IF there is a thing that has burdened Zambian civil servants today, it’s financial debt. Most of our civil servants are highly indebted to either commercial banks, micro-finance institutions, or village banking systems. Our teachers across the country probably top the list of debtors to these institutions.
We are reminded of a Persian proverb which says, “There are four things every person has more of than they know; sins, debt, years, and foes.”
And the Holy Bible in Proverbs 22:7 warns that, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”
Debt is indeed a chain which shackles the borrower and they can only be free when they pay back. We have seen people lose property, families disintegrate or people commit suicide because of debt they owe others and they are unable to pay.
The National Action for Quality Education in Zambia says most teachers today are resorting to borrowing as a means of survival. Executive director Aaron Chansa has since appealed to the government to fulfill the promise of debt swaps for teachers and all civil servants.
“Their pay slips are chocked. They owe banks, financial institutions and individual money lenders a lot of money. The above has negatively affected teachers and has direct effects on the delivery of lessons in classes,” says Chansa. “It has further adversely impacted households, creating untold disharmonies which has undoubtedly lowered productivity. This sad state of affairs must be of great concern to the banks, the Teaching Service Commission, the Ministry of General Education, the Public Service Management Division, parents and Civil Society Organisations. We must all get worried because teachers are the engines that drive the education system. Whatever affects this engine vandalises the quality of education in the country. And no country can develop with poor quality of education.”
Chansa is absolutely right! Perhaps we should look at some of the causes of this high indebtedness among our teachers. Although some of our teachers could be undisciplined financially, the majority are disciplined. And they live in a nation whose economy is poorly managed by their government to the point of collapsing. Besides, this is a government that pays what should probably be weekly allowances to teachers in form of monthly salaries.
According to the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection, the Basic Needs and Nutrition Basket (BNNB) for a family of five in Lusaka increased in March this year to K8,644.50 from K8,512.31 in February. Currently, an average teacher gets a salary of slightly above K4,000, about half the JCTR research findings. And the government mocks this teacher by giving him/her a monthly housing allowance of K856.13 and K428.07 as transport allowance.
If we picked Lusaka as a case study, we would find that the figures above do not suffice for a teacher to rent a normal house and commute to work for the whole month. If, for example, a teacher with a family of five works at Jacaranda School in Rhodes Park, will they afford accommodation in that area from the K856.13 housing allowance they receive? Certainly not. So, what do they do, they resort to looking for accommodation in affordable areas such as Chilenje, Libala, Matero, or Chelston. Eventually, the slightly over K400.00 transport allowance they receive gets swallowed up within two to three weeks. So, to fill up for the remaining days of the month they are forced to borrow.
And when it comes to family needs, the small salary a teacher receives is just half of the normal income required for a family of five. This same teacher has to educate his/her children and feed them well for a month while commuting to work every five days in a week. So, to meet these needs, the teacher will be forced to borrow from any financial institution, regardless of the lending conditions. In the end, this teacher ‘hangs’ him/herself with this debt and they eventually fail to pay, resulting in high indebtedness. They will borrow from every new lending institution on the market, and in the end their monthly pay slip comes in negative. So, should we really blame teachers for this? No, the blame should go to their government which has abandoned them and many other civil servants.
When you compare teachers’ working conditions to those of permanent secretaries and ministers, the disparity is huge. The salary of a teacher can probably equate to that of a minister’s house worker. Yet, ministers and permanent secretaries spend most of their working days reading speeches at workshops. For ministers, they also go to make noise in parliament; thereafter they get huge salaries and allowances. Added to this are expensive motor vehicles and hundreds of litres of fuel which they receive for free. How unfair can a government be to its civil servants!
This problem will not end until our teachers are respected by being properly remunerated by their government. It is immoral to push a teacher to deliver in class when they have a huge debt on their mind. We should all never forget that whatever we are today we owe it to teachers. We can stand on various podiums to speak the best English there can ever be, wear the most expensive suits with big bellies, or command a lot of authority; but we should thank teachers for all this. Whichever government comes in after August 12 should pay attention to the plight of our teachers. Blaming them, will not help matters in any way.