Sunday, June 23, 2024

Only Parliament can abolish student meal allowances – From a legal perspective


Higher Education Minister Nkandu Luo meeting with Students body
Higher Education Minister Nkandu Luo meeting with Students body

By Isaac Mwanza


The manner in which the announcement by the Minister to purportedly abolish meal allowances appear to have been published was calculated to make students raise against government but one cannot blame the media at all for such coverage. They quoted exactly the emotional manner in which the Minister was discussing this issue. What all Ministers ought to understand is that the manner in which they communicate with individuals has a potential to make government misunderstood and cause unnecessary unrest. This pattern was the same to the time leading to the October 4 demonstrations at UNZA. But what is the legal perspective on who can abolish meal allowances?

Minister and Loans Board has no power to abolish meal allowances

Neither a Minister nor the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Board has power to abolish meal allowances for public universities.

The Minister of Higher Education, Professor Luo has been quoted as having said: “Anyway, starting January [2019] we will not be paying any pocket money allowances. We will only pay for your tuition, we will pay for project, we will pay for your accommodation…”

The above has been reasonably interpreted to mean government has abolished or at least, intends to abolish meal allowances for public universities.

Except the Executive branch of Government (to which the Minister belongs) cannot abolish meal allowances.

Meal allowances have their foundation under an Act of Parliament. This is the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Act, 2016 which came into effect on 17th April, 2017.

This is an Act which:

– Establishes the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Board;

– Establishes the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Fund;

– Provides for the granting, administration, investment, payment and recovery of loans;

– Provides for the administration and granting of scholarships;

– Facilitates the mobilisation of financial resources for loans and scholarships. The Act goes further to make provision for other related matters.

Section 5 of the Act spells out the functions of the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Board.

Abolishing allowances prescribed by or under the Act is not among those functions.

This means the Board has no power to abolish allowances the Act makes provision for. Any purported exercise of such power can successfully be challenged by way of judicial review and quashed on the ground of illegality.

Section 24 of the Act makes provision for the extent of a loan or scholarship. It enacts as follows:

“24. (1) Subject to the provisions of this  Act, a loan or scholarship granted to a student shall not exceed the aggregate of—

(a) the fees payable to the higher education institution per academic year;

(b) a prescribed sum of money per academic year to assist in defraying the cost of books and other supplies required by the student in the student’s faculty or department at the higher education institution; and

(c) a living allowance in the prescribed amount per academic year.

(2) The fees or other charges that are payable to a higher education institution by a student granted a loan or scholarship shall be paid by the Board directly to the institution.

(3) The Board shall, in granting a loan to a  student, require repayment of the loan at such times within such periods as the Board may determine.”

From the above, it can be noted that the extent of a loan or scholarship under the Act does not specifically make reference to meal allowances or “pocket money allowances,” as the Minister put it.

Be that as it may,  a meal allowance is certainly captured within “a living allowance in the prescribed amount per academic year.”

“Prescribed” means provided for by or under the written law in which the word occurs. This can be done by the Act itself (in this case the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Act) or by a Statutory Instrument made under the Act.

Section 37 (1) of the Act empowers the Minister, by statutory instrument, to make regulations for the better carrying out of the provisions of the Act. The extent to which those regulations may go is also spelt out under Section 37 (2) of the Act.

The Minister cannot by virtue of the powers conferred by Section 37 of the Act purport to abolish a loan, allowance or scholarship prescribed by the Act.

The statutory instrument the Minister is empowered to make is for purposes of enhancing the provisions of the Act and not to abolish anything the parent Act has already made provision for.

Again, any purported exercise of such power can successfully be challenged by way of judicial review and quashed on the ground of illegality or for being ultra vires the parent Act.


Students have no need to panic over the announcement to abolish meal allowances because Parliament is the only authority empowered to abolish the provision for providing meal allowances and students will have a stake to give an input to the Parliamentary Committee that will discuss any such amendment. That said, government has a duty to explain to students why they need to amend the Act to abolish provision of meal allowances for students in public universities.

Again, neither the Minister nor the Loans Boars has power to abolish meal allowances unless when the matter is tabled in Parliament to amend the Act. My earnest appeal to the Minister is to learn from the misinformation that may have triggered the October 4 demonstrations at UNZA and avoid communicating with individual students. It would be more desirable for the Minister to concentrate on real policy issues than be seen to be communicating with individual students. That must be left to professionals under her and at the Loans Board. No one wants to see a repeat of these demons and the President needs to give decisive direction on what Ministers can and cannot do or say because when all hell breaks loose, it is the President who gets the bad vibe and punches from the citizenry and opposition.

(The author is Secretary General for Zambia National Students Union – ZANASU)


  1. Oh come on, it’s not as if PF don’t have the numbers to amend this in Parliament. The author makes it look as if it’s impossible to change this provision in the act. It doesn’t require a referendum. Luo knows exactly what she is doing, she’s testing the water and gauge the public mood. And no one can claim she’s been misquoted by News Diggers because the audio is very clear.

    • Luo is misguided. She can’t take away meal allowances by decree but she needs Parliament to abolish it. So how practical was it in January 2019 when Parliament has not looked at it. She ws just threatening students but making Lungu unpopular.

    • As if she’s not a professor. The way she behaves, like a grade 2 marketeer. This chi Pf00Lish wo/man.
      She stole $-millions AIDS money for the Icasa conference & WHO mother-to-child hiv transmission research. She belongs in jail.

    • Bamayo aba nabo! That’s why she ended up with a disputed election, which up to now no one knows if she really won it or not. If ma degrees fya ku Russia ifi. Mukabwekelemofye upopene pa UNZA as a student so that we see if you can even get a first degree, without allowances and all your other oratory!

    • If that’s the case then …its a done deal as PF has the numbers in Parliament and its MPs will vote blindly for it like they did with salary increment.

    • She is just using that naive warria boy from UNZA for a photo opp… as Piliato stated ministers and PSs dont care about UNZA as their children are studying abroad.

  2. You can abolish the ministry of religious affairs its a wasteful nonsense.Student meal allowances make more sense though.

  3. Spot on. Neither Minister nor Loans Board can take away the meal allowances unless by amendment in Parliament. So the threat to take away meal allowances in January is not possible because Parliament is no longer sitting


    • So if you are given or continue with meal allowance you will appreciate Lazy Lungu more? What type of a university student are you? More like a grade 9 pupil with such mindset

  5. Exactly why I thought UNZASU were foolish to go beg for something Parliament gave them. Naipwa UNZASU. You don’t plead for what is rightfully yours

  6. And that is the best they have “professor “,imagine what to expect from street vendor Kampyongo, nurse Kapata,cadre Lusambo,constable Chitotela,grade 12Mwila,gogo Inonge,reverend Musimali,clinic worker Kaiser,evelyn hone journalist Amos,not to forget the former suspended lawyer late Satan really had a talent of identifying incompetence…

  7. “Again, any purported exercise of such power can successfully be challenged by way of judicial review and quashed on the ground of illegality or for being ultra vires the parent Act.”
    Certainly not in the Concourt!

  8. “(The author is Secretary General for Zambia National Students Union – ZANASU)”

    I am really impressed that our young minds still capture the essence of truth and intellect.

    • You are impressed as you look at things in the short term…you go to other countries and see the efforts of UK students unions done 20 years ago still being implimented today from student loans repayments APR to even small things like all ATM machines within 100 metres from the university should always be equipped with £5 notes.
      Politicians never listen only the threat of protests sways their thinking…Luo detests unions she banned them a few months ago she should have been removed if we had a sober President.

  9. When president Lungu makes decrees or directives to ministers, we complain saying why is the president always controlling everything. I complain too. A bunch of these ministers are ridiculous, always doing things that are opposite to progress. Do not blame president Lungu, professor Nkandu Luo has been like this from the 90s. If he removes her, women will cry that their numbers in cabinet are being reduced. President Lungu needs better minds to surround him.

  10. Luo has made Edgar look terribly bad in the eyes of students. The more Tue woman talks against students the more hardened their hearts get. Students have families whom Luo is playing with and how will she campaign in 2021.

    • Zambians are gullible people come 2021 ..they will vote for PF’s MP after being bribed with chibuku and cash..all this will be forgotten.

  11. This Luo woman is just failing to run higher education. how does entire Minister concentrate on implementation of policies than making them. she is liability to LUNGU but he can’t see

  12. am highly persuaded by the author but I think this meal allowance is a creation of Minister which she can take away though at a serious cost to Lungu administration. matter can be challenged in court by the brave and it may go either way. worry is Lungu is being made to look bad by this Minister. earlier he does something the better.

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