THE Copperbelt University Academics Union (CBUAU) has given government up to this Friday to settle February salaries along with January arrears owed to higher learning institutions, failure to which appropriate action will be taken, according to the law.

Higher Education Minister Dr Brian Mushimba notified all universities, TEVET Colleges and other Science Statutory Boards, Monday, that government would not be able to settle their grants yet because the monies intended for that function had been redirected to other needy areas such as fighting gassing.

But reacting to the notice in an interview, CBUAU secretary general Dr Derrick Ntalasha said it was criminal for government or any other employer to fail to pay their employees when they had rendered a service.

Dr Ntalasha wondered how resources meant to for running the universities would be diverted to other areas when all government departments had an allocation in the national budget.

“This is a punishment to us! It’s end of February and we have not even been paid the salaries for January. So, as we speak, we are two month’s behind. So, when they say, ‘needy areas have come’, it’s surprising because all these government departments have got budget lines. DMMU, falling under the Vice-President’s Office, has got a budget line; Higher Education also has got a budget line, which the universities are falling under. So, to be able to be sacrificed that, ‘we are not going to give you your money because we’ve got these (gassing) incidences…’ it’s not right! It’s not right! Even for the Minister (of Higher Education) himself to issue such a statement when he knows that the higher institutions of learning have not been stable because they have not been financed properly,” Dr Ntalasha said.

“So, they need to own up to say, ‘look, the universities have to be funded, they have to be given the money.’ And this money is in two parts: we have the grants and we’ve got the tuition fees. The tuition fees is that money that the Loans Board gives by sponsoring students and I will tell you that 90 per cent of the students at both CBU and UNZA are under government sponsorship, meaning that there is no income that is coming when the government has not paid the tuition fees. They can delay the grants, but if they want to delay the tuition fees, then they are crippling these institutions! So, the Minister should own up because he knows that the universities have to be funded.”

And Dr Ntalasha said while he understood that a calamity had befallen the country, he insisted that it was unacceptable to divert funds meant for the education sector to something totally different and un-budgeted-for.

“Yes, these calamities have come, but they also have got a budget line. For example, DMMU, it’s got a budget line on how much they need to spend for a specified period and what calamities come. For example, when you talk about flooding, we know these things happen. So, you cannot divert the whole budget and then say, ‘we are going to deal with issues that are unforeseen. So, we are not really very happy and we are not going to speak well about the Minister because we also have families, we also have budgets that we need to do. So, if the Minister was bold enough to come and say, ‘look, we have delayed you for a week’ but not going for two months without paying people and then you come out and say, ‘no, it’s because the money went to other needy areas.’ Are you saying that the university that is supposed to be providing solutions to all these problems that we have should not be funded?” Dr Ntalasha asked.

“We need engineers to go and fix the roads, where do they come from? The universities. We need scientists to know how army worms have to be fought, where do they come from? It’s from the universities. So, if we don’t fund universities, how do you expect to solve problems? You cannot solve problems by killing education! Education is the cornerstone of every development. So, the Minister cannot hide under that umbrella and say, ‘there are other needy areas that need to be funded so the money has been diverted to that.’ What we need is our money and we need the money for January and February paid at the same time this week on Friday! Trouble has come and the University of Zambia Lecturers’ Union was deregistered over the issue of delayed salaries, we don’t want that. What we want is funding and funding should come at the right time and most of the things, which talk about funding, it’s money that government owes towards tuition fees. So, they need to own and pay, not to say that we have taken it elsewhere, that is an insult of its kind, which we will not tolerate!”

Meanwhile, Dr Ntalasha said the institution would take appropriate action against government should it fail honour its obligations.

“As law abiding citizens, we’ve got the laws that help us to operate. For instance, I will give you an example that, as CBU Lecturers’ Union, we have declared a dispute over this delayed salaries and that’s the procedure that we will follow and when such disputes are made, it’s because people are not happy. So, the issue is that it’s not criminal in the first place not to pay salaries to workers. So, any criminal act, the law provides on how you deal with criminal acts. So, it’s criminal for any employer not to pay salaries on time, that’s why you hear that University of Zambia reported the management to the police. So, we want order and the only way order will come in these higher learning institutions is by the universities being paid on time the money that they have generated through the tuition fees, which government has decided to be sponsoring these students. So, it’s important for us to know that,” said Dr Ntalasha.

“Otherwise, the course of action that we are going to take is that we will follow what the law provides and we will follow what the law has given to us on how we need to act. But it’s not right for any employer to say, ‘no, we have done this and this.’ This is why there is a budgeting process and the budgeting process is to accommodate every sector so that the economy moves. You don’t cripple one and expect things to move properly.”