ACTION Aid Zambia country director Nalucha Nganga Ziba says higher education minister Professor Nkandu Luo has abrogated the law in abolishing meal allowances.
In a statement, Ziba noted that meal allowances were a legal entitlement to students.
"The government, through the Minister of Higher Education Professor Nkandu Luo, has confirmed that all new students in higher learning institutions will now not receive meal allowances. According to Prof Luo, the government wants parents or guardians of these students on bursaries to provide the needed meal allowances. However, meal allowances are a legal entitlement according to Section 24 (1) (b) to (c) of the higher education loans and a scholarship Act number 31 of 2016 which state that; '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 a living allowance in the prescribed amount per academic year," Ziba stated.
"A meal allowance is therefore captured within a living allowance in the prescribed amount per academic year as per Section 24 (1) (c) of the said Act. Therefore, the Minister and the Higher Education Board have no power to abolish provisions of the meal allowances for public universities. Although Section 37 (1) of the said Act empowers the Minister, by statutory instrument, to make regulations for implementation of the provisions of the Act, 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 as the extent to which those regulations may be spelt out under Section 37 (2) of the Act."
Ziba stated that abolishing allowances was not among the functions of the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships board.
"The statutory instrument the Minister is empowered to make is for purpose of enhancing the provisions of the Act and not to abolish anything the parent Act has already made provision for. In this case, abolishing allowances prescribed by or under the Act is not among those functions of the Higher Education Loans and Scholarships Board spelt out in Section 5 of the Act spells," she stated.
"ActionAid Zambia therefore joins students countrywide in condemning the decision of the Minister of Higher Education to end the provision of a living allowance to students. We consider such an action as a desire by the Minister and the administration to punish students from poor families, now and in future, who depend on the allowance in their pursuit of higher education. With this action, most students from poor families will fail to sustain their lives while pursuing an education, which is a fundamental human right. This will force many of them to divide their limited time between studying and looking for survival mechanisms. This sad reality will, in the end, put the lives of the young people at risk, especially young women who are the most vulnerable," stated Ziba.