Top university may collapse

April 24, 1998

Telephones and power at Zambia's leading university might be cut off as fears mount that the university may not reopen.

A financial crisis at the University of Zambia forced its temporary closure six weeks ago. Last month bailiffs seized 47 vehicles and three computers to recover two billion kwacha (Pounds 655,000) owed to 215 middle-management employees of the university after it failed to comply with a high court order to pay salary arrears.

The university may not re-open as planned on May 3 unless the government steps in. The university owes about 17 billion kwacha, and needs 10 billion to re-open next semester. The Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation and Zambia Telecommunications are owed over 600 million kwacha and have threatened to cut off power and telephones. Other creditors include the state revenue authority and insurance companies.

A university spokesman said a report has been sent to the ministry of education showing a credit balance of 4,1 billion kwacha. However, the institution owed various stakeholders 16,643 million kwacha, resulting in a shortfall of 12,521 million.

This month, Jowett Kaluwa, chair of the university's finance committee, pleaded with education minister Godfrey Muyanda to pay outstanding student fees and other grants. "If the government fails to provide the university with special grants, the institution will close," Mr Kaluwa said in his report.

Last year, the vice-chancellor Andrew Siwela, deputy Jerry Mwenechanya and other senior officials were sacked for misappropriation of funds.

Underfunding has also hit Zambia's Copperbelt University. Early this year, the government withdrew bursaries for diploma students. First-year diploma students in the school of built environment on courses in architecture, building, construction, land economics and urban studies now have to pay full fees of two million kwacha each.

Lecturers at the two universities are worried that student unrest could soon disrupt courses.

Students are demanding an increase in meal allowances because of inflation and a gap between the World Bank-imposed fees and what the government pays each student for meals. Student leader Christopher Mapani said tension was building at Copperbelt, where cafeteria prices have rocketed to 7,500 kwacha a day.

Wachira Kigotho Lusaka

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