President Joyce Banda’s donation of fertiliser to three Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) synods of Blantyre, Nkhoma and Livingstonia has drawn fire from observers who accuse her of trying to buy off the clerics.
Presidential adviser on religious affairs, Reverend Malani Mtonga, confirmed Banda’s personal donations of fertiliser to ministers in the three synods, saying over 1 000 bags have so far been given out.
“Some synods requested for the fertiliser [because] they have old and retired ministers who need support. They also look after orphans who also need support. Apart from the three synods, there are a number of other religious institutions being supported, especially those looking after orphans,” said Mtonga on Thursday in an interview.
Asked whether the President would not be misunderstood as trying to buy the clerics, Mtonga said the donation was not meant to buy the clergy.
“They [the clergy] are also bona fide citizens. They need to benefit from government. All of us need to support President Banda and her government. We are all government,” he said.
Blantyre CCAP Synod general secretary Reverend Alex Maulana confirmed his synod received about 200 bags of fertiliser. He said they each got one bag, including the retired and old.
Maulana said there are some ministers who could not afford a bag of fertiliser; hence, the donation.
Chancellor College political analyst Dr. Blessings Chinsinga said it was easy to argue that the President wants to buy the clerics.
“It is a misplaced aid, especially when you look at the arguments raised—that they include retired ministers. There are so many retired people who need support. Perception matters in politics. The popular perception here is that the President is trying to buy out the Church.
“And when we critically look at Malawi politics, democracy has survived because of the Church and not civil society organisations. When the Church speaks out, people listen.”
In December 2008, divisions erupted in Blantyre Synod after government, under the leadership of the late president Bingu wa Mutharika, distributed 450 coupons to the clerics to enable them buy subsidised fertiliser. At the time, some people also regarded that gesture as a bribe.