Higher Education Minister Professor Nkandu Luo says she suspended student unions because they only talked about bursaries when they went to her office instead of addressing other issues.

And Luo says all student bursary allowances for the academic year 2016 and 2017 have been paid off.

In Parliament yesterday during the oral answer session, Monze Central UPND member of parliament Jack Mwimbu asked how the minister would have a normal dialogue with the students after banning unions.

“Mr Speaker, I would like to find out from the minister, having made a decision to ban student unionism at universities and other higher institutes of education, how she expects to have normal dialogue with the students when there is no student representatives in these institutions?” Mwimbu wondered.

Luo however said all students were free to engage her individually without going through union representatives.

“Mr Speaker, if the honourable member of parliament remembers the statements that I have made, I have said I have suspended. In the English dictionary, there is a difference in definition of suspension and banning. The second thing is that the students can not only speak through their representatives, they can engage me. I can go to UNZA, CBU like I have done, so that each student expresses their issues. Whenever the so called representatives have come to my office, they have only spoken about the BC. How many students in the university are on BC? Because the university has students who are paid allowances by government and some whose fees are paid by their families. So if the unions are only coming to speak to me about BC, what about the other issues in their universities? The universities at the moment require a proper learning environment, proper lecture theatres, proper access to libraries, proper sanitation and access to clean water. That is what I expect unions to come to me and talk to me about,” she said.

“Everything I know about universities, I have had to leave my office go on my own and investigate whats going on in the universities. All the corrective measures that I’m doing were not brought to my attention by unions so I don’t know what the honourable member is talking about. But I believe every human being has the right to speak to the minister and I don’t have to speak through student unions… A university is a place for intellectuals and I expect dialogue between the students and myself. I have given open door policy to all the students with no exception to talk to me if there is any issue that my staff are failing to resolve. And I want to warn all the students as we open the next academic year, any student found rioting will be expelled with immediate effect. When we have finished our consultations on the type of leadership we shall have in our institutions of learning, I will bring a ministerial statement to this house and announce it through the press..”

Luo regretted that MP were politicising local universities because their children were sent abroad.

“And it’s these unrests happening at our institutions that has taken us down. So I would really love our honourable members of parliament not to politicise the universities and institutions of higher learning. Even your own children will be beneficiaries of these institutions when they are being run properly. The reason you send your children abroad is that you have no confidence in these same institutions. Some of you who are asking questions right now, don’t have your children at those universities,” she said.

And Luo said bursaries would be paid in good time while project allowances would only be paid after projects so that students don’t misuse the money.

She was responding to Roan PF member of parliament Chishimba Kambwili who wanted to know why government was failing to pay students when funds for President Edgar Lungu’s travels were always available.

“Minister, in your response you said some of you people speaking here don’t even have children at these institutions. Are you aware that most of the Zambian parents today do not take their children to UNZA or CBU because when a child is suppose to go for a course for four years, they end up being there for seven years because of these riots which are as a result of failure by government to pay salaries. What practicals are you doing to end these riots and make sure that when money is due for the students as government you have the money ready? When it means the President travelling you have the money. Why are you failing to give the students the money?” Kambwili asked.

But Luo said Kambwili was misinformed.

“The honourable member of parliament asked a very important question but then ends up saying something irrelevant. But I would like to answer his question. Mr Speaker, this is why when you come to the Ministry of Higher Education today, the allowances have been paid on time. People just go to the streets and say we haven’t been paid allowances. It’s this misinformation that goes to the public that government is not doing what is correct. This academic year 2016-2017, no student in any institution will tell you that they were not paid in good time,” said Luo.

“There is a difference between paying allowances and project allowances. Project allowance is not money for their pocket. Its money to be paid when carrying out a project. So the ministry will not pay project allowance until that stream of students is ready to go for projects. This is why they can go and protest on project allowances. We will not pay project allowances together with the BC allowances because this money is for projects. So accommodation and meal allowance will be paid in good time, project allowance will be paid when its time for the projects.”