UNIVERSITY of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers’ Union (UNZALARU) general secretary Dr Kelvin Mambwe has demanded that government releases K600 million in pensions and gratuity arrears even as it advances the debt swap initiative.

In a statement, Wednesday, Dr Mambwe said it was important that the University’s indebtedness was equally prioritised and managed.

“On 16 July 2021, the Government of the Republic of Zambia announced their intention to relieve civil servants’ indebtedness through an initiative called debt swap. The initiative was followed by the signing ceremony of an addendum to the current collective agreement between Government and the Public Sector Unions. Further, on 19 July 2021, we were informed, through media reports that the Government intends to extend this initiative to the private sector workers. The University of Zambia Lecturers and Researchers’ Union (UNZALARU) hast taken note of these developments and welcomes Government intentions to extend the initiative of debt swap to the private sector in order to ensure equality for working citizens. This move is a clear demonstration that the Government is thinking about how unbearable life has become for most citizens across all sectors. This is commendable. However, while we appreciate this gesture, the Government should also not forget the high indebtedness of the University of Zambia (UNZA), which has arisen mainly due to underfunding of the institution,” Dr Mambwe stated.

“The University of Zambia is a quasi-government institution which largely depends on government subventions to survive and operate. It is owned by the Government on behalf of the people of Zambia and is critical in providing quality tertiary education, research and community service for the nation. It is, therefore, Government’s responsibility to ensure that the University’s indebtedness is equally prioritized and managed, particularly during this debt swap season.”

He stated that UNZA did not need to be included on the debt swap initiative, but all it needed was for government to clear pensions and gratuity.

“The University of Zambia Council that runs the University on behalf of the Government, owes retirees and serving members of staff at UNZA in excess of K600 million from as far back as 2011 in pensions and gratuities. The staff in turn also owe lending institutions large amounts of money as they strive to fill the void left by the accrued unpaid benefits. We therefore wish to remind the Government that as they entertain the thought of extending the initiative to the private sector, it would be prudent for them to deal with the indebtedness of UNZA by including it in the debt swap initiative. For the specific case of UNZA and for clarity purposes, we are demanding that the Government releases the K600 million owed to staff in pensions and gratuity. It is not the so-called debt swap we are demanding for. We implore the Government to seriously look into the plight of the University of Zambia workers and retirees whose cry has become an annual anthem. We are very optimistic that the Government will act on our plight now than before,” stated Dr Mambwe.