By KALUMBA DEOGRACIOUS OPEN SOCIETY FOUNDATION – SECRETARY GENERAL
The beginning of every solution to a problem is to first accept the problem itself, then you look for solutions thereafter. The denial that the problem has not occurred or it has been created by outsiders will not help in any way to solve it. It will instead make one become adamant and suffer the more consequences that comes with the problem and the denial of it.
It is laughable and indeed annoying to learn that the Patriotic Front Government and the Minister of Higher Education in particular Dr. Michael Kaingu have made the decision to scrap off student meal allowances and made it categorical as part of the conditions set in the re-opening of the two high learning institutions in the country. Notwithstanding the fact that to some it is not just an allowance it is everything, it is the lifeblood for survival amidst academic pressure, and a shot at life.
Students use this allowance for many things; it pays tuition fees in order for someone not on 100 percent to meet a certain threshold to register, supports siblings, supports families at home et cetera. We all know that it is the system which has been the source of confusion and violence, and this is something that the Ministry of Higher Education through Dr. Michael Kaingu must accept. There has been a lot of lapses in the management and administration of the bursary scheme especially with the splitting of the Ministry of Education.
We refuse to believe that the splitting of the Ministry of Education was purely experimental whose negative results we have continued to witness. When we look at what necessitated the closure of the two public high learning institutions in the country on 3rd February 2016, we find that it is “Meal allowances”. Really? When K94.5 million was reported to have been unaccounted for in the Auditor General’s report.
Simply because democracy is noise does not mean we can replace it with dictatorship, we simply have no alternative. The decision has not been made in good faith and does not represent the interests of the public and should be reversed. The minister and his technocrats should not use emotions in making decisions and this cannot be done in the midst of an academic calendar. What about the students on sponsorship abroad? What about medical students who never riot over the allowance. This decision is unfair, unjust, unreasonable and illegal. The right thing ought to be done and must be done rightly so.
If the Japanese, Chinese, Russia among other governments can supplement government efforts by sponsoring Zambian students and give them allowances, why should our own government deem it necessary to remove the meal allowance? It is now clear that the Government of the day care less about education and it is sending a clear and strong indication to its co-operating partners to stop supplementing its efforts. We are aware that the bursary is not a right but a privilege, however that should not subject those privileged to harsh, emotional treatment and decision making.
Finally, we have for quite some time read about the student loan scheme which seems to be a solution to many of these university demonstrations regarding allowances, even though it is only mentioned when such problems have risen in public universities. This scheme has worked for Kenya and it is working for India and other countries. The delay in the implementation of this scheme in Zambia is contributing to the main challenges that the government is facing in financing students on bursary scheme.
We are aware of its merits and demerits but we cannot agree more with University of Zambia former Vice Chancellor Professor Robert Serpell and others who have felt the need to introduce the student loan scheme will ease the pressure on government which results from increasing difficult to adequately finance university education by the government. A law must be enacted to make loan repayments legally enforceable, the Bursaries Committee be transformed into an autonomous statutory body to oversee and administer the loan scheme, and effective tracking and loan repayment systems be developed to recover the loans and make the revolving fund more effective. The loan scheme has been long overdue but where it is non-existent, the current system should be allowed to prevail.