We, Catholic Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, after a week of prayerful reflection and interaction among ourselves and with our various Commissions, present this special message to the nation.
We do so because we believe that now is the opportune time to directly engage Malawians into an honest discussion about the future of our beloved country. Like the prophet Ezekiel of old, ever conscious of our prophetic role, we are touched by the Word of God:”Son of Man, I have appointed you as watchman to the House of Israel, when you hear a word from my mouth, warn them in my name.”(Ezekiel 33:7)
The Church has a longstanding tradition starting from our Lord Jesus Christ of Reading and interpreting the signs of the times. in this line Jesus said: “When you see a cloud rising in the west you say immediately that it is going to rain – and so it does; and when you notice that the wind blowing from the south you say that it is going to be hot – and so it is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky; why do you not know interpret the present times?” (Lk. 12 : 54-56)
It is this reading and interpreting of the signs of the times that has led us to produce this statement convinced, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, that “the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time,…are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well” (Gaudium et Spes, paragraph 1).
1. The joys and hopes
We have every reason for the strides that have been made in the development of this country in recent years.
We congratulate the Government for priotizing issues of Food Security. The current efforts to move Malawi from a rain – dependent agriculture country to one that relies also on irrigation are commendable plains and drainage patterns of our lakes and rivers shall in the long run, help to enhance food security as well as the social – economic development of most rural Malawians.
We applaud the Government for such important initiatives to uplift poor Malawians from poverty. These programmes coupled with favourable rains and the spirit of hard work instilled by the national level. We note with satisfaction the infrastructure development that has taken place in the country especially in the improvement of the road network.
We follow with keen interest the possible opening of a water rout to the sea through the Nsanje inland port and applaud the Government for plans to rehabilitate the rail network. The promised five new university intake are development in the right direction with regard to giving opportunities for tertiary education to .all qualifying students.
We are particularly glad that the Government has been able to fund some of this development projects using money generated within this country rather than relying on donor funds always.
2. The grief and anguish
In order to sustain the above positive developments, we need to pay attention to areas that in our day are slowly but firmly becoming ‘the grief and anguish ‘of the people of Malawi.
When we emerged from the 2009 elections, our hopes were high for peace, stability and development for all. Somewhat more than a year later our hopes are slowly fading away. The majority the ruling party enjoys in parliament was meant to facilitate Government business and progress but unfortunately it has bred a spirit of overconfidence on the one part of the Government.
While Malawians recall with bad memories the era when the opportunity was in majority, they are slowly waking up to the downside of a government that has majority power as well. Both sides have used their pursuing the common good through the professed development and reconciliation agenda.
We are often surprised that in official political speeches the ideal democracy is put before us while the actual practice of politics on the ground does not always reflect what is preached on podiums. It is in this context that we, your pastors, in sincerity, humbly express the following concerns.
2.1 Lack of Proper Consultation on National Issues
We note with concerns the manner in which consultations on issues of national interest are being carried out.
Much as the Government has a right to propose changes on areas of national importance, proper consultation are imperative if the resulting decision is to be upheld as representing the will of the majority and common good. The consultation that we have recently seen, on such important issues as bill No. 13 of 2009: Constitution amendments (Marriage age); Bill No. 14 of 2009: Police ; Bill No. 2 of 2010: Local Government elections (Amendments); Bill No. 10 of 2010: Protected flags, emblems and names (Amendment); Bill No. 14 of 2010 Pension, leave a lot to be desired.
Consultations must give room to contrary opinions and allow for debate and dialogue. If this is not done, it leads to discontent and can also lead to conflict. If contrary opinions lead to intimidation of individuals or institutions, the dialogue that is required between all stakeholders in a democracy fails. Changes that are introduced without listening to the legitimate wishes of the people, have the potential of delinking and alienating an otherwise good Government from the very people it serves.
2.2 Intra-Party Democracy
As we said our previous letter ‘taking Responsibility for our future’ (2008, par.2.1.1) within political parties, the party constitution and the leaders must provide ways and means to make it possible for all members to participate fully and give aspirants the opportunity to freely contest for key positions.
Some of the consequences of not paying attention to these elements are: dictatorial tendencies in party leaders and those who surround them, disgruntled party members, functionalism in parties, and break up of parties. Our conviction is that it is within the political party that democracy starts; it is also here that it starts to fail! The symptoms of this failure are seen when parties give in to the big-man syndrome; when young new blood is not allowed to enter into political leadership.
We call upon all political parties to uphold principles of constitutionalism and tolerance within the parties.
2.3 The Media and Freedom of Expression
Informed decisions are made by an informed public. The public media, paid with tax payers’ money, have to ensure that the general public remains informed. However we note with dismay the continuous unbalanced reporting and news coverage.
The public media are used to castigate faith [-based and non-governmental organizations that offer alternative contributions to various policies. Besides that the private media have been threatened with closure if they are perceived to be ‘unpatriotic’.
Both private and public media should play a crucial role in promoting a vibrant, well –informed and critical society. This of course also asks from the same media, faith-based organisations and non-governmental organisations that their motivation should always be to contribute to the good of the nation.
Their interest should always be the promotion of the common good including safeguarding the rule of law, good governance, reconciliation, justice and peace.
2.4 Politicising Food Security Issues
while the government is constantly assured the nation that there is enough maize for the country and this year there are indications that we have yet another food surplus, this assurance and the national projected figures have to be translated into food security at household level throughout the country. Though there is enough food in the country, we do not understand why people in areas where harvest failed due to poor rains were not immediately assisted by the Government.
We urge the Government to intensify its assistance in these areas. Furthermore, the national food surplus we have enjoyed over the last five years will be meaningful to the extent that issues of household food security and the distribution of food to the most vulnerable are addressed adequately.
2.5 Anti-Corruption Drive
We see corruption as an evil which must be eradicated from our society. It is usually the poor who suffer most its consequences. So we do need anti-corruption drive that tackles corruption at all levels.
Currently the anti-corruption drive is interpreted by the public as driven by the state’s desire to silence and push into submission people who seem to be politically ambitious or critical of some Government decisions.
We call upon the Government to ensure that the Anti-Corruption Bureau acts independently and is giving enough resources to start and conclude cases speedily. We urge all stakeholders and citizens to resist corruption and to contribute to its eradication.
2.6 Land Issues
Land is an important asset in Malawi as it is the source of livelihood and the social-economic development of people. While we acknowledge with happiness the growing infrastructure development in our country and the greenbelt initiative, we note that in some cases, such developments can have the downside of displacing people unduly and thereby creating misery to the very people they are supposed to serve
We implore authority to make sure that development projects should be carefully weighed against the livelihoods of both the logue with the affected people.
Displaced of people due to intend infrastructure development, if not handled properly, will create misery and entrench poverty of already poor people. Furthermore, we recommend that in cases where people are relocated, the Government should ensure that people are properly assisted to settled down. Above all, we argue the government to ensure that the nation has full information on the nature and the purpose of Greenbelt Initiative.
We call for a dialogue between all relevant stakeholders to review criteria and currently used in the acquisition of land.
2.7 Local Government Elections
In order to ‘take democracy home’ there is need for functional and effective local governance structures and systems. While the local elections have finally been set for April 2011, we sadly note that there is lack of clear information about resources, equipment and personnel to affect various electoral processes.
Subsequently major stakeholders in the electoral processes like political parties, civil society and faith-based organisations are affected negatively. This situation has further been, complicated by the recent amendment of the Local Government Act effectively giving powers to the president and the Electoral Commission to decide on the local government elections date, rather than making it a constitutional obligation.
2.8 The Office of the Vice President
The Constitution of Malawi recognizes and places value in the office of the Vice President as the second highest office in the land (chapter 8, section 78-82).
We are concerned with the lack of respect to the Office and the person of the Vice President. We ask the Government to see to it that the Office of the Vice President be given all respect and necessary support.
This is our honest sharing of the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish facing Malawi today. As a nation we have much to be grateful for, but in the process of charting the way forward, we realize that we need to work together. The principles of the poor must continue to guide us.
We invite all citizens to take up their responsibility in this honest assessment of ourselves. In so doing , we hope to usher in a new era that is characterised by honest and respectful dialogue and an ardent common search for solutions towards the integral development of Malawi, ‘Wakutsina nkhutu ndu mnasi’
May Mary, the mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the model of discipline, intercede for us so that our country may enjoy good governance and development.
Bishops speak out
Most reverend Tarcisius G. Ziyaye Chairman and Archbishop of Blantyre
Right Reverend Joseph M.Zuza Vice-Chairman and Bishop of Mzuzu
Right Reverend Renni Ste-Marie Bishop of Lilongwe
Right Reverend Peter Musikuwa Bishop of Chikhwawa
Right Reverend Thomas Msusa Bishop of Zomba
Right Reverend Emmanuel Kanyama Bishop of Dedza
Right Alesandro Pagan Bishop of Mangochi
Right Reverend Montfort Stima Auxiliary Bishop of Blantyre
Very Reverend Martin Mtumbuka Bishop elect of Kalonga
Date: 31 October,2010