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DON’T ACCESS GOVT FUND…people need to know where this money is coming from, directs Bishop Lungu

BISHOP George Lungu says its stance to decline the government’s church empowerment fund still stands.

The ZCCB president has directed parishes and church institutions in Chipata Diocese not to access “Church Empowerment Fund” from the government.

Bishop Lungu says those donations which are followed by cameras and speeches and appearing either on the national broadcaster or indeed private media often with political overtones should not be entertained.

““In addition, the source of the so-called Church Empowerment Fund is not very clear, is not very well known. People need to know where this money is coming from and how it is going to be accounted for,” he said.

In a statement issued yesterday, Bishop Lungu, who is also Chipata Diocese Bishop, said income to run the churches had been adversely affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Master, do you not care, we are going down,” Mark Chapter 4: 39. To my beloved priests, religious men and women and lay faithful, seasons greetings. In the light of the stance taken by the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops with regards to the Church Empowerment Fund, I have deemed it necessary to provide the context within which that decision was made,” he said. “This is also in a bid to give some guidance to you in the Diocese (of Chipata) concerning the same. On one, the COVID-19 pandemic has come with its own challenges. We as church have not been spared as a Chewa saying goes kulibe yolewa mchere (there is no cowpea which escapes salt). With the reduced spiritual activities and gatherings income to run the church affairs has been adversely affected,” he said.

Bishop Lungu said the church was aware of the Church Empowerment Fund that the government introduced to help churches as they struggle financially to make ends meet.

“However, we have taken a stand to respectively decline receiving or accessing these funds. The main reasons include but they are not limited to the following; number one, that in view to the principles of social justice and the preferential option for the poor, the Church prefers to see the same money be channelled to other need areas,” he said. “We are aware that Zambia has a huge debt that needs to be serviced and the effects of this is seen in the many economic difficulties the country is currently facing. In addition, we have many retirees who have been desperately waiting for their hard-earned dues for many years, some have since died. Not only that, the Chipata City Council has had close to nine months of unpaid salary areas.”
Bishop Lungu said inasmuch as the Church needs the funds to run its affairs, the government should consider the aforementioned.

“Inasmuch as we need these funds to run the affairs of the Church, we are humbly asking government to consider the aforementioned as a form of the empowerment that shall ease the burden of our fellow citizens,” he said. “This shall be another form of church empowerment bearing in mind that the same citizens, our members, are directly responsible in supporting the Church and its clergy. It is public knowledge that our health facilities including our own mission, clinics and health centres do not have sufficient supplies of essential drugs and other requirements to upscale the services in favour of all people regardless of their affiliation.”

Bishop Lungu said the government should also employ more health personnel and improve the conditions of service of those that were already employed.

“We have thousands of unemployed youths who have graduated as nurses and some of them are saying that they are tired of volunteering now. Sadly, we even have doctors and paramedics who are unemployed,” he said. “Let government employ them as a way of empowering them, so that they can in turn support the Church. As Church, we have been negotiating with government since regarding the increased immigration fees where a temporal permit for missionary priests, sisters and lay volunteers will cost K21,210 from the previous K3,230 and the renewal permit will now cost K18,550 from the previous K2,200. In the meantime, we have been promised that lower fees will be set for public benefitting organisations including the Church.”

Bishop Lungu said the Church would remain hopeful that the government would
expedite the process of revising the said fees.

“Further, we wish to take note that most of these missionaries, work in rural areas and endure hardships as they provide pastoral care to many needy Zambians. Apart from complementing efforts of government in the delivery of health, education and social welfare services, for us a better and long-lasting empowerment for the Church would be to exempt it from paying high fees on immigration issues as well as other forms of taxes,” he said. “In addition, the source of the so-called Church Empowerment Fund is not very clear, is not very well known. People need to know where this money is coming from and how it is going to be accounted for. We have had so many empowerment funds given to various individuals and groups, who is following up the usage of these monies and is this the best way of empowering our people including the church?”

Bishop Lungu said there was need for an explicit and transparent way of utilising public funds.

“Further, the timing of all these initiatives leaves room for speculation. It may well be pure coincidence that all this is happening within the election [period]. However, it certainly has a tinge of political strategy in the service of the donors. We may give it a benefit of doubt but the truth will eventually set us free. As such and in view of maintaining the non-partisan and prophetic stance of the Church, we have deemed it right and fit that we decline the offer in the run up to the August 12 general elections,” he said. “Not only that our road networks in Eastern Province are in a terrible state, talk of the Chipata/Chadiza road, Chipata/Vubwi road, Lundazi/Chama road, Chipata/Lundazi road, Lundazi bridge, Lundazi Lumimba and many other feeder roads and bridges across the province.”

Bishop Lungu said the funds that were being distributed could be channelled towards such projects.

“If the funds can be channelled towards such projects, it will empower our people with better roads and services for a long time to come. In view of the above and in the light of the ZCCB decision, I wish to direct Catholic institutions or organisations or parish or lay movement in the Diocese of Chipata not to access these funds through the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs or otherwise. On the other hand, let me be clear that I take cognisant of the fact that there are some initiatives taking place to raise funds for the smooth running of the Diocese, parishes and institutions,” he said. “We have all weather friends who have been so generous all the time in support of our local church, whether during or outside the election period, these initiatives will have to continue. However, those donations which are followed by cameras and speeches and appearing either on the national
broadcaster or indeed private media often with political overtones should not be entertained.”

Bishop Lungu also guided the church on soliciting for funds.

“It should also be noted that we need to avoid soliciting some funding while capitalising on the campaign generosity of visitors especially during liturgical gatherings. Much as we are in need of the funds to run the affairs of the church our Lord will not allow us to drown in the seas of COVID-19 challenges but with Him on board, time for calm will surely arrive like the dawn of a new day – Mark chapter 4 verses 5:41,” said Bishop Lungu. “Finally, let your well informed and formed conscious which is the voice of God be your last consultant on what to do with regards the welfare of our people regardless of political and religious affiliation.”

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