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Opinions of Friday, 21 July 2017

Columnist: Kwaku Badu

It’s monstrously unjust to exempt merchandising churches from the tax net

It is an undeniable fact that freedom of worship is an inalienable human right, and, it is detailed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

More importantly, freedom of worship has been transposed and given meaning in our 1992 Constitution.

As such, there is no permitted abridgement as to which religious sect one could join. Indeed, individuals have their inherent dignity and inalienable rights to choose or join any congregation of their choice.

Let me however emphasise that this periodical is not seeking to upbraid those churches that have contributed in the past, and still contributing meaningfully to the advancement of humanity.

Honestly speaking, though, the vast majority of Ghanaians owe a great debt of gratitude to Orthodox churches for their unstinting missionary endeavours.

In my humble opinion, the orthodox churches deserve every commendation for their numerous charitable endeavours. However, the same cannot be said about the “mushroom churches”.

I must admit, it pains my heart to stress that the founders of the mushroom churches are somehow getting away with their ceaseless scheming guiles and irrevocable self-aggrandisement.

Regrettably, the founders of these mushroom churches have succeeded in proselytizing and swindling unsuspected truth seekers, who only want adulterated, more 'palatable' forms of Truth, watered down and compromised for convenience.

Disappointingly, however, the authorities are reluctant to regulate the activities of these mushroom churches. For it would appear that the authorities fear the repercussions of being labelled blasphemous by the uncritical church goers or do not want to risk votes, considering the massive church population.

Consequently, the authorities have somehow turned a blind eye to the abhorrent activities of the mushroom churches such as noise making, illegal trading (anointing oil), torturing followers, fleecing of general public and unnecessary tax evasions.

Of course, these churches have registered or often seen as charitable organisations-non-profit making organisations. But do they deserve such benevolent status? No.

As a matter of fact and observation, they are making a lot of profits from unconventional trading, in addition to ripping off their poor followers to feed their opulent lifestyles.

In a way, they have been given charitable status in the view that they will help the needy in the society, albeit they have refused and still refusing to oblige. In brief, they prefer to rip off their poor followers to boost their bank balances.

In my view, the “mushrooms churches” are not charitable, thus they must be given tax codes and let us start deducting taxes, which can be used to develop their communities.

Isn’t it true that some of these mushroom churches owners go about bragging about their wealth? They do. So where then lies the fairness in leaving those “fat cats” from the tax net and then turn around and pursue their impoverished church members?

Unlike the Orthodox churches, (Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican etc.), these “mushroom Churches” are not charitable in any means, so why give them tax concessions?

As a matter of fact, there is no justification for allowing these mushroom churches to take home all their incomes from their trading activities without income tax deductions.

Put bluntly, why allow these fat cats to go scot free and then turn around and pursue low-income earners such as pepper and tomato sellers for taxes from their meagre earnings?

There is no denying or hiding the fact that the activities of the unscrupulous mushroom churches are causing a lot of anguish to many discerning citizens, thus the policy makers cannot look on unconcerned.

If anything at all, we should not lose sight of the fact that in international best practice, charitable organisations are exempted from paying direct taxes and they, in turn, reciprocate by undertaking socially responsible projects.

It should also be mentioned that in most well-regulated precincts, there is a threshold in the registered charities or social enterprises tax concessions.

For example, if a charitable organisation chose to engage in a profitable activity outside its normal ambit, then profits that would be accrued from such activity become taxable.

Going forward, in Ghana, there should be a Charity Commission to oversee the activities of all the mushroom churches and that of registered charitable organisations and social enterprises

More importantly, our policy makers must attach heightened importance to this quagmire, and implement expedient measures to curb the unscrupulous activities of the mushroom churches.