[By Chambwa Moonga and Oliver Chisenga]
HARRY Kalaba says the PF is trying to rig this year’s elections using the Church.
And UPND secretary general Batuke Imenda says while his party agreed that religious organisations should be supported to encourage them carry out their missionary work with minimum difficulties, hand-outs tinged with political hidden agenda are not a solution.
The opposition Democratic Party (DP) leader is, however, happy that the Catholic Church has exposed those in the PF for who they are.
According to Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) president Bishop George Lungu, the stance of the Catholic Church to decline the government’s ‘Church Empowerment Fund’ still stands.
He has directed parishes and church institutions in Chipata diocese not to access the Fund from the government.
Bishop Lungu, in a statement issued on Saturday, said those donations which were followed by cameras and speeches and appearing either on the national broadcaster or indeed private media, often with political overtones, should not be entertained.
“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,” said Bishop Lungu, who is also Chipata diocese bishop.
Kalaba commended the Catholic Church for the role it had taken, through the ZCCB, “of refusing to be part of the monies that the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs is dispensing to churches – I think it’s about K25 million.”
“The role of the Church has always been prophetic and what the PF government is trying to do, through the Ministry of Religious Affairs, is very wrong – extremely wrong,” he said in an interview. “The same Church that they want to corrupt today, to dubiously give those loans is the same Church they will need tomorrow in case another government, especially the DP government, comes in.”
Kalaba noted that the PF, once in the opposition, would require the Church to mediate on some national issues in an uncompromised manner.
“It is shameful that PF corruption now is even going to the Church. We should respect the sacredness that surrounds the Church,” he said.
“I want to pay tribute to the Bishop of Chipata diocese, Bishop George Lungu, who has gone further to issue a letter for Chipata diocese to explain the decision. In that letter, Bishop Lungu says the Church wants to see that the gap between the rich and the poor is bridged. They would want to see retirees paid! The monies the PF wants to give out to churches, the Bishops are saying give it to retirees.”
Kalaba added that the DP, like the Catholic Church, was also pro-poor.
“The Bishops are saying put teachers on the payroll, those who are not there, instead of giving the money to churches. The Bishops are talking about the deplorable situation in the hospitals. The Bishops are saying ‘let medicines be found in hospitals, instead of giving us these monies directly,’” he explained. “The Church has survived all these years without giving them those loans. Therefore, I’m appealing to the Church in general that what the Catholic Church has done needs to be emulated.”
Kalaba further indicated that the Church in Zambia needed to stand up and speak with one authoritative voice, like the Catholic Church has done.
“It will be important for the Church to tell the PF government that these kinds of machinations will not work. It’s important for the Church to stand up and tell the PF government that it’s (church) on the side of the downtrodden,” said Kalaba. “The Church doesn’t support any political party; their role is evangelical. What the PF is doing is trying to rig the elections using the Church and I’m happy that the Catholic Church has exposed them for who they are.”
And the UPND has also commended the position taken by the Catholic Church to reject the Fund.
UPND secretary general Batuke Imenda said while his party agreed that religious organisations should be supported to encourage them carry out their missionary work with minimum difficulties, hand-outs tinged with political hidden agenda are not a solution.
“Bishop Lungu, who is also the president of the ZCCB, aptly puts it when he says, ‘in view of the principles of social justice and preferential option for the poor, the Church prefers to see the same money being channeled to other needy areas’,” Imenda said.
He noted that this is a “very difficult but highly principled position” when the country has been politically polarised, the Church has been divided on their interpretation of social justice due to other considerations, which are at variance with the teachings of the Bible.
Imenda said the UPND was of the considered view that the Church is the zenith of morality in society and should be accorded respect by any government as it pursues the country’s development agenda.
“Our party together with religious organisations shall formulate policy guidelines on how the religious and faith-based organisations shall be supported in a more organised, transparent, accountable and predictable way,” he said. “Under the UPND, the religious and other faith-based organisations shall have a well-structured support mechanism that shall feed into the sustainable development of the country.”
Imenda said the country was bleeding economically due to such reckless uncoordinated spending by the PF regime under the guise of empowerment to selected religious organisations and citizens.
He said the nation had seen how PF Cabinet ministers and officials were indiscriminately dishing out cash to citizens to woo their support ahead of the August 12 general elections.
Imenda called on President Edgar Lungu to show responsibility by stopping “this lunacy of distributing cash”, which is only exacerbating inflation.
“Mr Lungu and his minions should be concerned about the increasing levels of poverty and inequality where our country ranks among the worst in the sub-Saharan African region. More than 60 per cent of our people, majority of whom live in rural and peri-urban areas, live below the poverty line of US $1.90 per day. Unfortunately, hand-outs being given to citizens ahead of the August 12 general election can never be a solution,” he said.
Imenda noted that the country’s public health facilities where poor people seek health care do not have enough doctors, nurses, paramedics and other staff and medicines due to poor funding to the sector and yet there is enough cash by the PF government to distribute to voters.
He said dishing out cash cannot be said to be a priority but a mockery to the people who are struggling for their livelihoods every day.
“Zambians also deserve to know where the Patriotic Front is getting these bundles of money when the treasury is failing to pay retirees who served the country with dedication and patriotism,” he said.
“We are further concerned that government is adjusting upwards the visa fees from K3,230 to K21,210 and permit renewals from K2,200 to K18,550 for missionary priests, sisters and lay-volunteers who intend to work and serve the underprivileged in Zambia.”
Imenda said those who understand the historical background of Zambia would appreciate that most rural parts are serviced by such priests, sisters and lay-volunteers in sectors such as education and health.
He further noted that their efforts are complimentary to those of government.
“Previous governments have benefited greatly through such developmental collaboration. President Hakainde Hichilema and the UPND shall ensure enhanced and cordial collaboration with religious organisations because we believe they are partners in achieving the very essence of governance, which is improving the livelihoods of the citizens,” said Imenda. “We call upon other churches in the country to emulate the Catholic Church’s position which has been motivated by the principles of social justice and preferential treatment of the poor.”