UPND secretary general Batuke Imenda has called in other churches to emulate the catholic church and say no to the church empowerment fund which has been introduced during an election campaign period.

And the UPND says it is concerned that while offering church empowerment fund, the government in increasing visa fees from K3,230 to K21,210 and permit renewals from K2,200 to K18,550 for missionary priests, sisters and Lay-volunteers.

Bishop of the Chipata Diocese, the Right Rev. George Lungu reinforced the position taken by the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) in guiding the church not to access the Church Empowerment Fund because its intention was not to address any challenges faced by the citizens.

In a statement, Imenda commended the church for taking a difficult decision during a time when the country had been politically polarised.

“The United Party for National Development (UPND) would like to commend the position taken by the Catholic Church to reject the Church Empowerment Fund lately introduced by the Patriotic Front government in an election season…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. The UPND is of the considered view that the church is the zenith of the morality in society and should be accorded respect by any government as it pursues the country’s development agenda,” Imenda stated.

“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.”

He added that hand outs laced with hidden political agenda are not a solution to the challenges faced by religious organisations as they carry out their missionary work.

“While, we agree that religious organisations should be supported to encourage them carry out their missionary work with minimum encumbrances, chipante pante hand-outs tinged with political hidden agenda are not a solution. 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. Under the UPND, the religious and other faith-based organisations shall have a well-structured support mechanisms that shall feed into the sustainable development of the country,” Imenda stated.

Imenda bemoaned the high visa and permit renewal fees that missionary priests and sisters were made to pay despite them serving the underprivileged in the country.

“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 under privileged in Zambia. Those who understand the historical background of this country will appreciate the fact that most parts of the rural Zambia are serviced by these priests, sisters and lay-volunteers in sectors such as education, health. Their efforts are complimentary to those of government. Previous governments have benefited greatly through such developmental collaboration,” stated Imenda.

“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. We, in the UPND value the services that the church continue to render to the people but lack of government policy that support their efforts is compromising the envisaged positive impact.”

He further added that the country was bleeding economically due to the reckless spending by the PF and urged President Lungu to put a stop to the continued distribution of cash, which he said was leading to increased inflationary pressures.

“Our country is bleeding economically due to such reckless, uncoordinated spending by the Patriotic Front regime under the guise of empowerment to selected religious organisations and citizens. We have seen how the PF cabinet ministers and officials are indiscriminately dishing out cash to citizens in order to woo their support ahead of the August 12 general elections. We are calling out President Edgar Lungu to show responsibility by stopping this lunacy of distributing cash, which is only exacerbating inflationary downward trend,” stated Imenda.

“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 percent 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. Our 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. Dishing out cash cannot be said to be a priority but a mockery to the people who are everyday struggling for their livelihoods. 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.”