“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,” the Local Ordinary of Zambia’s Chipata Diocese says.
He adds referencing the CEF, “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.”
Another reason for declining the offer is that the source of the funds “is not very clear (and) is not very well known,” the Zambian Bishop says in the statement titled, “Master, do you not care? We are going down,” an inspiration from the Gospel according to St. Mark.
“People need to know where this money is coming from and how it is going to be accounted for,” ZCCB President says and poses, “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?”
In the three-page statement dated April 2, the Zambian Bishop underscores the need for “an explicit and transparent way of utilizing public funds.”
“In view of the principles of social justice and the preferential option for the poor, the Church prefers to see the same money be channeled to other need areas,” Bishop Lungu says, giving another reason for ZCCB members’ decision to decline CEF.
He goes on to highlight some areas where the country’s leadership could channel the funds including servicing the country’s “huge debt,” settling dues for retirees “who have been desperately waiting for … many years,” and clearing the nine months unpaid salary arrears for the employees of Chipata City Council.
Catholic Bishops in Zambia would also want the funds channeled to the healthcare sector to facilitate the provision of “sufficient supplies of essential drugs and other requirements,” and to employ health professionals who have been jobless “as a way of empowering them, so that they can in turn support the Church.”
In the statement addressed to his “beloved Priests, Religious Men and Women, and the Lay Faithful,” Bishop Lungu bemoans the poor state of various roads and related infrastructure in the Eastern Province of the country saying, “If the funds can be channeled towards such projects, it will empower our people with better roads and services for a long time to come.”
The 61-year-old Bishop also says ZCCB members want the Zambian government to keep its promise of lowering fees charged on organizations that benefit the public such as the Church, a move that will see a reduction in the immigration fees for missionaries and lay volunteers.