Catholic bishops in Malawi have issued a Lenten pastoral statement in which they have given the government of President Peter Mutharika a reality check on of “shrinking standards or lack of public service delivery, increasing gap between the rich and the poor, lack of fiscal discipline and misplaced priorities”. The influential church has also spoken against homosexuality, abortion and artificial birth control measures.
Released by Episcopal Conference of Malawi on fifth Sunday of Lent period, the pastoral letter, dated March 13 2016 and which Nyasa Times has a copy, is signed by all Catholic bishops, including Bishop Thomas Msusa , chairperson of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) and bishop for Blantyre Archdiocese; his vice Martin Mtumbuka of Karonga Diocese, Tarcisius Ziyaye of Lilongwe Archdiocese, Peter Musikuwa of Chikwawa Diocese, Emmanuel Kanyama of Dedza Diocese; Monsignor Michael Muwowo Diocesan Administrator of Mzuzu; George Tambala of Zomba Diocese and Montfort Stima, Mangochi Diocese.
Titled “Mercy of God as a path of hope; On current socio-political and economic issues in Malawi”, the Catholic Bishops said “as Pastors of souls” they acknowledge the many challenges the poor people are facing in this country and call upon the Mutharika government to “ show leadership” in steering the nation to hard working, self-reliance and diversification of
The Catholic Church asks government to “review” some of its policies and practices to ensure a change of mindset and attitudes so as to ensure national and household food security, social security, protection of the environment through promotion of alternative sources of energy and many other areas.
“We cannot sit back and watch in the face of shrinking standards or lack of public service delivery, increasing gap between the rich and the poor, lack of fiscal discipline and misplaced priorities in the prevailing tough times which call for tough measures,” reads the pastoral statement.
The bishops say they continue to be worried by continuous presentation of unrealistic macroeconomic growth indicators by government that do not reflect reality on the ground.
“We are also deeply worried by the bad performance of our economy,” they said.
The letter also highlights concerns on shortage of maize in the country, the exorbitant prices of the same at the parallel markets of vendors due to increased demand.
The church also said it is concerned about “new trends in our society that promote a culture of death instead of a culture of life through the abortion campaign. Because of that, the family and the institution of marriage between man and woman are under direct attack from those campaigning for homosexual rights and homosexual unions.”
On decline of social services, the bishops noted that many district hospitals have scaled down their operations, their ambulance services grounded, their medical supplies drastically reduced to few essential drugs, provision of meals to patients reduced to only one meal per day.
“The deepening healthcare crisis across the country requires special attention of the government.
“It is true that we have qualified people in various ministries and departments of our Government. But the Government bears the blame when people delegated to execute different roles fail to perform. The sad and dehumanizing conditions in our public hospitals are unacceptable,” reads the pastoral letter.
.”We note with great concern that as a country we do not have a specialized cancer hospital where mammograms are fixed. Many women are being denied access to breast cancer detection equipment and computerized tomography scan. Women requiring such services have to pay a lot of money at private diagnostic facilities.”
The church reminds the leadership of this country that most poor Malawians depend on public service delivery financed by the government.
“Consequently, limited or lack of funding is tantamount to denying them access to better services in education, health, agriculture and water; among many other essential services. This hugely compromises the right to development and a possibility of descent life for many Malawians.
“The government’s service delivery systems and policies should be measured on whether they promote, protect and enhance human life and human dignity, especially for the poor and the vulnerable.”
The ECM pastoral statement expressed concern that whilst there is less funding for critical service delivery in many government ministries, “there is a lot of spending for less important issues.”
The church condemned government for hosting Mapwevupwevu [cocktail party] to celebrate passing of budget.
“There is no justification for organizing banquets from state coffers celebrating the passing of national budgets. Such insensitive signals in the face of growing poverty cause a lot of frustrations and pain. We wish to remind the Government and all Malawians the importance of spending within our means,” reads the statement.
Economy of exclusion
The bishops also speak against “deepening divisions” between the rich and the poor,
Catholic bishops say: “We recall the story of the Last Judgement (Mt 25:31-46) which instructs us to put the needs of the poor and the vulnerable first. In the present Malawi, many people still live in conditions which are hardly compatible with their dignity as sons and daughters of God. Their life is a continuous manifestation of the theory of the survival of the fittest.”
However, the bishops say it is shocking that a minority – who can make decisions and policies which can either uplift the majority poor or further depress their economic prospects – enjoys the fruits of development and can afford to live in luxury and wealth.
“Faced by this great act of injustice, we have a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to infrastructures and basic services,” the statement reads.
The church said the success of an economy should be measured through the narrowing of the gap between the rich and the poor.
“We have said before that ‘honesty, righteousness, respect, equal opportunity for all: these must be the qualities which guide our nation as it grows and develops into the future’ (Living our Faith, pastoral letter). We wish to reiterate that in our society characterized by growing prosperity for some and pervasive poverty for others, the basic moral test remains how our most vulnerable members are faring.”
Regionalism and tribalism
On regionalism and tribalism the bishops say: “While we have made important strides as a country to build ourselves as a democratic nation, we are worried that certain trends or forces have the potential of dividing us.”
The bishops noted that elements of regionalism and tribalism are slowly taking root in the society.
“These manifest themselves in various forms especially through social, political and economic exclusion and inequalities between regions and tribes. Federalism was one of such manifestations. We remind all the people of Malawi that the founding fathers and mothers of this nation invested a lot of efforts and energy to ensure that Malawians see and treat each other as brothers and sisters.”
The church stated that unity is the cornerstone on which this nation is built.
“No tribe is more valuable or important than the other.”
The church appeals to all citizens to put Malawi first, before any tribal or regional interests.
Government has also been asked to develop policies and programmes that ensure that all sections of the society are included.
Political parties, Civil Society Organizations, Traditional Authorities and the media have also been urged to desist from making statements that instigate or promote hatred among peace-loving Malawians.
Reforms positive move
The church said it is following with keen interest developments in public sector reforms the government has championed and continues to embark on with an effort to bring about efficient and cost effective public service delivery.
“Whilst previous governments had many principal secretaries, the number has been reduced. The rest are either redeployed or retired.
The reforms, however, are going even into Government parastatals so that they develop strategic plans that would be implemented to improve service delivery like in water, electricity and many other areas.
“We need to point out; however, that change is needed in the culture of politics where cronyism and patronage confuse the roles of parastatals. Given the recent commitment of the leadership of the country on reforms, if followed to the letter, they might bring in much needed confidence and improved service delivery currently lacking in most sectors. This is a positive move towards the right direction,” reads the statement.
The church said the reforms have the potential to inculcate a hard working spirit, integrity and patriotism in all Malawians in general not only the civil service.
Words of encouragement
The bishops acknowledged that there are some positive developments taking place in our country which if supported and nurtured can transform the country.
“We also challenge the entire nation, and those entrusted with leadership positions to seriously consider designing policies and programmes that reduce the increasing gap between the rich and the poor.
“We call upon our renowned economists to honestly respond to the question: Can an economy and its policies opt for the poor? We recall Pope Francis’ words of encouragement to all Catholics and people of good will to love their country, offering their best and advancing the common good,” reads the statement.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :