On Saturday, Malawians were shocked to learn that Archbishop Thomas Msusa, of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Blantyre, had rejected a donation that the First Lady, Gertrude Mutharika, made through her Beautify Malawi (Beam) Trust.
The donation, 40 bags of cement, were part of an offer by Beam to rehabilitate and refurbish a hostel that was gutted at Providence Girls Secondary School in Mulanje District.
It was surprising because it is common knowledge that the church, just like any other institution in the country, is feeling the pinch of the economic downturn. It was hoped that the picture would become clearer as the two parties come into the open to straighten up issues.
Sadly, it has emerged that words are merely being used to hide meaning of the context in which the sad development happened.
The Archbishop is quoted by media houses that he rejected the donation because he had already identified donors from Germany. He also revealed that the donors were already in the country to assess the situation and see how they would go about their task.
On the other hand, Beam issued a press statement detailing how the First Lady found herself at the school with her donation. They said the school’s governing board wrote the First Lady, on March 5, asking for the help. On March 8, Beam officials had a meeting with the school officials. On March 16, there was a meeting which included officials from Public Events Department to plan the First Lady’s visit the following day.
The statement claims that during the tour of the premises, the First Lady was assured that no-one had come forward to give the school the required K35 million for rehabilitation.
This is where the plot thickens now.
The Archbishop claims that he was not consulted or informed about the First Lady’s intentions to donate to the school when Beam claims that all letters were copied to the Archbishop. Again, how come the Archbishop was present during the First Lady’s visit if he was not informed?
That aside, it seems Beam officials cut corners in their interaction with the school. It is common knowledge that the Archbishop owns the school by virtue of being the head of the Archdiocese. Common sense would have dictated a consultation with him or his office considering that it was the whole First Lady planning to visit the school.
It does not make sense for Beam officials to be dealing with the stewards and leaving out the owner because those running the school would not know which other doors the property owner had knocked at to solicit for alms.
In his speech, the Archbishop said the school was old and no amount of painting or face lifting would change it. He observed that former president, Joyce Banda, and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) crowd puller, Patricia Kaliati who was present at the function, passed through the corridors of the institution. The cleric said his bishopric would easily handle issues of rehabilitation of the school.
Beam officials failed to decode Msusa’s speech. What he meant was that being 85 years old, the school needed new structures. The Archdiocese built the school, as partners with government, but government was not doing much to keep the school in shape.
Beam officials also misled the First Lady. It was misplaced for the officials to advise the First Lady that the Beam contractor should go to the school on a Sunday to do further needs assessment and begin the works. Need we say that Catholics observe Sunday as their holy day and that their institutions do not open for transactions that are not emergency in nature? A little sensitivity would have worked there.
But Msusa was also in a dilemma. Malawi is trudging towards the 2019 Tripartite Elections. Had the church received the donation; would it be seen to play its prophetic role without bias? What if the church would take an objective stand to commend or condemn the government during the campaign period, would its conduct be seen as impartial?
Then we should not forget that there are some unresolved issues between the governing DPP and the Catholic Church. Not long ago, the DPP used the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) Radio and TV to project Msusa as endorsing President Peter Mutharika’s administration.
The Bishop’s pleas against such black propaganda fell on deaf ears. This forced Msusa to uncharacteristically rebuke the DPP administration and prophetically declare that: “one day, the power of the people shall prevail over the power of the gun”.
And in the build up towards the failed mass anti-government demonstrations which was championed by the Public Affairs Committee, the DPP unleashed its propaganda machinery to vilify the Catholic bishops as being worldly. The party paraded some scandalous fly-by-night self-styled pastors in shiny blazers and spotting some funny hair styles to lecture the Catholic bishops on how to conduct themselves.
That said, the Archbishop would have received the donation and ask the First Lady that it be channelled to other equally needy Catholic owned schools or hospitals.
By the way, Blantyre Secondary School (BSS) had its library, hostel and kitchen burnt down on different occasions. Apart from the library that was rehabilitated by foreign well-wishers, the kitchen and hostel remain unattended to.
And BSS is a government owned school which also accommodates girls; would it not be proper to consider helping BSS as well?
Otherwise, Beam Trust officials misled the First Lady and opened her to public ridicule. The officials deserve to be fired for bringing the Office of the First Lady into odium, hatred and discontent in the eyes of an average Malawian.
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