Wed, 12 Sep 2001

Fair competition for textbooks vital

JAKARTA (JP): The Indonesian Book Publishers Association (IKAPI) called on the government on Tuesday to deregulate the business of publishing mandatory school textbooks in order to invigorate the industry.

IKAPI chairman Arselan Harahap told reporters that by promoting open and fair competition, many publishing houses, including those in the region, would have a better chance of surviving the tough economic times.

The government should allow all publishers to produce and sell mandatory school textbooks, the right of which were currently only given out to publishers contracted after competitive tenders.

A dose of competition would compel all publishers to strive to produce better textbooks, Arselan said.

"It will encourage entrepreneurs in the regions to open publishing houses and produce quality books," he said during a media briefing on IKAPI's annual Indonesia Book Fair, which opens at the Jakarta Convention Center on Wednesday.

Indonesia's book-publishing industry has been badly hurt by the economic crisis over the last four years. IKAPI now counts just 450 members, down from 650 before the crisis, 90 percent of these are located on Java.

With the sales of general books in the doldrums, the business of publishing government-mandated school textbooks is one of the few sectors that offered publishers some respite. The government traditionally tenders the right to publish school textbooks, a practice that allegedly is wrought with corruption.

Arselan said the government would not completely wash its hands by subjecting the business of publishing mandatory school textbooks to open competition.

"The government still has to provide guidelines for these textbooks according to the national curriculum," he said. "The government must also monitor the quality of the books," he added.

These mandatory books are distributed freely to government-run schools throughout the country. They are then lent to students.

Instead of allocating money to publishers to provide free books, the government should give the money to schools, which in turn would decide which textbooks were more suitable for their students, Arselan said. (07)