MASERU – THE government is struggling to pay a staggering M350 million in tuition for tertiary students on state bursaries in local colleges and universities.
About 80 percent of students in tertiary institutions are sponsored by the state.
The government has been battling to clear the debt since last year.
Some institutions are now struggling to pay salaries and other operations expenses. Others have resorted to withholding students’ results to force the government to clear the arrears.
The National University of Lesotho (NUL), which is owed M51 million, has told students they will not get their results until the government pays. Selibe Mochoboroane, the Minister of Development Planning, has confirmed the M350 million debt most of which he said is owed to NUL.
The NUL Student Representative Council (SRC) President, Reatlehile Makateng, said students are stranded after the university refused to release their results.
“The previous academic year was completed without any payment. Our contract with the school is simple, failure to pay fees means results will not be published and, unfortunately, most of us are sponsored,” Makateng said.
He said those who have graduated are unable to apply for jobs because they don’t have their transcripts. Those who want to pursue postgraduate courses are also stranded.
“We have been here before and out of pity, the university released results, afterwards, the government never bothered to pay and it was a bad debt written off. The council ordered them to avoid this in future,” he said.
Liteboho Maqalika-Lerotholi, the NUL Registrar, said the decision to withhold results is not meant to punish students. Maqalika-Lerotholi said the university’s regulations are that students should pay at least 40 percent of their tuition before registration.
She said the university has however made an exception for government students because of the good relationship with the NMDS. “They always pay soon after the registration and the first payment often covers more than 50 percent of the tuition,” Maqalika-Lerotholi said.
“This time there has been a very long delay that has severely affected our operations. It is important to understand that 80 percent of our students are sponsored by the government.”
“When the government doesn’t pay, the results are the only thing we can hold on to. And that’s as per our regulations,” she said.
The Lerotholi Polytechnic Registrar, Maleshoane Lepota, confirmed that the NMDS owes but declined to disclose figures.
Lepota said the government has made a payment but there is still a substantial balance.
“It is not a problem unique to this year. However, because of Covid, the entire world is under strain financially, and this could be another dimension to the problem this year,” Lepota said.
“The polytechnic has continually kept communication channels open, and the same has been done on the side of NMDS, they have kept in constant communication and made us aware that there may be delays with regard to completing payment.”
“Our relationship has been managed through communication despite these challenges.”
She however said the delay has severely affected the college’s cash flow.
“Our main source of income is student fees as well as subvention and consequently our operational plans are based on those sources of income and if there are payment delays, the operations are affected negatively.”
The Finance and Procurement Officer at the Centre for Accounting Studies (CAS), ’Makatleho Lephallo, said financial matters between the institution and the NMDS were confidential. “We don’t need any intervention from outside,” Lephallo said.
The NMDS spokesman, Moeketsi Rankhone, said M50 million of the M100 million owed to NUL was paid two weeks ago. Rankhone said the university has promised to release the results.
“All higher learning institutions are owed but we are in the process of settling the debts. For NUL, we are still in talks,” he said, adding that the government has a financial crisis.
Mochoboroane said the financial crisis is so serious that the government has stopped allocating funds quarterly. He said the money is now released monthly and the ministry has to share it among the schools.
“We had to prioritise students’ allowances over tuition,” Mochoboroane said.
“It’s not like we don’t want to pay but there is a serious financial crisis and it’s not avoidable.”
“We are hoping to finish off the debts by this month so that we will be able to deal with the new intake.”
The Ministry of Finance’s Accountant General, ’Malehlohonolo Mahase, confirmed the cash flow crisis.
“Because of Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions, tax collection has been very slow,” Mahase said.
She however said they expect to pay M100 million this week and another M50 million next week.
“Afterwards, we will start processing that of August intake,” she said.