The Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Board says it will, starting this September, begin to collect repayments from former UNZA and CBU students who benefited from the government sponsorship programme since 2004.

Government has vowed that it will use all the available technology and records to trace the owing individuals until they pay what is due to the Treasury.

“We are giving notice that we are beginning to collect payments of loans from former students starting this September month-end. Our initial targets are people who we can actually track and whose loans have matured and most of them are in employment. We have already tracked most of these people using their NAPSA records and their NRCs,” said Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Board chairperson Penelope Mapoma.

“They are supposed to pay everything. The composition of the loan is that if they are beneficiaries, we definitely paid some amount towards their tuition fees. If we paid accommodation fees for them then they owe us. As of 2011, those that were not accommodated received an accommodation refund so those are owing us in terms of accommodation refund, tuition fees and in addition to these fees, what we gave them in terms of meal allowances, the K22.50 per day, they need to pay back, it forms part of the loan. Then we gave them book allowance; it forms part of the loan. We gave them project allowance; that formed part of the loan. So they need to calculate how much we paid for their tuition fees from first year up to the time they finished or left the university, all the meal allowance that they received, all the book allowances that they received and all the project allowances,” added Board acting director Ireen Chirwa said.

In a normal State, there would be nothing wrong with the government claiming this money from former students who are now in employment, as long as the repayment schedule is not punitive to the already highly taxed workers. If the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Board could also consider adjusting the commencement date for this programme, to ensure that the affected workers have ample time to adjust their expenditure, we believe many former students would oblige.

In fact, we would have loved to agree with PF deputy media director Antonio Mwanza who says: “The loan scheme has to be a revolving fund to allow the next generation of students also to have access to education.” Indeed, there are many underprivileged, but exceptionally intelligent young Zambians who deserve to pass through university. These are the doctors, engineers, lawyers and of course journalists who will serve and serve Zambia tomorrow.

But there is a serious governance problem that is being ignored in this demand from the Scholarships Board. We find it strange that government is showing its teeth on former university students who are owing, while supporting the refusal by former ministers to pay back illegal salaries.

It’s almost a year now since the courts ruled that all the 64 ministers who illegally stayed in office to campaign for PF after the dissolution of Parliament, must pay back the salaries they drew from government. To date, not a single one has paid back, despite a majority of them being retained in Cabinet.
The minister in charge of this Scholarships Board, Prof Nkandu Luo was Minister of Gender and Child Development before the 2016 general elections. She illegally stayed in office and obtained an illegal salary together with others, which the government has been ordered to recover. Why are they refusing to pay back?

Our view is that these former university students must refuse to pay back scholarship loans until ministers lead by example. Let Honourable Stephen Kampyongo, Jean Kapata, Dora Siliya, Vincent Mwale, Ronald Chitotela, Given Lubinda and the rest, demonstrate their respect for laws in this country, before they can order others to follow suit.

So what Mr Antonio Mwanza is saying about the revolving fund ceases to make sense the moment it comes from his mouth because he has no moral right to talk about this issue. Where was Mr Mwanza when these Ministers were ordered to pay back salaries? Which article has he published where he is explaining what this money from ministers could do to help solve the many problems we are facing as a country?

Since he is a smart man and very well educated from a taxpayers’ bursary which he won’t have to pay back, let Mr Mwanza justify to the people of Zambia why Ministers should not pay back, but the UNZA students who came after him must pay.

In fact, Mr Mwanza is talking to himself about establishing a revolving fund for scholarships. He knows, just as much as we do, that it is not possible. This government has no capacity to commit to a more critical revolving fund for foreign debt repayments, which when defaulted will plunge the country into total chaos. They can’t see money lying around without touching it. That is how they exhausted the budget for the year without fulfilling the budgetary allocations.

How can this government be trusted with keeping money for the education of unborn children if they are failing to provide basic human needs for the adults who are languishing on the streets? Mr Antonio, ndiye manyengwe aya.