Former Lusaka Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu says Zambia is plagued with unbridled corruption, which has permeated to all facets of life, and is no longer a democracy, but a kleptocracy ruled by thieves.

And Archbishop Mpundu says the establishment of the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs was just a conduit to employ members of the ruling PF as the Ministry has proven to be a sheer waste of money.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Mpundu said the country’s political tension remains toxic and is ready to explode.

Speaking on Prime TV’s Oxygen of Democracy programme, Monday evening, Archbishop Mpundu said it was clear that corruption had reached its highest levels in the country as most people arrested for corruption were never punished.

He explained that a kleptocracy was one characterised by a government of thieves, existing purely for other thieves.

“My Church’s opinion; we have talked about this time and time and time again. I remember the late Fredrick Chiluba, may his soul rest in peace, came into government; we went to Kabwe and we talked about corruption because things had become clear that there was something going wrong in State House and around State House, which was not good. So, we have to deal with these perceptions. This country is plagued with unbridled corruption and this has permeated on all the facets of our life,” Archbishop Mpundu said.

“Many citizens, when they borrow a phrase from Nigerians…you know, Nigerians are very expressive in their languages, there are colorful, they jokingly refer to democracy as a not a democracy, but a kleptocracy. A kleptocracy is a dispensation, whereby, you have a government of thieves, by thieves and for thieves! That is bad, very bad! Everyone is talking about it. I have never heard of things like these before. When we come to our situation now, it is very clear this is corruption at the highest level, things are coming out; it is not things that we were digging up, no! They’re coming up. A minister is found to be guilty: ‘no, I can’t throw him out’; what why can’t you throw him out?”

He pointed out that Zambia’s infrastructure development and failure to address irregularities exposed in the Auditor General’s reports as being indicators of corruption in the country.

“Everywhere one goes, one encounters public offices or personnel in private business demanding a cut for themselves for services, which they must render by virtue of doing public service! Even high-salary civil servants are demanding for their cut! Everywhere you go, it is like that. A lot of things these days are easy to get; you go to the Internet and find out what is going on, where Zambia stands on the international arena in terms of corruption,” he observed.

“Companies that want do business here have to know, and countries that want to do business with us have to know, and they have ways and means of getting to know because you are going there…and for you to invest there, you have to be ready for this. For example, on the Internet, you find out that, ‘we are grateful that there is wonderful infrastructure development going on, okay, and yet you find out that our costs of producing a tar mark road per kilometre costs three or four times more in Malawi, in Botswana and even in South Africa! How come? That is just one. What we mean by corruption is misuse of public funds. Every single year, the Auditor General comes up with horrendous reports of misuse of misapplication of public resources; do we hear of anything of those that are found guilty? Nothing! So, the question of corruption is real and if the government is trying to deny that they’re free to do that, but it is real.”

And Archbishop Mpundu said the establishment of the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs, headed by Reverend Godfridah Sumaili, was just a conduit to employ members of the PF as it had proven to be a sheer waste of time.

“We were asked our opinions, like the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB), I think the churches in Zambia were also asked; the evangelicals were also asked…our opinion, as ZCCB, (was that) we don’t need this Ministry at all; it is waste of time! It is probably a way of giving employment to some members, who are of the ruling party. You know, there was a time in this country, our institutional memory is very short, not long we were in the Second Republic (1973-1991) and there was a member of central committee in charge of relations with the churches. So, we said, ‘look, we do not need this’ we are always in contact with the government through various ministries. We have schools; the Ministry of Education is one that we interact with; we have hospitals, the Ministry of Health; when we have all sorts (in which) we relate with government in so many ways. If we want to relate at the highest level, we have communication at that level like the Bishop’s Conference,” Archbishop Mpundu said.

“All I have to do is to ask the Secretary General to phone the personal assistant to the President and we organized a meeting. Most of the time, we took advantage of the plenary session; we made it a habit almost like each time we had a plenary session, we had some time with the President to exchange notes to compare experiences, both of us on our side and on his side, for the good of our country.”

He argued that the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs was useless.

“Now, we have a Ministry of Religious Affairs; we don’t know the kind of job description, but for me, I find that a totally unneeded Ministry. She (Rev Sumaili) was engaged; she asked us: ‘what do you think is the role of the Ministry? How can we work together?’ We were very clear: ‘Madam, you have been appointed, but this Ministry is useless as far as we are concerned.’ The government brings up something and they want you to follow it; well, we say: ‘it is your own creation, we don’t need that creation because there are so many occasions of relating with you; there are various ministries, so why create another Ministry?’ If you create another Ministry and you think it is important, well fine, but don’t force us to work with that Ministry only or only through that one, no! We have other areas and we find other Ministries easier to work with than to work through that Ministry,” he added.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Mpundu described Zambia’s current political tension as toxic and ready to explode.

“Very honestly, it is year of lost opportunities. All the items that come under governance, we haven’t made much strides; we haven’t performed well as a nation. So, it is a year of lost opportunities; we have talked about national dialogue, which was a task put in the hands of the Church mother bodies by the President himself, and he did that in 2016. It was the initiative from the President. So, when we took it up, we didn’t want to have on our own as the Catholic bishops, but we wanted to involve other Christian leaders from the Church mother bodies. They responded very positively and very encouragingly because we have that tradition of working together as people belonging to one Christian religion so we worked out something and we came to a meeting that took place around Easter (in 2016) where most political parties were invited and they came to a meeting that lasted from 18:00 hours to 20:00 hours. And then, we came up with resolutions that which we agreed upon to conduct political campaigns peacefully in a manner that was civilized. Nine resolutions that we gave ourselves. Two, three days later, those resolutions were destroyed! And, unfortunately, those who were responsible for the destruction were from the ruling party and it wasn’t good,” he recalled.

“The political atmosphere will become more and more toxic! Very toxic atmosphere; when we have very toxic atmosphere, an explosion can occur! You see, government has not been forthcoming out there; they have not been sincere. And if people are not sincere, it is difficult to work with them. We didn’t invite ourselves to this (dialogue process); we were invited by the President and there is a precedent to that. In 1991, we were invited, we went there, we didn’t barge, like we went there like gate-crashing. Our politicians are so notorious for not agreeing among themselves. They asked us, Church mother bodies, please assist us and we went to their assistance. This time around, even before the issues became very strained, we were asked by the President (President Edgar Lungu), the President has never taken that away.”

“Anybody who says there is no tension in this country, they don’t live in this country. It is extremely dangerous because people don’t know where we are going, but we are going. I feel that in certain areas of governance there is no democratic dispensation. And this what people are talking about. Where are we going? We don’t seem to be going anywhere! We need a courageous and visionary leadership to bring people together; obviously, the Executive has failed! They wanted to hijack the process of dialogue where we had the road map and the road map we came up with, we were assisted by the Commonwealth people, not just only on the road map, but also the agenda that we are going to discuss,” said Archbishop Mpundu.

“What are the issues that bring about tension, especially, in the year when we are running towards elections and in the election year. Those things were tabled down and they formed the agenda. Before we go to the next elections, meaning 2021, meaning these things must be resolved. We, like you, are saying, ‘but you have an agenda’ we were also disparaged. It was said by the public out there that the Church had an agenda, which was not true. What kind of agenda? The agenda we had was to run things properly; let us act like mid-wives of peace and reconciliation. It has always been like that, that has been our agenda.”