OPEN LETTER TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF ZAMBIA DR. EDGAR CHAGWA LUNGU
It was not my intention to repeat this subject to you Comrade President. Neither is it my intention to make a habit of sending you open letters. I am in the afternoon of my life and my resolve is to take a back seat and spend the rest of my days in quiet and peace. However, there are times like now, when there is so much worry that ‘sleep’ becomes illusive.
Comrade President, the University of Zambia needs your assistance. Help by ensuring that salaries are not delayed anymore. Assist by making sure that all outstanding gratuities and pensions are paid without further delay. Help by seeing to it that the institution is adequately funded. Above all, consider requesting for an enquiry to establish how best the University can sustain its operations as a government owned learning institution.
Assist UNZA because is not an ordinary learning institution. It is strategic. It is on an international spotlight. It is the source of our nation’s critical manpower requirements. It is the flagship and torch bearer of our education and training system. Since its establishment in 1965 to date, it has supplied the nation with close to 51,000 professionals across various areas of critical need. Presently, it is graduating an average of 4,500 students per year, in various professional fields. Assist because UNZA is the pride of our nation and a source of hope for the majority of our impoverished citizens
Comrade President, you are probably aware that for the first time in the history of UNZA, its employees have not been paid their salaries for two months now. This situation speaks volumes about how much UNZA’s financial crisis has deepened. Added to this is the sickening issue of non-payment of gratuities and pensions. Some have not been unpaid for almost ten years now, and there is still no hope in sight. A pension is a living wage of one who is in the afternoon of one’s life and past energetic age to fend for oneself. It is a cushion and comfort for a proven, hardworking, patriotic and dedicated worker who embarks upon a wasting life towards one’s death. Scores of people have died without their hard earned cushion. Survivors are hopelessly waiting and nobody seems to give thought to the fact that, the money that was due to them so many years ago, has been so seriously devalued that by the time it is finally paid (only God knows when) its purpose will have been defeated.
Comrade President, I recall that on May 1, last year, you told the nation that the government was determined to maintain the dignity of workers. You lamented over unpaid pension benefits in the country in general and promised that civil servants’ salaries will never again be paid late. Earlier on, the government through then Minister of Higher education had made an unfulfilled promise that all gratuities and pensions will be paid by 2020. I now wonder who on the way is not performing his or her duties and what their motives are for not doing so.
In the Zambia Daily Mail issue February 24, 2020, there is a press statement by the Higher Education Minister that grants to UNZA and some other grant aided institutions have been delayed because the Treasury has had to divert resources into the management of life threatening disasters in certain parts of the country. Comrade President, this statement is not only disagreeable but horrifying as well, because non-payment of salaries is itself a life threatening disaster. Since all human lives are of the same value, should certain lives be deprived of their livelihoods for the sake of saving other lives?
Comrade President, it is evidently clear that UNZA employees’ dignity has been seriously eroded. They feel violated, dehumanized, rejected punished and abandoned. There is no food in most people’s homes. Water bills cannot be settled and supplies are being terminated. There is no money to purchase ZESCO tokens whose charges have so shockingly trebled. Landlords are on people’s necks for non-payment of house rentals in time. Some are being kicked out of their privately rented houses to pave way for those that can pay consistently. Equally, wages for their domestic workers are being delayed. Some are abandoning them for more reliable employers. Others are conveniently being asked to stop work until the situation improves. Children and dependents are wondering what type of bread winners they have. Their school fees are not being paid for. There is no money for fuel. Many a parent cannot drive their children to school any more. Employees who drive to work are now trekking on foot. Those out of reach are being forced to stay at home. Some teaching is not taking place not because there is anyone on strike but because either lecturers do not have transport, or they have gone elsewhere to look for money to feed their families. Most corridors and offices are now dark and disserted by 12.00 hours noon. Primitive accumulation lending (Kaloba) has intensified. Most employees have had no choice but to resort to this self-reinforcing vicious cycle of cut-throat borrowing. Those with debts at commercial banks are being charged penalties for delayed loan servicing, and if UNZA will only pay its workers their January salaries, those who owe the banks will walk away with nothing because banks as business entities will have no choice but to recover the now outstanding two month deductions from a single salary.
Students are bewildered. They wonder when their next lecture will take place and how long it will last. They wonder whether or not in such circumstances their course syllabuses will be completed by the time the academic year comes to an end. They wonder whether or not their parents’ hard earned money intended for their tuition is worth paying.
Comrade President, I have brought this matter to you because I believe that you are the right person to deal with it. I have knocked on your door, because it is said that knock and the door shall be opened for you. I have asked you to step in and help, because it is said that ask and you shall be given, seek and you shall find. I know you can do it, because the authority and power to do so ultimately lies in your hands. I know you can use that power, because you are not only a caring father of our nation, but an alumina of UNZA who in 1981 proudly walked away with a Bachelor of Laws Degree of a rare prestigious meritorious honor.
C/O University of Zambia, Lusaka.( Tuesday February 25, 2020)
cc Mr. Isaac Chipampe, Special Assistant to the President for Press, State House, Lusaka