MASERU — The National University of Lesotho (NUL) says it is too broke to afford the salaries lecturers and researchers are demanding.
Lesotho University Teachers and Researchers Union (Lutaru) went on strike on October 7 demanding a 15 percent wage increase and a review to narrow the earnings gap between the lecturers and associate professors.
When the non-academic staff joined the strike on Wednesday management decided to “indefinitely” close the university.
Professor Mafa Sejanamane, the university’s pro-Vice Chancellor responsible for academic affairs, told the Sunday express on Friday that there is no way the university can afford to increase the salaries.
“Even if we wanted to increase their salaries there is no way we will be able to raise that kind of money,” Sejanamane said.
“We just don’t have that kind of money. The university is in a serious financial crisis.”
He said a 15 percent salary increase for lecturers and researchers would add a massive M30 million to the wage bill which is already bloated.
Currently, just over 82 percent of the university’s grant from government goes towards staff salaries and benefits. A salary increase, Sejanamane said, will add to that “unsustainable burden”.
He explained that if the university is forced to narrow the salary gap between lecturers and associate professors it would have to fork out an extra M100 million, money he said is “just not there”.
“The reality is that the university is broke and the figures speak for themselves.”
He added that the university had a M5 million budget deficit for the financial year ended June 30, 2011.
For the current financial year the university is forecasting the budget deficit to balloon to a whopping M50 million, he said.
“Last year the government gave us about M3 million to fund the seven percent salary increase the lecturers were demanding. But is it important to note that that money was not added to the current budget.
“So the university keeps sinking into debt because that increase has to be funded from somewhere.”
He said it was unfortunate that Lutaru does not understand that the institution is in a serious financial crisis. “We do not understand why that message has not yet reached the union.”
Sejanamane believes that the lecturers’ strike and that of the non-academic staff is part of an effort to frustrate the restructuring exercise that started in June.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Sharon Siverts highlighted the university’s precarious financial position in a letter she wrote to staff on August 9.
In that letter Siverts revealed that unless they implement immediate austerity measures the university will not be able to continue funding its operations.
“In this financial year, 2011-2012, personnel and related costs, without provision for any salary increase, are expected to exceed the projected revenue, leaving no resource at all to fund other university operations,” Siverts warned.
“This leaves the university in a very difficult financial situation that will need to be monitored closely, including turning down many worthwhile requests.”
Siverts said the university currently owes M18 million to the Lesotho Revenue Authority in the form of fringe benefit tax.
That debt is due this year, she said.
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