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Students can think and act independently

by Lesotho Times
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Your home of growing up and learning
How did it come to this?
That basic rights have become objects of our yearning
Freedom of expression and others we surely miss
One brutally taken away from us
In protest against a bureaucratic fuss

THE death of a student at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) at the hands of the police on the night of 22 October 2009 was truly dreadful.
We welcome the fact that the NUL senate has ordered the establishment of a commission to investigate the matter.
It is worrying that accounts of students’ misdemeanours by those who have access to government-controlled media have bordered on hyperbole.
Most worrying of all has been the Minister of Education Dr ‘Mamphono Khaketla’s pitiful conspiracy theory.
Since the government has not come out to put her to order, we have to assume that her pronouncement was the government’s position.
It is a position that shows the minister’s contempt towards students’ ability to think and act independently.
It also reflects her insensitivity to the plight of students. This is regrettable.
When things go wrong, we need to self-examine and convince ourselves that our systems function well before blaming external forces of evil.
The suspended vice-chancellor, Professor Adelani Ogunrinade, must be wondering why he did not come to NUL earlier, why he bothered with “troublesome” universities like Wits where officials are expected to work and follow the rules, and sanctioned timely if they do not do so.
He is probably thinking he should have come earlier to this place where it takes over a year to carry out an administrative decision like suspending an official who is suspected of financial impropriety — where, while proceedings to suspend him are afoot, he continues to have unfettered access to the kitty and the records.
 The manner of his suspension must have also convinced him that there is no need for him to work in order to enjoy his benefits.
Despite being on suspension and therefore not working, he continues to use his official car and to enjoy other benefits at the university’s expense.
We have now learnt that recently the university paid M23 636 and M20 318 on his cell-phone bills between the 1st of August and 30th of September.
The obvious suggestion here is that we are paying amounts such as these for his private calls and to support his lavish lifestyle.
In their make-up, universities are inherently internationalist. They are places where narrow nationalism should be eschewed at all costs.
NUL and the country in general have done well on this score, and we have benefited from this internationalism on many fronts.
Having said all this, experiences such as we have had with the vice-chancellor sometimes force one into the temptation of pondering the question: just what sort of people has the vice-chancellor concluded Basotho are?
To be sure, the amounts of the vice-chancellor’s cellphone bills raise serious questions about amounts of public monies that are spent to support lifestyles of CEOs and the ruling elite in this country.
However, they are much more serious at NUL where bureaucrats and politicians have at different times threatened to stop public financial support because of the university’s failure to account.
Admittedly this threat has not been made in proper official forums, following the proper channels of communication between NUL and the government.
I have seen only a statement from the government website quoting a government official as having said the government was considering financial cuts against NUL.
Government concerns about NUL’s serial and well-established failure to account for expenditure of public funds are well placed.
It exasperates all of us.
However, the solution is not to withdraw subvention.
In the view of many of us, there is a clear chain of command regarding the university’s fiduciary responsibility.
Roughly, it starts with the bursar who must account to the vice-chancellor, who must account to the university council, who must account to the minister, who must account to parliament.
These are the individuals and committees that must be held responsible.
For the government to cut, or withdraw, subvention from NUL is to penalise the institution for the government’s own failure to exercise its fiduciary oversight powers. 
Quite apart from the fact that the ministries of education and finance are represented in the NUL council, at least two ministers in our current cabinet were very key members of council not a very long time ago.
Both of them were quite familiar with the problems of the university’s finance department, and council requested one of them to help restructure the department with a view to improve its ability to account for the subvention.
This is the work that needs to be done. 

 Motlatsi Thabane is a lecturer at the National University of Lesotho. He writes in his personal capacity.

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