Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu says President Edgar Lungu’s refusal to fire corruption-accused Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Development Ronald Chitotela gives credence to the assertion that he is running a government of thieves, by thieves, for thieves.
And Archbishop Mpundu has condemned the firing of four Sesheke police officers over allegations that they beat up PF cadres saying the law should be applied fairly, regardless of the political party which law breakers belong to.
In this verbatim interview, Archbishop Mpundu insists that corruption has become endemic in Zambia and vows that he will not stop talking because he is not scared of anyone.
Q. One of the challenges which we have faced in this country is corruption. Recently, the minister of Infrastructure Development Ronald Chitotela was arrested by the Anti-Corruption Commission but the President said he could not fire or suspend him because he was innocent until proven guilty, what are your views on that?
A. In the second statement that we made as church mother bodies, we tackled the issues of corruption. And my part of the statement tackled the issue of corruption which has become endemic in this country. It is there and it is endemic. When we had the ceremony of putting [Archbishop Alick] Banda, my successor, I mentioned the issue of corruption again in my homily. I said ‘democracy is supposed to be known as a government of the people, for the people, by the people but if we leaders, and I began with us Catholic priests, and leaders that if we stop serving people, then we become parasites. We become cannibals. Our governments here in Africa are governments of thieves, by thieves for thieves’, and the President was seated there.
Every single year, we have the report from the Auditor General listing horrendous abuse of public funds but how many heads roll? Very few. People who are caught, literally caught in government, what happens to them? They are dismissed and they go to use the ill-begotten money, they are just dismissed instead of being prosecuted, found guilty and put behind bars. If the President fails to discipline that person, what kind of message is he sending there? A government of thieves, for thieves, by thieves. Period! And I am not going to apologise to anybody because this is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I won’t even say help me God, I will say support me God. That’s it.
We have never failed to raise a strong word about endemic corruption. This country has just gone haywire when it comes to corruption. So I will say it again and again. And that’s where we should have seen the leadership of the President. One is caught, [fire immediately], zero tolerance for corruption. Now what do we have? ‘No, I won’t dismiss him’. No, no way! In any country in the world, people will be on the streets, the whole country will be on the streets if that happened but for us, we are peaceful people, Zambians are peace loving. Jesus did not say blessed are the peace lovers or blessed are the peace keepers…you can’t keep peace if there is no peace. It is blessed are the peace makers. Meaning people who are angry enough against what is going on to do something in a peaceful way to stop it.
As Christians, we should be in the fore front of getting angry enough about unjust situations including theft of public funds when so many people are suffering from hunger. We need to change this peacefully and bring about peace. And we are passionate about it as Catholic Christians, no two ways about it, no one will frighten us from talking. They are just wasting their time.
Q. In the just recently held by-election, we witnessed gruesome images of political violence. After the election, the PF, through its secretary general Davies Mwila complained to the Inspector General of Police that their cadres were brutalised by some officers. The police command has responded by firing senior Sesheke officers. What are your views on this, given that police officers in the past have gotten away with other serious atrocities?
A. First of all, violence is not a way of doing politics. I have said it again and again that it is primitive. This didn’t start yesterday, even in the one party state, there was no political dissent allowed within one party…We should be going the way of selling ideas, let the ideas fight, not physical fighting. It is primitive, it is not even stone age, it is the age of the Broken Hill man.
For us, we are short of ideas so what do we do? We beat the opposition into submission. Worse, there is institutional violence, this is when a government of the day, using government institutions to frighten people. This time around, their people were on the receiving end and what happens? They say ‘you didn’t protect the government properly so police are fired’. But previously, the police have failed to stop violence coming from the ruling party, not just this one, before that it was the MMD, before that it was UNIP. There should be a level playing field. Whoever makes a mistake, whatever political party they come from, they should face the law, not to be discriminatory in the administration of justice, it is a shame.
Q. Do you feel young people today are politically awake and willing to participate in the country’s governance like it was when you were growing up?
A. Young people have a future, but they are also in a hurry to live that future. You can’t keep telling them ‘you are the leaders of tomorrow’, no they are leaders today so whatever development you are bringing, you have to look at the young people, are they getting their fair share of development benefits? This must be translated into job creation and also a policy that ensures quality education for tomorrow’s leaders. But this is not coming because of poverty. Right now, as I am talking, the University of Zambia Great East Road campus is trying to find some kind of arbitration between them and the government because as you know, they have scrapped the meal allowances. But why were we not told years ago so that those coming this year can come armed with whatever it is maybe pumpkins or whatever it is. So you cannot convince them that government is concerned about the youth.
Now you can talk about political awareness but that can be translated into fruits of political leadership and fruits of political leadership is development. If nothing is coming like that, you can talk till kingdom come but if those things are not happening, young people will just look at you and walk away. So you have to bring the youth on board with concrete programmes to benefit them.
It is very difficult for young people to believe that government doesn’t have enough if the other day we were told millions are disappearing. We are not going to accept that. It is simply those in leadership enriching themselves at the expense of the youth.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Mpundu reacted to Dr Canisius Banda’s attacks that he was making the work of his successor, Archbishop Alick Banda difficult because he did not want to give up power, saying the former UPND vice-president was spreading falsehoods and crazy imaginations.