What is happening is a paradox. Those of us who benefited from university education that was almost free are at the forefront arguing that the fees in the university are too little, that students must pay more.
Then I look at myself. Without the assistance I got from the government, I wouldn’t be here today to write this. In our time, the fees were K1,500 per year. Since they gave us back K1,400 as book allowance, you could opt for foregoing the K1,400 and pay only K100.
I admit that times have changed, that students must now contribute to their own studies. But there must be a way out of this.
The issue is not that students must not pay fees, or that the fees must not be raised, but that no child must be left behind.
Currently, we have the Higher Education Students Loans and Grants Board (HESLGB), headed by Chris Chisoni. But the institution is underfunded, and can only accept 4,662 applications. This year, there were 7,000 needy students. Chisoni had to write President Mutharika for policy advice, and only then did Mutharika use his discretion to authorize that the remaining students should also be assisted.
From this, we can see that the fund is too small and that there is a policy gap. We cannot always be depending on the president’s discretionary powers. We need to strengthen this board, to give it more money and to make sure that it caters for all needy students.
With our levels of poverty out there, K400,000 is far too much for most parents to afford. I have seen students fail to afford shoes, so how could they afford to pay K400,000?
The loan system has been underway for a while, but it has been quite disorganized. Mzati Nkolokosa recently wrote a detailed account on his Facebook wall of how he struggled to pay back his loan. Various offices kept sending him back and forth, like ping-pong. Nobody seemed to know which office was responsible for student loan recoveries!
Let’s hope that with the HESLGB, the collection will now be more systematic.
Don’t tell me there is no money to cater for all the needy students. We, after all, borrow billions of kwacha from China and India to build useless stadiums and hotels and to steal the remainder. Now our president is even talking about borrowing more money to build a shopping mall in Zomba. We could invest in university education instead. What’s the point in building lots of universities if two-thirds of eligible students won’t afford to go there?
Students, on the other hand, need to understand that we are a poor nation, that we cannot stagnate at free education, that all over the world now, with the exception of Denmark, Germany, Finland, North Korea,Norway and Sweden, university education is not for free. So the wise thing is to fight for loan opportunities, and to honour those loans.
We truly need to strengthen this HESLGB. Government must give it the funds it needs.
Otherwise, this circus of raising fees, student protests, raising fees once again then more protests will continue ad infinitum.
Malawi Police, please behave
The video that has done the rounds this week is sickening. Two police officers are seen harassing and intimidating two girls, hitting them and forcing them to sit down. The hapless girls were not fighting with the police, but that did not stop the two brutes from intimidating them. Is that law and order? Is that what police training schools teach these days?
The Inspector-General must be ashamed of his staff. If the two girls had been belligerent it would have been understandable. But no, they were meek and innocent-looking girls, far removed from the ongoing mayhem.
Those two policemen need to be disciplined. Dismissal would be the most sensible solution. They are not fit to be entrusted with the protection of citizens of this republic. They are thugs who do not deserve our respect, and are using their uniform as a licence to terrorise Malawians.
We have heard of police engaged in armed robbery, and those are the types.
Do something about it, Mr Inspector-General.
O, how the mighty have fallen
In February 2012, Ralph Kasambara was arrested after five men allegedly showed up at his office with petrol bombs. Kasambara and his colleagues are said to have overpowered and apprehended the culprits. When the police arrested him, the public rose like one to defend him. On social media his fans started a Free Kasambara campaign. International bodies such as Amnesty International and the Pan African Lawyers Union spoke in his defence. He was released within days.
Then came 21 July, 2016. Kasambara, who was on trial for the attempted murder of former Budget Director Paul Mphwiyo, faced Judgment Day. The judge found him guilty of conspiring with two others to commit a murder. The judge has not sentenced him yet, but the Penal Code says this offence carries 14 years imprisonment with hard labour. Kasambara, wearing a blue suit and white shirt, refused to be handcuffed. The police walked him to the van regardless. He made as though to pass his phone to his brother; but before handing it over, he called his wife, who was by now behind him. He asked the weeping wife to look after the children.
When he reached the van, he made a quick address to the press, a speech that lasted no more than 30 seconds. “This is a miscarriage of justice,” he declared. “The judge was compromised.” He concluded his brief speech with “We shall overcome,” words he borrowed from Martin Luther King, America’s civil rights icon. King, it bears pointing out, used this refrain to fight for the entire black American population. Kasambara used the words to fight for himself.
On social media it has been quiet. The few that tried to speak did so in parables. How things change!
He is one of the most brilliant legal minds of our time, who served as human rights activist, prominent lawyer and Attorney-General. What has gone wrong? In all probability he will appeal. And it’s possible that the appeal will succeed. But then, again, maybe it will fail. Nobody knows, really. The future, after all, is a mystery to all of us.