By By Masuzyo Chakwe
Tue 31 Dec. 2013, 16:10 CAT
THE Catholic Church says government's lifting of tax exemptions for public benefit organisations and other non-governmental organisations through Statutory Instrument 103, will have enormous and long-term repercussions on the church's ability to help poor people.
In a New Year's message yesterday, Zambia Episcopal Conference spokesperson Fr Paul Samasumo stated that the Church would begin this year with a big headache caused to it by way of the Statutory Instrument No. 103 of 2013.
He stated it would become increasingly difficult for the Church to purchase field utility vehicles such as vans for pastoral and social activities, equipment for churches, schools and hospitals as well as spare parts.
Fr Samasumo stated that the Catholic Church in Zambia simply does not have the ability to pay the high customs duty that would now be required.
"This, in turn, will seriously and negatively impact on the Church's ability to help the poor, who are the beneficiaries of most of our social programmes. The impact will be felt more in the health and education sectors. However, our pastoral and Church programmes will similarly be affected," he said.
Fr Samasumo said if one considered that the Catholic Church provides close to 70 per cent of all rural health care in Zambia or the fact the Church runs the largest number of grant-aided schools in the country, the Statutory Instrument had serious and far-reaching implications.
"Just to illustrate: We have three teacher training colleges; 38 grant-aided secondary/high schools; nine special schools for children with various disabilities; more than 100 nursery and community schools; numerous primary and secondary schools that are privately owned and fully run by our missionary congregations. These figures do not take into consideration nursing schools, many vocational training centres and schools such as carpentry, secretarial, home craft centres, hotel and catering schools as well as parish adult literacy clubs. All these in various ways will be affected by this Statutory Instrument," he said.
Fr Samasumo said most of the help for church programmes in Zambia comes from Europe and this aid had been dwindling over the years.
He said the few donors still remaining would not take kindly to the use of donated funds for customs duty or for donated equipment meant for the poor to be taxed here in Zambia.
"They will simply reduce or stop sending aid. In the end, it will be the poor to be affected. Our experience is that once donors move aid elsewhere, they do not return. The government facility of tax exemptions has always been for non-luxury items and non-luxury vehicles. If government knows of anyone abusing this facility, the best thing would have been for the law enforcement agencies to prosecute those found wanting instead of punishing everybody," he said.
He said governments encourage and give incentives to anyone doing good charitable work because they realise that governments were not able to be everywhere.
Fr Samasumo said the Church was a partner of government and targeting the very institutions supplementing government work was "indeed very disappointing".
"We hope there can still be dialogue over this Statutory Instrument. As our Bishops come for their January meetings, this is something that they will certainly be keen to engage with government," he said.
And Fr Samasumo said Pope Francis has written a New Year message in which he has called the world to embrace fraternity as the foundation of peace.
"Fraternity is about treating each other as brothers and sisters because that is what we really are," he said. "From the very start, Pope Francis has himself personified the very meaning of fraternity by his openness and concern for the poor. It is therefore not surprising that in his first New Year's message, Pope Francis elaborates on the poor and on peace under the inclusive and meaningful heading of fraternity."
He said the Catholic Church in Zambia would this year continue to embrace the poor wherever they were.
Fr Samasumo said the Church would do this through the social and development wing known as Caritas Zambia.
"There is a branch of Caritas in every parish and diocese. Although normally one wants to be positive and hopeful at the beginning of the year, for us the year is beginning with a rather big headache (Statutory Instrument)," said Fr Samasumo./SM/News/WK
Labels: CATHOLIC CHURCH