ARCHBISHOP Telesphore Mpundu says it is wrong for Catholic Bishops to be accepting money from politicians without questioning the source of their income.

And Archbishop Mpundu says the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) is trying to rig next year’s elections by systematically disenfranchising voters owing to the shortened period of voter registration, which has since lapsed.

In an interview, Archbishop Mpundu bemoaned some bishops’ lack of courage in speaking out and challenging politicians’ source of the proceeds they tended to splurge at church gatherings in the form of donations.

“Today, people who are in religious movements, religious leaders think it is okay to receive money from the government. And mind you this is not only for evangelicals, but also for Catholics. You must have been following stories when my successor came; he conducted a fundraising walk and the guest of honour was the President (Edgar Lungu). Do you know how much he gave? K750,000! At a ground-breaking ceremony, the guest of honour was the President. It is at the expense of political convenience. From our traditional wisdom, during meals you don’t talk as Africans, as Zambians. Anyone who is giving you food, you don’t talk to them, you just receive the food. You don’t criticise people giving you food and this is sad. People see this and it is wrong,” Archbishop Mpundu said.

“In the Catholic Church, in the United Church of Zambia (UCZ), there is so much respect for us as religious leaders; we should be the ones asking that, ‘what you are accepting, don’t you think that this is corruption?’ But they don’t do that. What they are doing is that they are compromising the Church! We should stand up as Christians; with all due respect, this is wrong! You can never make what is wrong right, it remains wrong. I call this conspiracy of silence among us Christians. People look up to us, they want us to take the lead in denouncing misdeeds and misrule and now if we are the people who are benefiting, then we are not helping. Most of these are ‘lorry politicians,’ where do they get that kind of money? We know that ministers don’t get more than K40,000, but they donate huge sums of money meant for social services and we are accepting that, we are approving of it. And when we approve of it, then we are wrong. We are not courageous enough even among us Bishops.”

He said President Lungu was being deceived by his close associates, who were fond of telling him that Zambia’s economy was doing well.

“The President is free to believe what he wants to believe, that is his prerogative. He is being deceived by people surrounding him and telling him what he wants to hear, even though they know it is far from the truth. The economy is collapsing because of mismanagement and over-borrowing and endemic corruption. The President has a sophisticated network of intelligence gathering. If he wants a true picture on the state of affairs on the economy, he should tell his girls and boys to go down to the grassroots. They are the ones who feel it the most. If President Lungu says, ‘he is performing very well, what is the litmus test?’ It is the man and the woman at the grassroots level,” Archbishop Mpundu said. “These are the people who feel the pinch of the economy. Never have I seen in Zambia such a big number of people begging on the street corners and junctions, but the money ends up in pockets of those that have been mandated to lead and that is not right! The COVID pandemic has worsened the situation and many people have lost their jobs. It is a very big challenge for them to bring food on the table for their families. If this is performing very well, then I wonder what bad performance will be like.”

He added that Zambia was “moving around like a headless chicken” on the issue of Constitution review.

“Zambia is moving like a headless chicken because we have been known as the country that is forever making a constitution. We have no constitution; there is no way we can bring the Executive to book. In 1973, (then-US president) Richard Nixon faced impeachment while he was in the White House. Next door, (former South African) president Jacob Zuma, while he was in a government house, was attending court sessions where they found out he was too corrupt! They told the ANC (African National Congress) that ‘withdraw him, it is becoming too embarrassing!’ But for us, we don’t have anything like that. The President is protected so much; he can’t be indicted even when they are in office. Parliament also votes on partisan lines that is why there is impunity. This Lungu can do whatever he likes,” Archbishop Mpundu complained.

And the clergyman has accused the ECZ of being “thieves by disenfranchising millions of Zambians” following the just-ended voter registration period, which ran for an unprecedented five-week period.

“Democracy is a game of numbers. By bowing to the Presidency and scrapping the old register process, the ECZ has already disenfranchised millions of people. This process by the ECZ began in the rainy season, which makes it very difficult for voters in rural areas to travel to facilities to register. It is criminal for the ECZ to disenfranchise even one single voter. This was done on purpose to reduce the number of voters, especially in rural areas because they know that especially the opposition has more support in rural areas. It is a way of rigging the elections. They tried in Bill 10 and it didn’t succeed and now it is on this. Our own government, by ditching the continuous voter registration process, has deprived millions of citizens of their right to vote,” said Archbishop Mpundu.

“Instead of being happy that the ECZ has extended the voter registration process, I am very annoyed because these are thieves, who have robbed citizens of the power to vote! My words to ECZ are that, I am not grateful at all, on the contrary, I am not happy because they have taken the people of Zambia for fools, who cannot see that we are being short-changed and we are supposed to be grateful for this? We say, away with you, with your useless tricks! They should all resign. The matter should be taken to the Constitutional Court for adjudication.”