UNZALARU is free to insult their management or government, but only if they do not have their salaries paid on the 15th of every month, says Higher Education Minister Dr Brian Mushimba.

And Dr Mushimba has urged the University of Zambia (UNZA) to find alternative revenue sources to settle its accumulated staff salaries and allowances, which he argues are beyond what government has approved.

Speaking when he featured on UNZA Radio, Friday, Dr Mushimba suggested that UNZA should move pay day to the 10th or 11th.

“If this press conference where those insults were issued was on 12th or 15th of a month, then we all could worry to say, ‘wow, the grant should have been received on the 6th and you should have found a supplemental and should have paid by the 10th or 11th.’ We would justify those utterances. However, moving forward, maybe a conversation could be: ‘do we move the pay date of University of Zambia employees to maybe 10th or 11th to accommodate the funding circle? But that’s a conversation we can have. Right now, I don’t know if government will maintain that funding circle or if it’s justified to move the payment date so that expectations are managed,” Dr Mushimba said.

“So, UNZALARU, don’t insult UNZA management, don’t insult government. Insult, maybe, when you reach the 15th, but those insults are not advisable because we are a civilized society! We can engage and find solutions to dialogue.”

He added that talks were ongoing to see if government could increase the grant allocation to public learning institutions.

“When government gives that grant and pays for the students, as prescribed by the law, government will have done its part. What is now left is for the institution that receives those resources to live within those resources. If they don’t live within those resources have other revenue base that can supplement what government is giving. Yes, there are conversations, right now, to see how we can improve on the allocation that we have been giving, but that does not mean that we have not been giving it. Since I joined the Ministry, we are not behind on our grant releases to our institutions like UNZA and CBU (Copperbelt University), specifically. We are not behind on paying school fees at UNZA and CBU, specifically,” he said.

Dr Mushimba observed that UNZA had grown tremendously, but that it ought to find resources for the extra staff and allowances, which it had brought on board beyond what was approved by government.

“The unique challenge that University of Zambia finds itself in is that over time, the University of Zambia has grown, and that growth means they have hired more people probably than what government approved. They have awarded certain allowances and salaries, probably above and beyond what government is able to pay. And because this is a quasi-government institution with some autonomy managed by the Council, government has stepped back and said: ‘we will continue giving you what we give you.’ The additional things that you are getting on board, you have to find resources for that. And the University of Zambia, CBU, have done a commendable job because what government gives them in terms of grants is not enough. So, they have to sweat their assets,” he added.

Dr Mushimba insisted that it would have been justified if UNZALARU made those utterances of saying that “only those enjoying with the PF or idiots would vote for PF if an election was to be held” after the 15th of the next month without being paid.

“The challenge we have experienced ever since I joined the Ministry is that the funding circles that government runs are such that the last week of the month or so, government runs payroll for its civil servants. The next funding circles funds the grant-aided institutions. By this time, we are in a new month (and that’s) the time the grants are hitting the grant-aided institutions. The University of Zambia has to find a supplemental budget and it takes them, maybe, a couple of days to do that. By the time they are ready to pay, we would have already been on the 10th of another month. So, it is unfair for UNZALARU to issue those utterances because they were issuing those utterances on the 6th of the month. The grant had just hit their account and they knew that that’s how funding has been,” said Dr Mushimba.

“There are administrative processes going on right now in terms of the law that guides the formation of UNZALARU in terms of obligated utterances, and Ministry of Labour has taken keen interest in this matter, which is being adjudicated by them. Without prejudicing that process, our desire is not to see difficult conversations such as the one that we saw where UNZALARU had to issue those utterances! It’s also painful to me as a Minister of Higher Education and to government that we felt those utterances were unwarranted. Government allocates a grant to the University of Zambia and outside the grant, government pays tuition for the students that government sponsors in our Higher Learning Institutions.”

Early last month, UNZALARU general secretary Dr Kelvin Mambwe told journalists that, “if an election was to be called today, either those that are enjoying with government or idiots would vote for the PF.”

Dr Mambwe issued the remarks at the UNZA Great East Road main campus where unions had a protest meeting against their delayed December salaries.