The Competition Authority of Kenya’s (CAK) warning to schools against forcing parents to buy supplies from specific shops is both timely and in the public interest.
For far too long, unwitting parents in both private and public schools have suffered in the hands of unscrupulous schools that are out to squeeze every penny out of their pockets.
Besides loading all manner of charges on the parents, the schools instruct parents to buy supplies including uniforms, books, mattresses and sports equipment from specific shops.
Those who contravene these self-serving guidelines are frowned upon, and in most cases the items are rejected. The only conceivable reason why teachers would go to great lengths to specify the shops where parents must buy supplies is that they are beneficiaries of such orders.
As the CAK has rightly noted in its public warning, such practice undermines the spirit and benefits of competition, to the detriment of the parents.
The regulator’s warning is timely, coming at a time when Form One students are about to report to school. It should, however, be followed by action.
Left in the hands of overbearing head teachers, the rule will collapse on its legs, as parents dread taking on establishments that could frustrate their children. Implementation of the CAK directive must therefore be a joint effort of the parents and the regulator.
The competition watchdog should set out to actively investigate and bring to book schools and shops that are involved in the unfair practice.
On the other hand, parents should feel emboldened to report such schools to the regulator.
While at it, the Competition Authority should also investigate all other forms of uncompetitive behaviour perpetuated in the schools.
There are some, for example, that go to the extreme of driving lorry loads of mattresses to schools and forcing new parents to buy only from the hand-picked suppliers.
Others demand that gadgets such as laptops can only be supplied by schools at exorbitant prices, and reject any suggestions for parents to be given a free hand to purchase the equipment even when they meet all the set specifications.
At its best, the CAK can be a very powerful force for good in a capitalistic country such as Kenya where profiteers abound in every industry.
A pro-active and transparent approach to issues, such as this school uniforms matter, can win it public goodwill that could help to unearth other cases of uncompetitive behaviour.