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Opinions of Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Columnist: Felix Kwame Quainoo

To tax or not to tax the church, My take

One of the hottest issues in Ghana today is the public discourse on whether churches should pay taxes on their income or not. This issue continues to pop up from time to time for discussion but whenever it does no definite conclusion is made and it just slides off as it came.

This time around, it is refusing to "die a natural death" like before probably because of renewed commitment on the part of government to widen the tax net and increase government revenue.

Churches have over the years played very key and significant roles in the socio-economic development of this country. The Catholic Church, for instance, is arguably the second biggest development agent after government.

The church's role in providing educational, health and other important infrastructure cannot be overemphasized. The church's infrastructure is visibly dotted across the length and breadth of the country and some of these facilities remain the best in their catchment areas. A typical example is St. Peter's SHS in the Eastern Region.

Indeed there are still some communities which would not have had a single school but for the benevolence and intervention of the church. Hospitals and clinics were all built in times past to augment the efforts of government and also to aid the church's evangelism agenda.

But of late the church seems to have slowed down or totally abandoned its developmental mandate. This mandate is not prescribed by any law it is largely conventional. In fact, no new facilities are being built except bigger churches and state of the art manses.

Even renovating or upgrading already existing facilities built by these same churches is mostly not done by the churches on the pretext that all those facilities are now in the hands of government, though government has said it time and again that it cannot do it alone without the support of its development partners notable amongst them the church.

Apart from building bigger churches and cosy manses the church now engages in business to shore up church finances. Most of these church businesses evade taxes and it is high time we located these church-based businesses and treated them just like any other business.

Sales from Holy water, anointing oil, sticker, banner, bangle, chain, watch, face towel, handkerchief etc should be taxed because that is not the core mandate of the church. The church is tasked first and foremost to win souls for Christ and anything contrary to this exclusive mandate should be treated as pure business.

Other sources of income for the church like offering, tithe, Harvest proceeds etc, in my opinion, cannot, however, be touched by the tax man because taxing offering and tithe will amount to double taxation because those ones are paid from peoples taxable income and must be treated as such.

I argue specifically that church business entities must definitely be taxed but offerings and tithes should not be taxable because 10% of one's disposable income is paid to the church as tithe after all statutory deductions including tax have been done. Government should, therefore, allow the church some "space" to use those monies for church development.

The problems I envisage are the many flamboyant churches and the big tele evangelists springing up all over the country who do not care a hoot about putting up a single school or hospital or even a bus stop to augment government's developmental agenda. These churches must be tasked by government to do the needful and contribute their quota to develop the country.

Religion still remains the undisputed opium of the masses and so any such move to tax the church must be done discretely not to court disaffection for government and it's subsequent political ramifications.

To tax or not to tax the church! The debate rages on...