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Feature Article of Thursday, 3 January 2013

Columnist: Owusu-Afriyie, Kwame

The Religious Industry of Ghana

: A Potential for Augmenting National Resource Envelope

The importance of the religious industry (i.e. religious bodies and their economic activities) in the socio-political as well as economic fortunes of Ghana cannot be discounted. This area is however least explored as a potential national rather than individual or corporate asset.

Since time past, religious bodies have engaged in various activities which have directly and of course positively impacted on all facets of human endeavour. For example, the religious bodies have been well known in the provision of schools, hospitals, orphanages among others across the country particularly in remote locations. In the course of meeting the spiritual needs of Ghanaians, they also offer various employment opportunities which could have been the burden of the central government. Laudable as these activities could be, the benefits are either limited to their respective worshippers or may not be mainstreamed into the wider national development agenda.

There is no denying the view that the pace of expansion of the religious industry far exceeds what is happening in the manufacturing and other critical sectors of the economy. The huge structural projects these religious bodies are embarking on annually make one wonder if the national GDP is not significantly understated. Especially, most of the premises of collapsed manufacturing companies and cinema houses have been taken over by these religious bodies as centres of worship. Coupled with this is the view that Ghanaians are highly religious, to the extent that some may not even honour their civic responsibility in terms of paying their rightful taxes, but will be more than willing to donate generously towards religious activities, or pay their tithes without fail.

In this regard, the religious industry has become a major source of mobilizing significant resource. Though classified under non-governmental institutions, the mobilized resources of these religious bodies are not subject to tax; only that such incomes go to individuals and, to some extent, some of their profitable ventures.

The time has come for us as a nation to think outside the box and find innovative ways by which the religious industry could be partners in the development agenda of the nation, especially, where religious bodies have been playing significant advocacy roles in ensuring that the well-being of the citizens is enhanced by thriving and growing.

This concern is more germane in the African context where the prominence of the religious industry is on the ascendency, unlike Europe. One can only leverage on this prominence by seeking a sound and symbiotic relationship with them to prosecute the national development agenda.

It is quite heart-warming that lately some religious authorities have been vocal in reminding the President-elect to endeavour and fulfill, if not all, most of his campaign promises. What critically should have been added was the commitment of the religious bodies in supporting the effort to raising the requisite resources to execute these broad national objectives. It must be noted that, a significant portion of our national spending programmes is funded with donor support. This sometimes limits the ability of government to focus resource to the critical sectors which could lift the nation from economic doldrums. Conditions attached to such resources may not always serve the national agenda whilst in some instances there would be abrupt cessation of promised donor resources due to both internal and external economic and political dynamics, thus creating gaping financing gaps in the government’s budget. Government usually is faced with a serious budget constraint to the extent that after meeting its statutory spending requirements, not much is left for laying the critical foundation for significantly transforming the structure of the economy. It is in this regard that a stakeholder’s meeting of all the heads of the various religious bodies and their affiliates is most opportune to seek their cooperation in mapping a strategic consensus regarding the effective role they could play in supporting the national resource mobilization agenda. Surely, it should be possible for all the religious bodies to accept some proportion of their quarterly or annual funds raised or other sources of income into a Fund earmarked for specific national programmes, such as the School Feeding Programme or the National Immunization Programme.

A selected committee of imminent persons from all religious bodies could be made part of the management of such a Fund to supervise and ensure intended utilization. It is my conviction that such a partnership with the government would no doubt expedite the realization of some of the national aspirations and position the religious bodies in actively and directly using their platforms to transform the socio-economic well-being of the nation. Besides, the good book enjoins us to seek the well-being of the nation in which we dwell. May I also suggest, as a necessary package to the economic mobilization effort, the institution of a ‘National Civic Consciousness Day’ on the calendar of all religious bodies, devoted for re-awakening the consciousness of the religious to committing themselves to the national ideals and discharging faithfully their responsibilities regarding the payment of taxes and respect for state institutions to ensure that collectively the national interest is served and preserved with and their example.

KWAME OWUSU-AFRIYIE ECONOMIST emma_owsu@yahoo.com

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