Financial irregularities and discrepancies in administering the bursary schemes at the University of Zambia (UNZA) and the Copperbelt University (CBU) has left the Parliamentary Accounts Committee raising eyebrows at the ministry of Higher Education.
In 2017 the Higher Education Loans Board paid K2, 581, 975 on, accommodation refunds to 1,980 UNZA students, who were accommodated at the Great East Road campus and by August 31, this year, the erroneously paid money had not been recovered.
Additionally, meal allowances of K19,503,068 were paid to 3,864 UNZA students, who did not appear on the list of students on university invoices, a situation which made it difficult to ascertain whether the intended students had been paid.
Higher Education Permanent Secretary Mabvuto Sakala yesterday appeared before the Committee to answer the audit queries reflecting in the 2017 Auditor's General's Report.
Patriotic Front Milenge lawmaker, Mwansa Mbulakulima, a member of PAC stated, "we are shocked. The string of irregularities and discrepancies, suggests this can explain the cause of unrest at the two universities. It demonstrates that this had been the source of confusion and demos at the universities. To me, really, it's a national disaster which needs concerted efforts; no need to lose tempers, that's why I sympathise with you".
He described the situation as total confusion and recommended that the ministry of Higher Education considered engaging Smart Zambia to help address challenges faced in administration of the student loan scheme.
United Party for National Development (UPND's) Solwezi West MP Teddy Kasonso described the bursary scheme management process as 'chaotic'.
"There are so many discrepancies. The system has totally failed; no wonder we keep having riots... Ministry of Higher Education should get the figures right. When is this chaos in accounting for students going to end?" Mr Kasonso said.
In response, Mr Sakala said the discrepancies had resulted from lack of integration among the Loans Board, UNZA and CBU, assuring that a committee had been instituted which would help Government strengthen technical capacity in bursaries administration.
PAC chairperson Muchinga Constituency MP asked Mr Sakala whether it was logical for systems to collapse when officers were changed.
"Chair, no. It was just a lapse during the transition; this is because the student finance management system is not interfaced with CBU and UNZA. Corrective measures are being taken to prevent future irregularities," Mr Sakala said.
Mr Kunda expressed concern at escalating financial irregularities at the ministry of Higher Education, which stood at 97 per cent of the raised audit queries, stressing this was unacceptable because that the ministry was responsible for producing manpower which was vital to driving development.
He emphasised that the responsible ministry should set an example in the prudent financial resource management, because Zambia's future depended but Mr Sakala was given up to Friday to present to PAC a comprehensive report on planned measures to curb financial irregularities.