Watchdog seeks rules to protect parents from uniforms cartels

The competition watchdog is developing guidelines to stop school heads from forcing parents to buy uniforms from particular suppliers.

The Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) said it has engaged with the Ministry of Education on the need to develop guidelines for procurement of uniforms in public schools.

The move comes barely a year after Nakuru residents complained that schools were colluding with uniform shops in the town to fleece them.

“We completed investigations which established the conduct was widespread throughout the country,” says the agency in its 2015/2016 annual report released last week.

“CAK has engaged with the Ministry of Education advising on the need to develop guidelines to inform the procurement of uniforms in public schools.”

The supply of school uniform is a multi-million shillings contract as thousands of students join secondary schools every year.

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Official data indicates that more than 780,000 pupils, who sat the 2016 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education, proceeded to secondary schools this year.

The guidelines are expected to dismantle cartels that have thrived on opaque arrangements with school administrators and drive down prices as the lucrative segment opens for competition.

In January last year, as Form One students were reporting to secondary school, the Nakuru Residents Association filed a complaint with the CAK alleging collusion between schools and two uniforms shops in the town.

The CAK issued a public notice cautioning school heads and uniform shops against collusion to drive up sales saying the habit contravened section 21(3)(b) of the (Competition) Act and undermined the spirit and benefits of competition.

Article 21(3)(b) of the Competition Act prohibits parties against actions that divide markets by allocating customers, suppliers, areas or specific types of goods or services.

Most school administrators demand that uniforms are bought at specific outlets, limiting choices for parents seeking bargain prices.

“School principals and administrators are hereby cautioned from engaging in this conduct as parents should be free to buy uniform from their preferred shops or outlets as long as school uniform bought meets the colour, shade, thread count and design as prescribed by the respective schools. Any parent or member of the public who is aggrieved by this conduct henceforth should contact CAK,” the agency’s Director General Kariuki Wang’ombe said in an earlier public notice.

Besides helping to drive sales volumes, insiders said, this strategy has been abused by some traders to charge exorbitant prices amid concern that some school administrators may be benefiting from the proceeds of the exaggerated prices.

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