Thwarting students’ demo won’t help
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)