University of Zambian Lecturers and Researchers Union (UNZALARU) general secretary Dr Kelvin Mambwe says it has been eight years since government last paid any of its members their benefits and gratuities.

In an interview, Dr Mambwe said it was not necessary for the Ministry of Finance to blow its own trumpet over the release of K92 million for UNZA, Copperbelt and Mulugushi universities, when the money was meant for December 2017 arrears.

“If I can just inform you, we are now entering the eighth year, from 2010 to 2018 of non-payment of retirement benefits as well as gratuities to our members. Some of our members have even died. They retired in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and they have not been paid their pension. And that money is losing value. Today, people who used to be our members are destitute because they have not been paid their dues. The problem is government because this is a public institution which ought to be funded by government through grants from tax payers’ money. Tuition fees should just supplement what we get from government but there is nothing we are receiving from government. If it comes, it comes very late and it is inadequate. These are the problems that government should resolve,” Dr Mambwe said.

“Look at the fire tenders, where did they find that money? Quiet easily to buy those vehicles which are falling like wheelbarrows, as [Lucky] Mulusa put it. Where did they get all that money to buy ambulances. The money is there but what is not there is priority. Even if we have all these pronouncements by the Minister of Higher Education, she is always making pronouncements, ‘we are doing this and that, the unions are blocking us from dismantling debts.’ It’s not true, we have not blocked government from paying our members, what we are against are the conditions that they are setting for dismantling debt. For example they are saying ‘let’s renegotiate the conditions of your members before we pay you what you worked for’ does it make sense? It doesn’t.”

He said it was unfortunate that government had to blow the trumpet on the K92 million when the money was actually meat to clear the December 2017 arrears.

“Just two weeks ago, there was a statement from Ministry of Finance talking about that K92 million they had released, that money was for December grants. In fact it’s unfortunate that they went to media to blow their trumpet. That was grant money for December 2017 and not anything to do with January. As I have told you, January grant has not been released, had it not been for the overdraft, our members were going to be crying for salaries,” Dr Mambwe said.

He also said that it was the union’s idea that the university of Zambia entered into an agreement with the banks to secure monthly overdrafts for paying lecturers on time.

“The idea of overdrafts came from the union. We actually pushed it on management to consider finding a lasting solution to resolving the delays in salaries and so on. It is the union which pushed it on management because government has been releasing these grants very late. For your own information, government up to now has not release the grant for January which implies that if there was no overdraft, our members were not going to be paid by now. They were not going to be paid their January salaries by now. As a union of course we are happy that this overdraft is in place but this is not the solution to resolving the problems that the University of Zambia is facing,” said Dr Mambwe.

“The solution lays in government finding money, prioritising expenditure so that this institution is given the priority it deserves as a higher learning institution, as a prestigious institution in Zambia. There is no other institution which can be compared to UNZA in terms of human resource that it has. In terms of infrastructure even if it’s dilapidated, we are still top university. But now the problem is government’s failure to fund this institution, to fund it adequately and to fund it timely.”