approved.

            In their comment on the draft Regulations on evaluation and selection of textbooks for pre-university education, the Ministry of Finance mentions that they contravene several laws. One of those is the actual Law on Education stipulating that organization and coordination of textbook writing lies within the competence of the Ministry of Education and Youth (article 41) and not with the Government as the Regulations stipulate in chapters II and III. Later on, the Law on Education was abrogated by the vote of the communist majority and the new Education Code adopted in December 2008 did not make any reference to textbook publishing whatsoever.

            The comment of the Ministry of Finance also claims that the draft Regulations violate the Law on Copyright and Related Rights, as well as a series of other Government Decisions. In this context, the author of the comment, Nina Lupan, Deputy Minister of Finance, requests to review the document integrally. She also suggests that it should be examined by the Center for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption, which is responsible for anti-corruption expertise of draft legislative and regulatory acts.

According to Government sources, the comments of the Ministry of Economy were also negative. Asked to provide a copy of this document in compliance with the Law on Access to Information, Ala Codreanu, head of the PR Service of the Ministry, refused to satisfy the request. "...we kindly inform you that once the Government of the Republic of Moldova approves a legislative act, the latter automatically becomes the single position of all the members of the executive body and of the Ministry of Economy and Trade in particular, irrespective of any previous comments".

Asked to provide an expertise of the Government Decision on approval of the Regulations on evaluation and selection of textbooks for pre-university education, the Center for Analysis and Prevention of Corruption (CAPC) established that the provisions of the regulatory act did not comply with the national legislation and contravened the Constitution and the Law on Education in force at the moment of adoption.

At the same time, the CAPC admits that the Regulations could lobby some political, as well as other personal interests, since a Government Decision that contravenes the Constitution and eliminates a series of institutions from the process of writing and selection of textbooks has been adopted. According to experts of the Center, the document affects certain general and personal interests, because it excludes publishing houses from the "competition", thus monopolizing writing, selection and publishing of textbooks.

What It Has Been and What It Will Become

The old Regulations on evaluation and selection of textbooks for pre-university education were adopted in December 2002, but were further amended several times within all the years. The last amendment of July 14, 2006, according to representatives of the Ministry of Education and Youth, did not improve the evaluation procedure in any way, especially as far as selection of the expert commission was concerned. Still, 53 titles of textbooks have been published within the last two years.

According to the document, bids for textbooks were evaluated based on two basic components: the manuscript and the price. The former was examined by the Ministry of Education and Youth, while the latter by the Extra-Budget Fund for Textbooks. The two commissions evaluated the bids separately and gave separate points, of which 60% accounted for the manuscript quality and 40% for the price.

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"The main merit of the system to date is that groups of authors for different subjects able to produce textbooks have appeared in the Republic of Moldova. Obviously, these authors have grown within publishing houses. It is hard to say whether there are authors who can make textbooks with maps, photographs, schemes and tables that do not belong to them by themselves. Here the issue of related rights comes in". Gheorghe Girnet, director of the Extra-Budget Fund for Textbooks.

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According to the new Regulations, the bidding for evaluation and selection of textbooks shall be organized by a Republican Council for Textbook Approval headed by a deputy prime minister that shall approve the structure of bidding commissions. According to the Law on Public Procurement, the approved manuscript shall be presented for tender to be published. The publishing house that shall offer the lowest price will win.

The new Regulations eliminate publishing houses from the bid and manuscript writing lies with the authors. The old document did not prohibit authors to participate in bidding, although nobody participated with manuscripts independently. Everybody preferred to cooperate with publishing houses that used to deal with the graphical presentation of the textbook, images, schemes and other products purchased from other authors.

The restriction of the rights of publishing houses to participate in biddings for school textbook writing has alarmed the International Publishers Association (IPA). Jens Bammel, secretary general of the organization, calls the Moldovan Government in a declaration to abrogate the decision in order to protect and improve the currently high standard of the Moldovan education system publishing houses have also made an important contribution to. IPA says that the new Regulations on Textbook Approval exaggerate when say that the work usually done by publishers can be done by authors or printing houses.

Interpretations from Stepaniuc to Freud

            The Deputy Prime Minister Victor Stepaniuc recognized that it had been his initiative to amend the Regulations and said that his intention was to make order in the sector since publishing houses had monopolized textbook publishing. According to him, the new Regulations on evaluation and selection of textbooks for pre-university education are "a very democratic variant allowing participation of not only publishing houses, but first of all authors. All the specialists, all the authors of textbooks must sit down together and see why quite a few good manuscripts made not by me or by anyone's friends, but by good teachers with reputation in the country have not been promoted. It happened because subjects were monopolized. Chemistry was monopolized by one publishing house, biology by another, history by the third one. We have broken this monopoly and proceeded in compliance with the Constitution and the legislation in force, which stipulates free competition in the field. If they can prove the contrary - that we have made a mistake, have abused of it - let them do it".

            Victor Stepaniuc accused the publishers of not having interpreted the new conditions for textbook evaluation and selection correctly: "I did invite them to discuss but they refused to come, because they were happier discussing within their groups and making much ado".

            On the other hand, publishers claim that nobody has asked for their opinion on the improvement (read "change") of the Regulations on evaluation and selection of textbooks for pre-university education. Iurie Barsa, director of Arc publishing house, was surprised by this Government Decision. Beyond the official version, he said that, according to Freud, the motivation that had led to such change could have been of a financial or a sexual nature. Since the latter seems to be not valid, Barsa gives to understand that Government officials are interested in monopolizing the textbook publishing sector: "I guess they considered that private publishing houses were inconvenient and did not comply with the orders dictated from above".

            Gheorghe Erizanu, director of Cartier publishing house, shares the same opinion. He says that a simple author can always be easier blackmailed into execution of some orders as compared to an institution that has certain financial authority and a certain position on the market. Erizanu does not exclude the possibility that under the umbrella of recent modifications there will be people or companies that will make it a business, at the same time defending the ideology of the ruling party.

            The director of Prut International publishing house, Iurie Bodrug, is also sure that those who will benefit from the amendments to the regulations have already been identified by those who have initiated evaluation and selection of textbooks. He says that private publishing houses are facing deficit of well-trained staff, so, it is very unlikely that new authors will appear within the next six months, which is the duration of the bidding announced by the Ministry of Education.

            Courses for Beginner Authors

            Even those who support the idea of greater involvement on the part of new "resources" have made the allusion that there are not too many new authors. At a meeting of the President's Office, Vladimir Voronin mentioned the need to initiate courses or include training modules on textbook writing for teachers. The Minister Larisa Savga believes that this will ensure higher quality of textbook contents. "It will be a competition for teams of experienced teachers from the whole country who will write draft textbooks and will give priority to the quality of contents not to the quality of images", says Savga. Publishers welcome the Government's initiative to improve the quality of textbooks, but they wonder why those who have gathered ten-year experience in the field are eliminated from the process.

            Andrei Braicov is head of chair at the State Tiraspol University. He is the coauthor of three Mathematics textbooks and regrets not being able to take part in the bidding announced for February. "The rights to republish the Mathematics textbook for the Ninth Form belong to the publishing house until 2014 and the material cannot be used without their consent. The textbook has been used in schools for four years now and during this time several suggestions on improvement have been made that the team of authors could revise, but we cannot participate in the bidding without the consent of the publishing house".

            It is unlikely that the publishing house allows Andrei Braicov and his colleagues to participate in the bidding, because the investments made in publishing of the textbook have not been recovered yet. Other tens of teachers are in the same situation as Mr. Braicov and have to start it from scratch if they can. "A lot of authors' teams are formed by the publishing house. A good textbook is produced when the team has specialists in sciences, teachers, designers, editors and correctors. About eight persons can work on a textbook and the publishing house has the coordinating role. It organizes and supervises the process of textbook development within one year, while the textbook is being prepared. A number of subjects require quite a lot of images that have to be paid for and all the contracts are drawn up by the publishing house. I have not heard of any school textbook made by a single author", Andrei Braicov adds.

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            "These regulations eliminate all the authors who have participated in biddings by the Ministry of Education until now. Consequently, the entire experience that has been accumulated by winning authors is lost. Only those who have been losing will be able to take part in the bidding. I am not saying that they are worse, but from now on losers are allowed to participate in the biddings announced by the Government".   Anatol Gremalschi, expert, former minister of education.

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            The Regulations stipulate that authors or authors' teams shall present 100% of the manuscript at the bidding. The manuscript must include all the textbook components: theoretic notions, practical exercises, references for the study and use of the textbook, images, photographs, illustrations, schemes, reviews, evaluations, objectives, etc. Textbooks shall be presented in black and white versions published on A4 paper. Authors, publishers and even some representatives of the Ministry of Education who have preferred to stay anonymous doubt that anyone will be able to produce such packages.

            "We have prepared teams of authors, painters, people to work with photographic images, confesses the director of Arc publishing house, Iurie Barsa, with regard to investments made within the last ten years. We have bought the copyright from several specialized companies to use images made from the space and reproduce them in Geography textbooks. Long-term investments have been made, which have now all gone down the chute. They have all been replaced with a contest of some authors who do not have the funds and experience required to work in teams with other specialists to present 100%-ready manuscripts for the competition".

            Iurie Barsa says that this will lead to law suits between the potential authors who will participate in the bidding and the publishing houses or institutions that hold the copyright for certain works. "Some authors have asked for the manuscript to participate in the contest, but we cannot do this because we are not sure that the manuscript will be published by us. The copyright is the most precious thing a publishing house has, especially in the field of textbook writing".

            However, Iurie Bodrug from Prut International publishing house believes that there will be authors who will meet the conditions of the bidding announced by the Ministry of Education and Youth. He says that there will also be editorial groups that will place new textbook authors on the market, as the new regulations seem to be preparing good grounds for it.

            Although it is expected that there will be some "ice breakers", Gheorghe Erizanu, director of Cartier publishing house, says that the well-known publishing houses will boycott the February bidding for school textbook writing.

            A Sac Worth 23 Million MDL Annually

            The Extra-Budgetary Fund for Textbooks was created in 1998 within a World Bank project and became operational a year later after the international financial institution gave a loan in the amount of 20 million US dollars to the Republic of Moldova for textbook publishing and for the establishment of working mechanisms in this sector. According to the agreement with the Bank, textbooks had to be published once in four years on the account of money collected from the rent paid by pupils (their parents). The first textbooks produced for the money of Moldovans were published six years ago, when the World Bank assistance ended.

            "The scheme of textbook renting. A real success story in Moldova", Wincent Bont, international expert, mentioned in his report on project implementation. He appreciated the way, in which Moldovans despite low incomes paid the rent for textbooks and were careful with using them.

            Gheorghe Girnet, director of the Extra-Budgetary Fund for Textbooks, says that the inflows of money are constant and that about 23 million lei are collected from renting and interest on an annual basis. The fact that the Fund has started publishing textbooks not included in the initial project also proves that there is enough money. "We have published textbooks for technologic and musical education and plastic arts from our own resources", says Girnet.

            20 textbook titles are published on average from the money of the Fund annually. A publishing house used to be paid from several hundred thousand to two million lei for one textbook depending on the circulation and quality. "Publishing houses would present their offers and the Ministry would evaluate them and determine the winner. We would sign a direct contract with the winner and pay them. The publishing house would assume all the responsibilities for payments to authors and for related rights. We would buy the final product", says the director of the Extra-Budgetary Fund for Textbooks.

            The turnover of textbook business for Prut International publishing house makes up about three million lei per year. Iurie Bodrug, director of the publishing house, says that this money accounts for only one third of the company's working capital, while the other resources come from publishing of books and other auxiliary materials. "The advantage of money from the Extra-Budgetary Fund for Textbooks is that we receive all of it at once, the publisher says. Money from sales of books comes drop by drop, while the Fund used to pay the entire amount at once, which allowed buying more paper and making bigger investments".

            The Prut International publishing house used to have income of up to 10% from textbook publishing. However Iurie Bodrug said that incomes were getting smaller and smaller, because they had to set lower prices in order to win the biddings announced by the Ministry of Education and Youth. In order to recover the money invested in publishing a textbook, the company used to publish auxiliary teaching materials: compilations of exercises, workbooks, etc.

            The publishers say that the amount of money the Fund works with may seem great at first sight, but divided between publishing houses and published textbook titles it is very small. Gheorghe Erizanu from Cartier publishing house tells about the retreat of Russian publishers from the market when they learnt the prices offered by Moldovans: "They lost any interest in the bidding announced by the Ministry of Education when they learnt what the circulation was and what amount of money was offered for such a circulation". Things are different when this money is likely to get to a single place or a single person, Erizanu adds.

            This idea is also supported by the expert Anatol Gremalschi, former minister of education. He says that the Fund does not have the right to procure textbooks other than those approved by the Republican Council for Textbook Approval, i.e. by the Government. "The money of the Fund shall be used as the Government decides, and the Government will sure make this decision based on their interests", the expert says. 

            Who Distributes?..

            On July 21, 2008, the Government approved the nominal structure of the Republican Council for Textbook Approval (CRAM in Romanian), which shall organize and carry out the evaluation and approval of school textbooks. The Council consists of five members proposed by the Ministry of Education and Youth. The ex officio chairman of the Council is the Deputy Prime Minister.

            The Center for Analysis and Prevention of Corruption established that CRAM had an illegal status on the date the Government Decision was adopted, because it contravened the Law on Education, which stipulated that approval of textbooks was vested with the Ministry of Education and Youth (articles 38 and 41). This discrepancy was excluded six months later when the Parliament adopted the new Education Code.

            Thus, CRAM consists of five persons: Victor Stepaniuc, Deputy Prime Minister, ex officio chairman of the Council, Larisa Savga, minister of education and youth, Stela Gherman, MP, secretary of the commission for culture and education, Valeriu Canter, academician coordinator, Academy of Science of Moldova, and Lilia Pogolsa, director of the Institute of Education Sciences.

            At least two of the five members appointed by the Government to decide on the destiny of school textbooks are members of the Communist Party of the Republic of Moldova (Victor Stepaniuc and Stela Gherman), another two hold or have held positions within communist governments (Larisa Savga and Lilia Pogolsa).

            According to the Regulations, CRAM has more authority. It must organize contests for evaluation and selection of textbooks, approve the structure of bidding commissions and expert groups for school subjects, as well as approve the results of evaluation of single offers within textbook writing competitions.

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            "If we assume that textbooks have been imperfect, then who has selected them? The Ministry of Education has. Maybe the commission for textbook evaluation should be improved. Maybe the manuscripts should have been better evaluated". Iurie Barsa, director of Arc publishing house.

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            In the view of the expert Anatol Gremalschi, the positions of CRAM members are too high for them to read the textbooks and see what is in them. He says that this would be appropriate for the staff of the Institute of Education Sciences and not for a deputy prime minister. "The purpose of CRAM creation was to have absolute control over the contents, the structure of authors and the modality of textbook publishing", says Gremalschi. Article 15 of the Regulations is somewhat doubtful for the expert, as it stipulates that the Council announces a new bidding if the manuscript offers evaluated by the bidding commission do not receive the minimum score. "The whole decision power is concentrated in the hands of this Council!" the expert adds.

            The seven members of the bidding commissions for each subject shall be appointed by CRAM from the staff of the Ministry of Education and Youth, teachers and scientists, specialists from general raion directorates for education, youth and sports.  

            Gheorghe Erizanu, director of Cartier publishing house, is afraid that members of these commissions can be people who are more related to the party and may not have the slightest idea of what a textbook is. The concern of the publisher is shared by the Center for Analysis and Prevention of Corruption (CAPC in Romanian), which, in the expert conclusions on the Regulations, says that the document does not clearly define the criteria for selection of members of all the concerned entities (Council, commissions, expert groups). According to CAPC, this casts doubt on the modality of selection, including implies a possibility to apply some political and loyalty principles in selecting these members.

            The Minister of Education and Youth, Larisa Savga, denies any involvement of the political aspect in the writing and selection of textbooks: "All of these are transparent processes in developing and ensuring the quality of textbooks".

                The Government Is Working with Both Regulations

Although the new Regulations on evaluation and selection of textbooks for pre-university education came into effect on July 1, 2008 at the same time with its publication in the Official Monitor, the old Regulations are still in force. The Government has not adopted any decision that would abrogate the document dated 2002.

The whole confusion created by the duality of regulations has delayed publishing of several textbooks approved or in process of approval in 2008. A number of schools had to start the academic year without textbooks and some books got to the publishing houses only at the end of December.

Asked to comment on this situation, Larisa Savga said that the old Regulations had been left in effect to finalize the procedures initiated under those, and that the Government would abrogate them as soon as the new procedures started being applied. The Deputy Prime Minister Victor Stepaniuc believes that there is no need for a Government Decision to abrogate the old Regulations because it is implied. "The court will tell you", he added.

In the opinion of Anatol Gremalschi, the old Regulations have not been abrogated because they approve the scheme of textbook renting and the funding sources: "The new Regulations merely mention that textbooks shall be approved by the Council. This was the main idea - hyper centralization and control over the funds". 

P.S. The Ministry of Education and Youth continues receiving textbook manuscripts according to the Regulations on evaluation and selection of textbooks for pre-university education until February 2.

P.P.S. The author thanks the Center for Analysis and Prevention of Corruption for the expertise of the Regulations on evaluation and selection of textbooks for pre-university education.

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 This article is the product of the Transparency Fellows Program and has been published within the Strengthening Civil Society Monitoring Capacity in Moldova (SCSMCM) Program implemented by the Academy for Educational Development (AED). The program is funded by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and administered by the United States Agency for Development (USAID) within the Preliminary Country Plan (PCP) of the Republic of Moldova. The content of the article is the responsibility of the author and does not necessarily reflect the vision of AED, MCC or USAID.



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