The standoff between university lecturers and administration over outstanding payments is a very sad development which should not have been allowed to occur.
Both sides stand to blame because the current impasse will affect innocent people who have no hand to play in the matter and yet their studies and future occupational prospects will be needlessly affected.
In the first instance the colossal amount of more than K320 million has been accumulated over a long period of more than 2 decades during which time feeble efforts were made to rectify the situation – for the understandable reason that our university unlike others does not generate its own income from research and consultancy but instead solely depends on grants from the government.
Invariably these grants are affected by the prevailing economic climate in the country and the various demands made on the treasury by some immediate competing demands.
Whereas the government appreciates the urgency of personal emoluments, other exigencies especially on social delivery in health education and development sometimes overweigh prioritization.
Even if the huge debt overhang is resolved in one installment, which is not possible, there is no doubt that an accumulated figure will confront the two parties within the next ten years.
Given the scale, expanse and diversity of professions at the University of Zambia it is imperative that more creative approaches must be considered to supplement institutional revenue. Depending on the treasury is neither sustainable, justifiable nor indeed feasible.
The situation this year will be compounded by other demands on the treasury including funding for grain procurement, import of electricity and sustenance of ongoing projects.
Given that there has been a downward prognosis in development government revenue will be equally negatively affected but fortunately the lecturers are not asking for the full amount of what is owed to them but rather for an assurance and a road map that this amount will be liquidated.
In the circumstances we hope that the two sides will reach an amicable settlement that will not jeopardize the futures of thousands of students whose future are dependant on the results which lecturers are withholding.
It is gratifying that the medical school has released results because this is one area that is critical to the health and social well being of the country.
Had results been withheld we would have had fewer doctors against growing national demand.
This is not to underrate or underestimate the value of the other schools and of post graduate students pursuing higher academic programmes.
There is an urgent need to balance between the needs of our lecturers and those of the large number of students that will suffer delays and perhaps miss future prospects because their results have been withheld on account of the failure by government to honour debt obligations.
Our appeal is for both sides to exercise maximum tolerance understanding and compromise.
To blame the minister of education, Dr. Michael Kaingu, is not quite fair because he is one among many other cabinet ministers presenting demands to the treasury.
He undoubtedly appreciates the urgency of the matter and the value of the lecturers to national development but at the same time his case must be considered against the issue presented by Minister of Energy Yaluma who must buy power to drive national development.
Their two demands must be considered against the demands by the Minister of Health who needs money to purchase medicines and medical equipment to keep the nation healthy.
All these demands are priority and yet Zambia today is vulnerable to events on the global economy which is suffering from the shock of Chinese economic collapse which has also culminated in the collapse of commodity prices including copper.
Emerging markets across the world are in the throes of economic struggle and such countries as Brazil have slid into recession. Greece is battling for survival and many other countries including South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana on the continent have suffered currency deterioration with prospects of negative growth.
There is no quick panacea to these realities and all must be mindful in their demands and in what they offer.
It will be futile for lecturers to demand huge amounts and equally futile for honourable Kaingu to offer them when he knows that the economy cannot sustain such shocks.
Compromise is the answer.