By Kelvin Chiringa and Ndapewoshali Shapwanale
Deputy finance minister Natangwe Ithete has advised the higher education ministry to cut funding for certain “non-priority” projects in order to save monies to pay for the 12 000 students that can no longer be assisted by the Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF).
Exclusively talking to The Patriot, Ithete said the only money treasury has at the moment are contingent funds that cannot be deducted unless for life-threatening emergencies.
NSFAF has dumped thousands of first year university students due to a N$641 million budgetary shortfall.
What this means is that of the 15 087 who qualified for NSFAF monies, only a paltry 2 925 (-20%) will be catered for. “The entire money of the country, we have already divided among all the ministries. When we do the budgeting, we do not leave any money behind unbudgeted for. The only money that we leave behind is money that we call contingency funds meant for emergencies. We can’t just touch it. The only advice I can give is to look within already allocated funds that we have allocated to the ministry of higher education to see if there is room maybe to cut other projects. These are our future people, future leaders and we can’t do without our students,” said Ithete.
We’re not embarrassing Geingob; Nanso
Meanwhile, sources close to the NSFAF issues has told this publication that the students were playing second fiddle to forces who were bent on embarrassing Geingob as the election year thickens out. However, NANSO spokesperson, Matheus Taapopi rubbished the allegation as baseless.
“I know who you are talking about and we know what they are talking about,” he hit back.
Geingob has held a high-level meeting with the student leadership led by Ester Simon and Taapopi where he posed some curious questions demanding to know whether all the students were poor.
Geingob’s questions suggested a President wary of the financial predicament his government finds itself in and has resorted to begging for voluntary 2% salary deductions from ordinary citizens and high-level political office bearers.
Taapopi has however told The Patriot that a lot of people “including the presidency were challenged in terms of grasping the issues” that they are raising.
“A lot of people have no understanding of the national question on free education. Whenever we engage and perhaps give them superior logic, we come back to say so these are the issues. A lot of people will begin to understand why the organisation takes this policy.”
So I think as an organization, we also didn’t bring the proper political education in terms of what are the issues and what are the challenges. We didn’t communicate that properly to the President,” he said in response to Geingob’s query on the social standing of the students NSFAF was bailing.The demo itself dubbed a “Students National Shutdown” and also directed at the ministry of higher education and innovation was supported by students from the three major tertiary institutions, University of Namibia (UNAM), Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) and the International University of Management (IUM) as well as an array of smaller colleges.
NSFAF marooned in financial straits
However, NSFAF seems not pleased by the students’ street protest saying they never formally communicated to them prior the demo.
“Probably this is their way of engagement by protest because we did not have a formal discussion with them but that’s from NANSO. Probably we will hear from them through their petition,” NSFAF chief human capital Olavi Hamwele said minutes before the students converged at their offices this week Wednesday.
The situation is so dire for NSFAF that a mere demo may not change anything in their stance to withdraw funding for many students.
Only a governmental eleventh-hour intervention could change things, he told The Patriot.
“Not really for us, I mean as an institution we have a budget and what we have communicated remains that; that this is the budget that we have and this is the (number) of students that we can accommodate given the resources that we have at our disposal.” “So if there is anything that could be done probably what could be coming from the government’s side if treasury says well we can avail some money maybe then we can expect change. From our current financial position, we won’t be able to do otherwise,” said Hamwele.
Kandjii-Murangi must resign
The students have also called for the resignation of Minister of Higher Education Itah Kandji-Murangi, saying she is of no use to the betterment of education.
“The Minister of Higher Education must resign as she is causing more harm to students and bringing division among student leaders,” the students demanded.
Around 300 students marched from the Namibia University of Science and Technology in Windhoek West to the new controversial NSFAF headquarters in Windhoek.
The students feel that it is impossible for the institution to not have the money to fund the students who need assistance, if they recently moved into the brand new NSFAF headquarters.
They have termed it “The palace” and are angry that suspended CEO Hilya Nghiwete is still being paid her salary in the face corruption accusations and investigations.
A senior official within NSFAF told The Patriot that he “absolutely understood” the students’ frustrations and that it makes no logical sense for them to be occupying such a huge building. “If it was up to me, I would have us auction off this building and solve the shortfall problem,” the official said. A student, Anakleta Johannes told The Patriot that the Government made a mistake from the onset when they decided to have NSFAF as an independent body.
“Why do you need a building the size of a university for the administration of money? Why can they not just have people housed at Government Park; what is wrong with that?” the student questioned.
Businessman and activist supporter Michael Amushelelo took the opportunity of the gathered students to address on how Government was failing them. “These people do not care about us. Our mothers wake up early in the morning to go sell kapana and these are the same people who come and throw out our mothers’ kapana. We need to start asking if these people are really for us,” Amushelelo said.
• NANSO budget allocation of N$ 500 000, for 2019, from the Ministry of Higher Education be diverted to fund the 12000 Students.
• Release list 12 000 list of students that have been dropped.
• Pay all outstanding tuitions and non-tuitions fees dated back 2017, before the 15th June 2019.
• Remove and replace the current NSFAF board.
• All fishing quotas rights and mining companies contribute 5% of their profits to students funding.
• NSFAF should absorb them all previously disadvantaged students that the office of the Vice President can allegedly not fund.