The Copperbelt University Lecturers and Allied Worker’s Unions say Minister of Higher Education Professor Nkandu Luo’s decision to abolishment meal allowances is illegal and can be challenged via a Judicial Review.

In a joint statement, Copperbelt University Senior Administrative, Professional and Technical Staff Union (CUSATSU) Secretary General Lukanga Kapeshi, Copperbelt University Academics Union (CBUAU) Secretary General Willie Ngosa and Copperbelt University and Allied Workers Union (CBUAWU) Secretary General Fernando Fulwe, said neither Professor Luo nor the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Board, had the power to abolish meal allowances.

“Neither a Minister nor the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Board has powers to abolish meal allowances for public universities. Meal allowances have their foundation under an Act of Parliament. This is the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Act, 2016 which came into effect on 17th April, 2017. This is an act which establishes the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Board, establishes the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Fund, Provides for the granting, administration, investment, payment and recovery of loans, provides for the administration and granting of scholarsships, facilitates the mobilization of financial resources for loans and scholarsships. The Act goes further to make for other related matters. Section 5 of the Act spells out the functions of the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Board. Abolishing meal allowances is not among those functions prescribed by the Act,” read the statement.

“This means the Board has no power to abolish allowances the Act provides for. Any purported exercise of such power can successfully be challenged by way of judicial review on grounds of illegality. Section 24 of the Act makes provisions for allowances to be paid for under a loan or scholarship. It enacts as follows: “24 (1) Subject to the provision of this Act, a loan or scholarship granted to a student shall not exceed the aggregate of –(a) the fees payable to the higher education institution per academic year, (b) a prescribed sum of money per academic year to assist in defraying the cost of books and other supplies required by the student in the student’s faculty or department at the higher education institution, and (c) a living allowance in the prescribed amount per academic year.”

The unions said the announcement of the abolishment of meal allowances was a pretext for government to further reduce funding to higher learning institutions.

“Section 37 (1) of the Act empowers the Minister by statutory instrument, to make regulations for the better carrying out of the provisions of the Act. The extent to which those regulations may go is also spelt out under section 37 (2) of the Act. The minister cannot by virtue of the powers conferred by section 37 of the Act purport to abolish a loan, allowance or scholarship prescribed by the Act. The statutory instrument the minister is empowered to make is for purposes of enhancing the provisions of the Act and not to abolish anything the parent Act has already made provision for. It is therefore illegal for the minister of Higher Education to abolish the meal allowance,” read the statement.

“By implication, the announcement to remove meal allowances is a pretext for government to further reduce funding higher education in Zambia. The tuition, accommodation, project and book fees paid to the universities and students are loans that will be recovered. So why limit the extent of the loans if at all they will be paid back? How will the country develop with a government that is not willing to pay for higher education? Prof Luo should come out in the open and explain to the nation the real reasons for this unfortunate pronouncement rather than lying to the nation and media houses that government had no intention of abolishing meal allowances even when she knew that this was what she actually wanted. Why deny in the first place if the intentions were clean. Prof Luo has abrogated the law and she must rescind the decision. Only Parliament can abolish the meal allowances. Prof Luo must respect the Law. Abolishment of meal allowances can only be legally done if the Minister repeals the current act and replaces it with a new one and this require approval from Parliament and participation of key stakeholders. As it stands what the minister said is a mere pronouncement without the backing of the law which can be successfully challenged in the courts of law.”

They stated that UNZA and CBU were embroiled in huge debt due to poor provision of funding by government, adding that the removal of meal allowances would worsen the situation as vulnerable students would not be able to pay other fees.

“The University of Zambia and CBU are technically insolvent with a staggering debt of about K6billion because of poor funding by government. Abolishing of meal allowances will further affect the running of the universities since most students and their families will not be able to support their school. The income will further reduce such that those universities will not be run effectively. As much as the inclusion of other Universities on the loan scheme is welcome, Prof Luo’s main intention is to remove the only benefit that a poor student is entitled to. The extension of the loan to other universities is just a ploy to win public approval. It is the unions’ view that the extension as reported will not even be possible as government has lamentably failed to fund the existing public universities,” read the statement.