Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) secretary general Fr Cleophas Lungu says whilst some people are only interested in allowances, the church only wants genuine dialogue that will make the country more functional.

And Fr Lungu says time to talk is now because people will have no time for that in 2020 and 2021.

Last week, Zambia Council for Interparty Dialogue (ZCID) charged that the church wanted to control dialogue funds and accused the church for wanting to include “unnecessary departments” to the process.

But in an interview, Fr Lungu said the church feels insulted by claims from the ZCID that Bishops were trying to hijack the dialogue process in order to pocket allowances, adding that the Center was only exposing its ignorance.

“When we had a meeting with the ZCID board, we floated some ideas about how we are going to manage the collaboration between the three church mother bodies and ZCID, we even floated some ideas on how we would manage the process of mobilising resources that are needed for national dialogue to meaningfully take place. But we did not reach a place where we were discussing an account, in fact, we did not even agree on the budget, we did not even raise a single ngwee. So we wonder why this debate about an account, or that we disagreed about an account, we never discussed that, we never disagreed,” he said.

“I think the fundamental thing to underline here is that it is unfortunate that people are peddling lies. As it is said, lies have short legs. We from the church say the truth shall set you free. Let them continue peddling those falsehoods because they will have a long battle to defend those falsehoods and they won’t manage.”

He revealed that the church had been using its own resources on all the meetings that had been held so far.

“There has been a narrative out there, there has been an agenda of trying to paint a picture that bishops are only trying to lead the national dialogue because we want resources. Again, it is something which is laughable, you may wish to know that we started way before the general elections, talking about dialogue. On the 21st of March, 2016, way before the August elections, we held that [meeting], where was ZCID? Can they mention what resources we used to hold that inter party indaba? We have held a number of meetings, too many to mention, we had several meetings, more than 10 meetings, some held here at Kapingila House with ZCID Board, some held at CCZ, some held at the EFZ secretariat, there was never a time that ZCID contributed to the hosting of those meetings. We provided water, we provided tea, we provided sometimes even lunch. After doing all that, using our own resources, this is the reward we are getting from ZCID?” Fr Lungu asked.

“Even in negotiating with ZCID, we have never asked ZCID ‘where are you getting money to go to Siavonga?’ We have never gone to Siavonga. Even the launch of the national dialogue, we have said, we are not going to go to Mulungushi, we are not going to go to TAJ Pamodzi Hotel, we are not going to go to Intercontinental because it is not about being in a fancy place. We are saying we are going to go to a building of God where we will pay nothing, where there will be no allowances. Our friends are interested in the allowances, the church is not interested in the allowances, it is interested in the functionality of the nation, can we unite in making Zambia a better country, a country that is more united and peaceful, a country that is more democratic, not just in name but in deed, a country that is well governed. We are not in it for the money.”

He said the church had a clear track record of accountability.

“We know their agenda. It is to tarnish the name of the church, it is to paint the Bishops as men who are after brown envelops. But I can assure you, and I can assure the nation, and I can stand with my shoulders high to say that the church has come a long way. Even when people talk about JCTR, when they talk about Caritas Zambia, why are cooperating partners out there, local and international, willing to partner with Caritas Zambia, with the three church mother bodies? It is because we have a track record, we have systems of financial accountability, we have systems of delivering on the maximum outcomes and outputs and making that single dollar that is put into our coffers have a meaningful impact in improving the lives of the Zambians. We are not going to pocket that dollar into our own pockets. The bishops have been sacrificed. My own president, the president of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops, he has to come every so often from Chipata, he puts in his own fuel, only to come and be insulted here. How fair is that? Is this the Zambia we are looking for?” he asked.

He also said institutions like Caritas and JCTR were essential to the dialogue process, given their work.

“The allegations from ZCID that first of all, we are bringing in departments like Caritas and JCTR, I think they fall short of understanding the structure and the configuration of the church because you know that Caritas Zambia for example, has not come into play in 2018 or 2019, it has been there. And it is an integral part of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops. It does more than what they are sometimes known for, that is promoting justice and peace. So it is important for institutions like ZCID to humble themselves and be cautious in exposing their ignorance of the structure of operations of the church rather than rushing to the press and exhibiting their shallowness in their understanding of the church,” Fr Lungu said.

“They also talk about JCTR, JCTR is known for the food basket. They conduct, every month, a survey of the living standards and cost of living for an average family and they will indicate. And institutions like the central statistics office has been appreciating, the Ministries of Finance and National Planning always consult JCTR because they are a research based institute. So we do not understand what ZCID’s fears are because we have not indicated what role Caritas and JCTR will play. But it seems they are looking for shadows or ghosts, some of them which do not exist and they are trying to derail and distract us.”

And Fr Lungu said time to dialogue was now.

“We strongly believe that there is no better time to dialogue than this time. When it clocks 2020, 2021, people will have no time to talk. So time to talk is now. The time is ripe and given the level of interest, I would have been worried if people were not talking about it but the mere fact that people with different opinions are expressing those opinions, for us, that’s a very good sign because dialogue is not dialogue if people don’t have different opinions over a matter. What is important is to be open, objective and respectful in discussing matters,” said Fr Lungu.