Windhoek-The Namibia Financial Student Assistance Fund (NSFAF) yesterday promised to release more than N$200 million to pay outstanding student loan fees, following a mass demonstration by aggrieved students on Wednesday.
NSFAF has been criticised for taking on more students than its budget allocation from Treasury enables it to do. So yesterday’s pledge flies in the face of what Treasury said was an “overcommitment of the budget” on the part of NSFAF, which is said to be unlawful.
NSFAF has a list of some 18,000 students who applied for funding, but Treasury says that is 5,000 more than the number of students budgeted for in the current financial year.
The Ministry of Finance reported that the higher education ministry, under whose auspices NSFAF falls, had for the current financial year put in a budget request of N$962.3 million to fund student tuition fees. As of the end of this week, the finance ministry said, NSFAF had already received 98.4 percent of its budget allocation.
“The number of beneficiaries unbudgeted for and other obligations bring the total forecast annual spending obligations for NSFAF to about N$1.3 billion, which is N$337.5 million more than the budget for the year,” Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein said on Wednesday.
“The Ministry of Finance wishes to categorically state that overcommitment of the budget is unlawful. Overcommitment of the budget is, indeed, not synonymous with budget shortfall,” Schlettwein said, urging government ministries and agencies to ensure that spending commitments are within the allocated budget and overcommitment is avoided.
Schlettwein however said that Treasury would strengthen NSFAF’s budget allocation during the upcoming mid-year budget review in the first week of November.
The students, under the leadership of the Namibia National Students Organisation (Nanso), had this week vowed to shut down all NSFAF offices countrywide if their demands were not met. After a brief demonstration on Wednesday, the student leaders and NSFAF executives met on Thursday to work out an agreement.
NSFAF had said that since April it had received only a fraction of the amount it requested from Treasury.
In April, NSFAF only received N$70 million when it requested N$346 million. In May it received N$78 million when it requested N$103 million; in June it received N$70.15 million when it requested N$441.4 million. It got N$113 million when it requested N$480.4 million in August, and in September it only received N$43.5 million when it had requested N$465.4 million.
Schlettwein had shot back, saying the higher education ministry only requested the release of money based on the allocated budget. He said the last request from the ministry was for N$300 million in October, which included the payments to NSFAF.
NSFAF agreed to give in to the students’ demands and release N$295 million over a period of five days, of which N$195 million is to settle students’ tuition fees and N$100 million for non-tuition fees. The funds are set to be released between October 23 and 27.
Other issues that NSFAF has agreed to take up include the release of all award letters to the affected students before October 27, and to provide a list of 800 pending awards to institutions of higher learning by no later than October 20.
Nanso chairperson for Khomas Region Kanepolo Amunime welcomed the agreement and said they understood it was not NSFAF’s fault as such.
“Our top priority was for students to be allowed to write exams, but most of all we are happy,” said Amunime, adding that they would wait for the money to be transferred to the students’ accounts, as per agreement.
With regard to their other demands, Amunime said they would deliberate on them after the exams.
The students were demanding an end to the relationship with financial services company Nam-mic (which they regard as an unnecessary middleman), an improvement to the online system and for student loan fees (tuition and non-tuition) to be paid in the first quarter of the year, or on a monthly basis as from 2018.