‘Meal allowances removal illegal’

Written by on February 23, 2019

THE abolishment of meal allowances for public universities by government is illegal as it was done without the backing of the law, the Copperbelt University unions have charged.

In a joint statement, Senior Administrative and Technical Staff Union (CUSATSU), Copperbelt University Academics Union (CBUAU), and Copperbelt University and Allied Workers Union (CBUAWU) General Secretaries, Lukanga Kapeshi, Willie Ngosa and Fernando Fube said the Minister of Higher Education Professor Nkandu Luo abrogated the law to have the meal allowances removed.

The unions also condemned the move saying it would affect the vulnerable students who depended on the meal allowances to survive in the universities. 

“Neither a Minister nor the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Board has power 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,” the statement reads.

The CBU unions argued that according to the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Act Section 5 of 2016, abolishing allowances was not among those functions prescribed in it.

“This means the Board has no power to abolish allowances the Act makes provision 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 provisions 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 unions further stated, “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.

It is therefore illegal, the unions said, for the Minister of Higher education to abolish the meal allowances.

Meanwhile, the unions have claimed that both UNZA and CBU had a staggering debt of about K6 billion, because of poor funding by government and that abolishing of meal allowances would further affect the running of the universities since most students and their families will not be able to support their school.

The unions further charged that the extension of the loan scheme to other universities as announced by Prof. Luo was 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,” the unions charged.

The CBU unions demanded that the decision be rescinded because the law was abrogated.

“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 will 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,” the unions said.

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