University of Zambia (UNZA) Vice Chancellor Professor Luke Mumba says he is lucky that lecturers at the institution have not locked him up in his office over delayed salaries, like what happened at the Copperbelt University on January 10, 2018.

Explaining the financial situation at the Highest learning institution, Prof Mumba told News Diggers! in an interview that his management had struck a deal with a commercial bank to be drawing overdrafts every month; but admitted that the move had on several occasions resulted into penalties because of delays to deposit government grants.

“The issue of delayed salaries has really been a pain in the neck for the successive university managements. The salary grant is delayed, it comes late from our line ministry, the Ministry of Finance. The problems are two folds, one it is not sufficient. I think our salary grant now is about 30 per cent of what we need on a monthly basis. So it means that we have to find the other 70 per cent and to us that’s a bigger problem because where do we get the shortfall from? So what happens is that all the fees that are paid by the students for operations of the university, to buy stationary, to buy chemicals, all that money when we run out at the centre, we go to the units and collect whatever little money they have in order to top up for salaries. So that’s number one. The issue of the salary grant needs to be addressed,” he explained.

“Secondly, little as it is, it comes late. So we are in discussion with the government and I must say that we started this discussion some time back with our line ministry, Ministry of Finance. So in the 2018 budget, there has been some slight upward adjustment, but still its not enough. So that problem will still be there. So what we have done as management is that some time in August/September last year, we started engaging with [the university] council to say ‘look, this problem of delayed salaries is not healthy for the institution. Can you allow us to go to the bank, have a standing arrangement that we get an overdraft every month?’ so eventually they approved that and that is what has stabilised UNZA a little bit compared to our friends maybe at CBU (Copperbelt University).”

He said his management had been spared because of the initiative, which he said was proving difficult to sustain.

“You heard a few weeks back that my counterpart and my friend VC of CBU was locked inside the office because of issues of salaries. But we have been spared from that because of the standing arrangement we have with one of the commercial banks. So we are able to pay the salaries on the 30th of every month through that arrangement.So when the grant eventually comes, we make it go to the bank,” Prof Mumba explained.

“The only challenge again that has arisen now which might force us to revisit that arrangement is that previously, the grant would delay for about three-five days but since we made this arrangement, the delay now is even longer. And there is a penalty for everyday that we [delay]. From 30th they (bank) start counting. Lets say day one they charge you K14, 000, by day two, it will double, it will be K28, 000, day three it triples. But surely our colleagues who give us the grant should understand. So you think you are solving a problem on one hand, and on the other hand you are increasing the indebtedness of the institution. So really to be honest I don’t know what it is that we need to do.”

He said UNZA needed to stop depending of public funding and create its own income generating ventures.

“Obviously we think that our solution lies on reducing our dependency on public funding by creating our own business ventures so that with time, we will be able to pay salaries from our own revenue. That is why you see us trying to do more of what you see at East Park Mall. We have other plans of similar nature at Liempe farm. We advertised for partners to team up with us in order to run Marshlands as a hospitality industry. We want those who have money to pump in that place through what we call public private partnership, to do so,” said Prof Mumba.

“So these plans are there but you see the problem is that for these things to actualise, you need to bring stability first in the institution. There has to be some level of stability otherwise you are disrupted, you are always fire fighting like we are now on the hostels issue. It just diverts you completely from the co-business of generating revenue and offering quality service for the university so that we improve the quality of human resource that we produce for the country; or improve on research and international rankings as a university. If we are going to be perpetually closed like this, it doesn’t work well for our institutions but also for the country.”