Katuba UPND member of parliament Patricia Mwashingwele says Higher Education Minister Professor Nkandu Luo should not dare scrap meal allowances for university students because it is budgeted for in the 2019 national budget.
And UPND deputy spokesperson Cornelius Mweetwa says Prof Luo must not destroy the heritage of Zambian universities just because she acquired her tertiary education abroad.
Last week, a named Copperbelt University (CBU) student phoned Prof Luo to follow-up on the delayed meal allowances for UNZA and CBU students.
However, Prof Luo advised the student along with all the others to wait until Monday this week, but went further to say that university students would not receive any meal allowances come January, 2019, because of delays in the payment of such allowances led to riotous behaviour in higher learning institutions.
But commenting on the matter in an interview, Mwashingwele wondered where Prof Luo planned to take the resources meant for students.
“Why was it budgeted for, for 2019 if along the way she (Prof Luo) had that intention of taking it away? What is going to happen to that budget line? I am just thinking aloud. I don’t know if people haven’t time to go and read that (Yellow) Book, but I just remember that when we were looking at that budget allocation, there was actually something for student meal allowances,So when she talks about taking it away, let her first bring it to the House. Let her bring a Ministerial statement, we debate it. She should tell us exactly why the government has decided to withdraw the meal allowances for the students. It is not her call alone, it is the call of all of us; so that we prepare the parents for such a huge undertaking. Maybe she is forgetting that some children are orphans. Some children having gone to university; it’s the best thing that ever happened to them. So, she cannot just decide and wake up one night and say: ‘okay, this morning I am taking away meal allowances.’ No, it’s supposed to be collective agreement and we look at the options,” Mwashingwele said.
“She cannot pass such a decision alone, she needs to bring it to all of us. Everyone must be in agreement. The parents must be prepared, students must be prepared. What does she want to do with the money that is already in the budget line for 2019? In fact, she should have been saying: ‘we are removing it in 2020 so that we give everyone a chance for one to prepare themselves’.”
Asked whether she felt if Prof Luo gave people a chance to prepare themselves, removing the meal allowances was the correct decision, Mwashingwele disagreed.
“No, it’s not, and I have always said on the floor of the House, the best investment is human resource. Zambia is a young nation, Zambia is a poor nation. So, if we cannot develop our human resource, it will be as good as not moving. They are talking of not leaving anyone behind. So, the majority Zambians, it’s not that they are dull, they are intelligent, but they don’t have the means to get the university education. So, when they are giving that bursary, they are given that loan… in fact, she’s not doing them a favour because they’re going to pay back what government is giving them. So, what is the fuss? These are the things that we have [been] telling PF that, one day, the country will be broke, so now, their country is broke, and they don’t know where to find the money, now they want to punish the innocent students,” said Mwashingwele.
“Tell them to find somewhere else to take money away. Maybe they should even take money away from the Cabinet, President’s (Edgar Lungu) travels. They should take money away from all their international travels and support the students. That is not the right decision, it’s a wrong decision at a wrong time and I think it’s going to affect the whole country negatively. Please, you people that are in the media, can you say something so loud about it. It’s going to bring unnecessary confusion in the country and we don’t want to go there.”
And Mweetwa said Prof Luo must not destroy the heritage of Zambian universities just because she acquired her tertiary education abroad.
“Luo cannot change the heritage and history of the University of Zambia. When Honourable Mumbi Phiri was member of parliament for Munali, she represented that university well. UNZA is the biggest constituency within a constituency. We have more than 25,000 students at UNZA, far much bigger than many constituencies elsewhere. Some MPs, who are sitting in Parliament, are elected by very few people. But when you are a member of parliament for Munali, you are elected by the crème de la crème, the intelligentsia, the reservoir of knowledge, the future of this country. So, to destroy it for purposes of meeting egoism won’t work. Honourable Mumbi Phiri served the University of Zambia very well, she stood for the students and defended them. But this professor has come to attack students, she has come to fight students, she has come to attack UNZA and destroy it,” Mweetwa charged.
He vowed that current and former students would fight Prof Luo’s plans.
“Professor Luo never went to UNZA, probably that’s why she’s behaving like that because she studied in Russia. So, let her leave her heritage, this is not Russia! In my politics, I don’t like to become personal, but she has gone too far and President Lungu should not allow this kind of behaviour. UNZA represents the hallmark of intellectual prosperity in this country, you can’t reduce university students as if they are kindergarten students! How do you expect students to come and anchor the pillars of democracy in future if you dwindle them like this today? UNZA has been there since 1966, why is she making it a personal programme to destroy UNZA?” wondered Mweetwa.
“Us, who went to the University of Zambia, shall fight back! Those who send their children to University of Zambia will fight back. She cannot destroy our university. Already, in terms of academic standing, our institutions of learning are beginning to become questionable comparatively to other universities. Now, she wants to begin to undermine UNZA, this is not fair, let her come to her senses. I know that she’s a strong-willed person and I respect the fact that she’s one of the strong women who have pushed the agenda that women should be visible and they should be in leadership. I appreciate the strength she has exhibited as Chairperson for the Women’s Caucus on Women at Parliament, but let her not abuse her privilege to destroy our institutions!”