Thwart­ing stu­dents’ demo won’t help

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A UNIVER­SITY is uni­ver­sally re­garded as a theatre of higher learn­ing and re­search in any coun­try. It is an in­sti­tu­tion that seeks to hone fu­ture lead­ers in all spheres of both pri­vate and pub­lic life. Fu­ture lead­ers are moulded at such an in­sti­tu­tion.

In striv­ing to achieve these ob­jec­tives, gov­ern­ments, through prin­ci­pal and sub­sidiary leg­is­la­tions and other in­ter­ven­tions strive to pro­mote free­dom of thought and learn­ing as well ex­pres­sion at all uni­ver­si­ties. That is why uni­ver­si­ties are uni­ver­sally re­garded as au­ton­o­mous in­sti­tu­tions though this au­ton­omy is not ab­so­lute. This au­ton­omy is sub­ject to a num­ber of re­stric­tions so that it does ex­ist to the detri­ment of cer­tain so­ci­etal stan­dards, ex­pec­ta­tions, morals and ethos.

All self-re­spect­ing and demo­cratic gov­ern­ments jeal­ously pro­mote and pro­tect these stan­dards. Any act by gov­ern­ments that seek to thwart these stan­dards and ex­pec­ta­tions with­out jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, are there­fore uni­ver­sally frowned upon.

In the past few days, there emerged some very dis­turb­ing re­ports of bat­tles be­tween the po­lice and stu­dents of the Na­tional Univer­sity of Le­sotho (NUL) as the lat­ter were on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, try­ing to travel from cam­pus, to en­quire from the Na­tional Man­power De­vel­op­ment Sec­re­tar­iat (NMDS) about the in­or­di­nate de­lay in de­posit­ing their stipends into their (stu­dents’) bank ac­counts,

This de­lay by the NMDS to ex­pe­dite the de­posit­ing of al­lowances into stu­dents’ ac­counts in­evitably im­pacts neg­a­tively on NUL stu­dents, in terms of aca­demic ma­te­ri­als, meals and ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Be­cause govern­ment got wind of the fact that the stu­dents were plan­ning to head to the NMDS in Maseru to de­mand their stipends, which were now more than a month over­due, it dis­patched a heav­ily armed po­lice con­tin­gent to in­ter­cept the stu­dents, en route to Maseru. In the en­su­ing melee a num­ber of stu­dents were re­port­edly in­jured.

In the wake of the dis­rup­tion of lec­tures by stu­dents, the NUL au­thor­i­ties have is­sued a state­ment dis­tanc­ing the univer­sity’s man­age­ment from the protests declar­ing: “The pub­lic should know that the stu­dents’ ef­forts to visit NMDS….. we have made it clear to the SRC that should any lec­tur­ers be dis­rupted by stu­dents, the SRC will be held re­spon­si­ble”.

“The pub­lic must also ap­pre­ci­ate that the un­rea­son­ably long drawn pro­cesses at NMDS of set­tling stu­dents’ al­lowances in in­flict­ing suf­fer­ing to stu­dents. We re­gret that this de­lay goes way beyond stan­dard prac­tice and the pro­to­col cur­rently in place. We urge NMDS to ex­pe­dite its pro­cesses and to ful­fil its con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions with stu­dents for the sake of a con­ducive learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment”. (Le­sotho Times, 8 Septem­ber 2016) un­der the head­ing: “Chaos at NUL”.

With this fac­tual back­ground, I will at­tempt to ad­vance my rea­soned ar­gu­ment that govern­ment is wrong to want to thwart the le­git­i­mate ef­forts of stu­dents to visit NMDS and en­quire about the in­or­di­nate de­lay in pay­ing their stipends. A fac­tor that un­for­tu­nately is in­flict­ing suf­fer­ing to stu­dent. I do not for now, want to dwell on the le­gal­ity of ei­ther the stu­dent’ planned visit or the po­lice’s in­ter­cep­tion. That topic be­longs to an­other day and ex­pert opin­ion on the sub­ject.

At the out­set it has to be noted that it has been the umpteenth year, bar­ring 2014, that suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments, read NMDS ad­min­is­tra­tions have failed to pay the stu­dents’ stipends on time. This has al­ways ev­ery year led to stu­dents hav­ing to dis­rupt and in ex­treme cases, boy­cott lec­tures. This to the detri­ment of not only stu­dents and lec­tur­ers but to the en­tire coun­try. This is also un­for­tu­nate be­cause since the po­lice are at the coal­face of and are pri­mar­ily charged with the preser­va­tion of law and or­der, they have in­vari­ably been called upon to in­ter­vene in sit­u­a­tions where, if cir­cum­stances per­mit­ted, they could be the wiser not to be em- broiled in. Un­for­tu­nately, the po­lice ser­vice is an in­sti­tu­tion of govern­ment and ought to, by law and con­ven­tion, be loyal to the govern­ment of the day. Any­thing to the con­trary is il­le­gal and un­ac­cept­able.

The chaos that reigns at NUL and has been in ex­is­tence in the past years, is en­tirely to be blamed on the cur­rent and pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments.

NUL is the only and old­est aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion of its kind in our im­pov­er­ished coun­try yet suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments, sec­re­tar­iat, seem in­ca­pable or rather un­will­ing to ad­dress this fes­ter­ing and in­sid­i­ous prob­lem.

What is even worse is that even though this em­bar­rass­ing prob­lem al­ways and firstly, man­i­fests it­self at NUL, it is a prob­lem that per­me­ates the en­tire fab­ric across the whole spec­trum of the coun­try’s ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions. Watch my words! It is a prob­lem that has a domino ef­fect on the other ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions in Le­sotho and it wor­ry­ingly also af­fects Ba­sotho stu­dents, abroad, no­tably in South Africa and other neigh­bour­ing African coun­tries.

One would nat­u­rally ex­pect the NMDS, as its name and man­date sug­gest, would pro­vide this poor coun­try with a seam­less and har­mo­nious skilled man­power de­vel­op­ment strat­egy and pool.

That NMDS ap­pears un­able or un- will­ing to tackle this age-old prob­lem is in­deed wor­ry­ing and detri­men­tal to the en­tire ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion foun­da­tion of this na­tion.

To demon­strate a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple, why are all the other de­part­ments and min­istries of govern­ment able to bud­get for a fi­nan­cial year in ad­vance yet the NMDS, a sim­i­lar govern­ment depart­ment, is un­able or un­will­ing to plan for the bud­getary Na­tional Man­power train­ing needs of Le­sotho in terms of fi­nances and re­quire­ments. If this does not smack of in­com­pe­tence then to be bru­tally frank, it smacks of a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to de­rail the aca­demic needs of the stu­dents and also to set-up the ter­tiary stu­dents on a per­ma­nent un­wanted col­li­sion path with suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments.

It is a fact that nowa­days all suc­cess­ful in­sti­tu­tions, or­ga­ni­za­tions and min­istries, as well as en­ti­ties op­er­ate on what are ap­pro­pri­ately called strate­gic plans that run for any­thing be­tween three and five years.

In the event of not re­al­iz­ing their vi­sion, ob­jec­tives, tar­gets, mis­sion state­ments and tar­gets within given time­frames and by whom and how, the ma­jor role play­ers en­gage in­de­pen­dent ex­perts to tai­lor their re­spec­tive strate­gic plans in such a way that they dis­charge their man­dates ef­fi­ciently.

It is un­think­able to im­age the NMDS does not have both the bud­getary frame­work and strate­gic plan in place to dis­charge its man­date. If the NMDS is op­er­at­ing with­out one or both of these, I dare say it is ab­so­lutely crim­i­nal. It calls for ur­gent in­ter­ven­tion from both the par­ent min­istry and govern­ment to ad­dress this un­for­tu­nate sce­nario.

The fact that suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have let the NMDS get away un­pun­ished with this in­com­pe­tence and ob­vi­ous ne­glect of duty that goes to the bot­tom of putting our fu­ture lead­ers’ ca­reers in dan­ger smacks of com­plic­ity if not out­right ac­tive en­cour­age­ment of ne­glect of duty.

The NMDS like all in­sti­tu­tions of and de­part­ments of govern­ment that are funded by the tax­payer ought to be trans­par­ent and crit­i­cally, ac­count­able for all its ac­tions and fail­ures. Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have in the past al­lowed the NMDS to put the ed­u­ca­tional ca­reers of our fu­ture lead­ers in jeop­ardy with no re­crim­i­na­tions in place. There is ab­so­lutely no ac­count­abil­ity in the dis­burse­ment of pub­lic funds.

By dis­patch­ing heav­ily armed po­lice to in­ter­cept and re­port­edly as­sault the stu­dents en route to en­quire about their stipends is not and never will be a so­lu­tion to this in­sid­i­ous can­cer of in­ep­ti­tude that af­flicts our govern­ment agen­cies and de­part­ments.

It is the in­alien­able right of as­pir­ing pro­fes­sional youth to get ed­u­ca­tion of the high­est qual­ity at the best in­sti­tu­tion at the tax­pay­ers’ ex­pense. This is more so be­cause most if not all, these stu­dents will re-pay back to the state.

By un­leash­ing heav­ily armed po­lice on the stu­dents does not solve the prob­lem. If any­thing it is counter-pro­duc­tive and in­dica­tive of a state that is bereft of ideas on how to tackle is­sues of na­tional im­por­tance. It is symp­to­matic of a govern­ment that is at war not only with its peo­ple but also its youth.

The govern­ment has to at­tach im­por­tance to the ed­u­ca­tion of all stu­dents by steer­ing a sec­re­tar­iat that is re­spon­sive to the skilled man­power needs of Le­sotho in a sus­tain­able man­ner.

On 8 Septem­ber, the world cel­e­brated In­ter­na­tional Lit­er­acy Day and in em­pha­siz­ing the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion as a hu­man right the Baha’i Univer­sal House of Jus­tice said: “The cause of univer­sal ed­u­ca­tion … de­serves the ut­most sup­port that the gov­ern­ments of the world can lend”.

“For ig­no­rance is in­dis­putably the prin­ci­pal rea­son for the de­cline and fall of peo­ples and the per­pet­u­a­tion of prej­u­dice. No na­tion can achieve suc­cess un­less ed­u­ca­tion is ac­corded all its cit­i­zens” ( Sun­day Ex­press, 11 Septem­ber, 2016)

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