The Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) heads of churches and leadership meeting in Lusaka on 23rd March, 2017 took time to reflect on a number of national issues as they unfolded since the elections in August, 2016.
We note government’s efforts towards improving the living standards of people in the country by the many infrastructural developments in the various parts of the country especially the construction of roads, schools and health facilities. We have also noted the many pronouncements indicating plans for further actions in the continued wellbeing of the Zambian people.
We acknowledge the report which the President presented to Parliament on Friday 17th March, 2017 as per requirement of the amended Constitution which states that he should report on the application of the National Values and Principles. This new phenomenal is a positive development. As a Christian organization we are passionate about this matter of morality and ethics and these are values which should be encouraged and supported by all Zambians at all times.
We now take opportunity to comment on the various aspects of issues as we read and perceive them.
1. REGULATION OF CHURCHES
CCZ wishes to acknowledge government’s commitment to work with the existing church mother bodies in the country to help in regulating the activities of individuals and organizations which endanger the citizens in the name of religion.
The position taken by government to enforce the regulation will ensure protection of citizens from abuse and reduce on the inflow of unscrupulous individuals masquerading as prophets and pastors.
The formulation of strong and viable policies to regulate church registration in an attempt to flush out false prophets, pastors and all other types of bishops is well received and CCZ will support all measures taken in order to bring sanity to the body of Christ in Zambia. CCZ, from the inception of this regulatory discussion with the Ministry of Home Affairs, has contributed to the conceptualization and vision of the idea and has been very supportive of this move. This will ensure that vulnerable people, especially women and children, are protected from abuse in the name of God.
2. ECONOMIC SITUATION
CCZ wishes to express and to bring to light the pain and agony that many Zambians who occupy our pews every week are going through. It is evident that the much talked about growth and improvement in the economic outlook of the country does not interpret into meaningful improvement of people’s livelihoods who have continued to wallow in poverty, which poverty is on the increase as the President himself acknowledged in his address to parliament on 17th March, 2017. He acknowledged that poverty levels in the country have reached unacceptable high levels at 54.4% of people living below the poverty line in urban areas and around 74% in rural areas. He also recognized the growing gap between the rich and the poor resulting in serious inequalities in the well-being and dignity of people.
While many are making efforts to improve their lives by venturing into small businesses the policy environment has not support them to create enough resources to adequately support themselves.
The economic environment that people are subjected to at the moment has resulted in many Zambians losing their integrity and dignity. Many people, especially the youth have ventured into degrading conducts such as criminal activities, alcohol abuse and prostitution resulting in the erosion of morals among people. That is why it is imperative that the issue of application of morals and ethics has become urgent.
The President’s pronouncements on strides being made to create jobs, wealth and prosperity for the people of Zambia should be honoured and must be seen and should reflect in the daily lives of the people. We would also like to see a reduction in the cost of living which at the moment is adversely affecting the poor and thereby reducing their capacity to feed families.
We, as church leaders, will support any effort that also ensures that national resources are equitably distributed and should reach Zambians in their abodes. Prudent management of resources would be one way of achieving this need. Strong resolve to ensure that corruption is dealt with is another way to save the much needed resources which at the moment find their way into individuals’ hands. We would like to see the President act firmly on this matter as he has said before. He told the nation that there were some political leaders who have finances going into their accounts which are suspicious. We are waiting for the President’s action against these individuals.
3. ILLICIT FLOW OF FUNDS
We are aware that the matter of illicit flow and externalisation of funds from our country by multinational companies and some individuals is an issue which has not been dealt with adequately. Part of the challenge has been the existing weak and unstable policy environment governing taxing and tax regimes. We, as CCZ, stand ready to support government if it resolves to formulate strong and concrete policy that will enhance tax revenue collection from all multinationals investing in Zambia.
The people of Zambia deserve to benefit from their own mineral wealth which wealth invested in the future generations. There is no reason why as a nation we should dance to the music of investors, they should in fact dance to our music because they are extracting our wealth given by God in our land for our betterment.
We shall continue to campaign for review of mining taxes to ensure that the mining sector, which is generating good return in terms of global copper prices, contributes their fair share of taxes to the government.
4. MEDIA FREEDOM
The Church has noted with concern the continued limited sharing of media space to allow for divergent views to be expressed to create debate and shape opinion for people to make informed decisions and understand the many issues that affect them as citizens.
While the private media has been accorded an opportunity to operate, the environment has not been conducive enough with various methods being used to suffocate its operations which include harassment, prosecution and intimidation of personnel, a situation which is not good for a growing democracy such as ours.
We therefore would like to call for a free media starting with the public media which we expect to allow all citizens and political players to be given a platform to express their views and be heard especially on matters of national growth and development.
CCZ believes that the public media, as the names goes should reflect the public opinion, free to be accessed by the public and be managed professionally to allow for divergent views. It is unfortunate that the public media has continued to provide unbalanced coverage with bias towards the ruling party and government officials thereby depriving people of their right to information as enshrined in the Constitution, and giving them limited access to information to allow them make informed decisions.
We therefore call on government to allow the public media to be owned by the public whom it is called to serve and refrain from dominating and interfering in the running of the public media especially ZNBC which must be transformed into a genuine public service broadcaster.
CCZ has noted that the media has been used by individuals to drive selfish agendas which promote division especially the private media whose content is usually offensive to the public. We therefore call upon all media houses to ensure that they uphold ethical values and conduct in order to serve the public in accordance with the professional standard expectation. Professional conduct of journalists in their course of duty has the potential to promote unity and co-existence among Zambians.
We also have noted that for a long time, our lawmakers namely Parliament has neglected to enact the Access to Information Bill which has been on their table for over fifteen years now. The country needs a free press with access to information. This is what has enabled all developed countries to thrive in their democracy. It is our hope that this sitting parliament will do due diligence to this all important tenet of democracy and freedom of people.
5. POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT
The church would like to express concern at the prevailing political environment that has caused tension in the country with the continued campaign mood behaviour exhibited by leaders and followers of the main ruling party and the opposition.
While we appreciate divergent and parallel political views aimed at encouraging the growth of democracy, the current environment has instead been a breeding ground for the expression of hate and personal attacks, a situation which has allowed the supporters to despise each other and clash whenever an opportunity arises.
We would like to caution that if the situation is allowed to continue this will result in the supporters engaging in physical confrontation in an effort to prove a point or defend their political stance. It is from this background that the church is urging all political parties to come out of the confrontational political mood and embrace each other and desist from using hate speech as a tool for intimidation.
Zambia needs this peace for the achievement of our aspiration for a better nation. Peace is an ingredient of development and prosperity. The future of our children and their children’s children depends on the decision we make today to embrace each other with love regardless of our different opinions and political affiliation. At the end of the day we are all one family of God.
CCZ would like to urge all its member churches to promote national unity through dialogue and reconciliation among and between themselves under the leadership of their pastors hoping that political leaders who are also members of our various denominations would be part of these efforts.
The church will continue to exercise its prophetic voice and praying for the peace of the nation and improvement of people’s well-being for the nation to record meaningful development.
Rev Dr Alfred Kalembo