General News of 2014-01-29

Taxing churches is plain animosity - Kofi Bentil

Vice President of social policy think tank, IMANI GHANA has downplayed suggestions that government should tax churches in an effort to generate more revenue for the state.

Speaking on the Super Morning Show on Wednesday, Kofi Bentil said the debate on whether or not to tax churches "is an old, tired argument and we need to move to real things that will grow this country." "It is rooted in a lot of envy, ignorance and sometimes plain animosity against churches,’ he added.

Kofi Bentil believes the country must address a larger problem of poor tax collection rather than the increasing fixation on taxing churches. He was quick to add, rather subtly, that if the church is engaged in any taxable activity nothing stops authorities from collecting taxes on those activities.

"If the church is making taxable money which is not being collected, it is the same problem of tax collection which plagues this country generally and not because churches are a special group. If we want to expand the tax net, 80% of our economy is more or less under the radar and they are not properly taxed," he stated.

Head of Policy Evaluation and Monitoring at the Presidency, Dr. Tony Aidoo however argues that churches should be taxed because ‘over centuries churches have been seen to perform charitable services and so modern society in most countries tend to exempt them from taxation.

But if you have a founding pastor who receives tithes and offerings from members of the congregation and buys himself a posh car, wears a designer suit, builds a luxurious house and in some cases purchases executive aircraft, do you still continue to look at that organization as a charitable organization?’ As government seeks to raise more revenue for development, some have suggested that it is about time that religious organizations such as churches, many of which have become quasi-business establishments paid taxes on their earnings to the state.

In Dr. Tony Aidoo’s view, churches "are no longer charitable organizations but commercial ones because most of their extra religious activities can be found in the commercial realm. They sell holy water, produce sermons and sell them and are also into big businesses."

But Kofi Bentil disagreed. He argued tithes and offerings churches receive are charitable gifts which ought not to be taxed. "If we want to change tax policy in this country to cover charitable gifts, let us do so. But let us know that if we do that, we will be taxing Hindu monasteries and fetish priests for the goats that they get".

Contributing to the programme, General Secretary of the Christian Council, Rev. Dr. Kwabena Opuni-Frimpong said ‘Christian council churches pay property tax, tax on their staff’ and so ‘if we are going to initiate a new tax system, let us talk about that’.

Source: myjoyonline.com
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