A joint working committee between the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS) and the Competition Commission has been established in an effort to curb anti-competitive practices with the supply of school uniforms and other items. This follows an investigation by the Competition Commission after complaints from parents and school uniform suppliers. Parents complained that their options for purchasing uniforms were limited by schools and that they consequently paid high prices for uniforms and other school items. In addition, uniform suppliers complained that exclusive contracts between schools and certain suppliers made it impossible for new suppliers to enter the market.
“This is a milestone agreement for both FEDSAS and the Commission,” says Dr Jaco Deacon, Deputy CEO of FEDSAS. Deacon says school governing bodies are allowed to enter into procurement agreements or contracts with servicer providers or suppliers but that these agreements are subject to the Competition Act. “Supply might for example occur exclusively through a school clothing shop or through a manufacturer that supplies to one or more local retailers but the cost of the uniform should not place an unaffordable financial burden on parents,” says Deacon.
As FEDSAS focuses on the development of capable school governing bodies, advising SGBs on the procurement of goods and services forms part of FEDSAS’ function. It is against this background that FEDSAS and the Competition Commission have negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding that was published in the Government Gazette on 23 November 2018.
FEDSAS’ Legal Officer Ms Juané van der Merwe says in terms of the memorandum of understanding, FEDSAS and the Commission agree to assist and support one another and to inform one another of conduct which will have an anti-competitive outcome and will harm parents.
“FEDSAS will assist the Commission with investigations where its member schools are involved. Our provincial and national structures also allow us to assist in providing training and independent legal advice to our members. In this way we can help governing bodies to exercise their functions without contravening laws.”
“Education is a basic human right and the cost of attending a public schools should not prohibit children from access to quality education. It is our duty to ensure that the cost of a school uniform or stationary package or electronic equipment does not become a barrier to access to education. FEDSAS will continue to co-operate with role-players in innovative ways to ensure quality education in public schools,” says Deacon.