By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
December 22, 2009
Parliament has reached an advanced stage in passing the Ghana Revenue Authority Bill, 2009, which aims at regularizing the tax administration system to raise revenue for the state. This Bill is long overdue; a casual glance of its provisions suggests that the Bill is inadequate in many ways. It has excluded some important areas and it doesn’t tell us the punishment for those who evade tax obligations, according to Paul Collins Appiah-Ofori, the MP for Asikuma-Odoben-Brakwa.
Contributing to the motion, Haruna Iddrisu the Minister of Communications, noted that leakages in the tax administration system should be blocked to ensure more revenue mobilization for the government. He added that institutions responsible for enforcing these obligations should be up and doing. These viewpoints suggest that the Bill lacks the exact bite that one expects to find in it. Such a bill cannot do what one expects.
One of the major problems that should have been catered for by such a Bill has been left out. This problem is the failure to make the Churches and their leaders pay tax to validate their presence in national life. We are at a point where we must deal firmly with the Church as one of the ubiquitous institutions that rake in money and play a major role in our national life but deny the state the revenue that it needs to provide social amenities for the citizens. Some of these institutions have constitutionally defined functions while others don’t. In one way or the other, their functions affect national life by either contributing to crisis or exposing the cause of that crisis. The Church is one such institution. It is noticeable because of its tendency to attract money into its coffers for which it doesn’t account to the state.
Every corner in Ghana has a chapel (church house) and more churches are mushrooming all over the country as if the founders of those churches want to prove to the whole world that God has chosen our country for a special favour. The proliferation of churches may suggest that there is need for the country to be submitted to the Will of God, inferring from President Mills’ capricious statement that he wished the whole country were a prayer camp!
With the springing up of these churches, one would expect that adherence to the teachings of the Church/Bible would largely influence the citizens to curb the immorality and corruption that have plagued our country. After all, what is the good of the Church if it cannot turn the people away from vice?
Yet, vice is on the ascendancy, engulfing the Church itself. The Church has become a whited sepulchre, all white outside. But wait until you get a view of the deformity within! Sin has got such a hold on their leaders’ very heart-strings that they sometimes think they will crack before it lets go. Yet, they claim to be the dove sent forth from the ark—those anointed by God to lead us to salvation.
With its heavy presence in our national life, the Church cannot be overlooked in any discussion of national crisis because it has a place in the crisis that hampers our development. The truth about this issue may hurt some people, but it has to be told. And that’s exactly what I seek to do. Mind you, I do not seek to question anybody’s religious faith or to damn any religion. My emphasis is on the role of the Church in national life and how that role should be appraised, especially in terms of taxation.
The Church and its dogma have only one purpose: to stultify growth of divergent ideas and create a sense of a mirage about the after-life. The Church cannot deny its role in dividing the ranks of the people. Ghana is at the crossroads and has reached a point where firm and resolute decisions have to be made and enforced to free the citizens from the charlatans parading as redeemers and miracle workers.
Indeed, the government has to be bold to ensure that churches pay tax. The Rawlings PNDC government attempted it but couldn’t do so even though it succeeded in getting another group of “untouchables” (the lawyers) to pay tax—something they hadn’t been doing and for which they appear not to have forgiven Rawlings to date. The Church leaders are also unhappy that the idea has been floated that they should pay tax. They know it themselves that one of the reasons for their enmity against Rawlings is that tax issue.
At a time that the country seeks to deepen its democracy, there is no justification for the tax net to be lifted off some noticeable segments of the society whose income is not monitored or taxed. If ordinary low-wage-earning workers are taxed to the last pesewa by the state, what prevents the authorities from roping in those who reap where they haven’t even sown anything? If moves are being made to tax “Kayayei” and “Kayanu” (truck pushers or headload carriers), what justification is there for the church and its leaders to be left out of the tax net?
These churches and their leaders make their wealth from the offertory and other donations that the congregants (including the low-wage-earning workers) give them. Those religious zealots among the congregation even go to the extent of strictly following the antiquated religious edict of paying a tenth of their earnings (tithe) to the coffers of those churches, which the Church leaders appropriate and invest in profitable ventures.
Some churches have investments (transport business, buying-and-selling, imports and exports, etc.) and reap the benefits without paying anything to the state just because they operate under the banner of the Bible or represent themselves as charitable organizations, which they are not.
It is common knowledge that some of the Church leaders are millionaires who live ostentations lives as they persistently exploit their gullible church members through all manner of offertories (whether voluntarily offered or induced through questionable miracle sessions or questionable prophesies). They do not account to anybody and get away with all that wealth without paying anything by way of income tax.
They come across as passionless people who are more bound up in the interests of personal gain than in any other of the concerns of life. Swollen with their own self-importance, they preach virtue but practise vice; they display the vulgar conceit of worldliness while urging others to be in the world, not of the world! With this posture, they’ve turned their followers into mere birds of passage that are on a seasonal journey for the intangible while they derive instant gratification from their sermonizing.
This situation is reprehensible and must be set right. Someone in authority must be bold enough to rope the Church into the tax net. In the United States, the churches and their leaders pay tax, even if there are some circumstances that suggest exemptions. At least, the Churches file tax returns for the state to know how much money passed through their hands in the year. We have no such regimentation in Ghana, which is inadmissible. I reiterate that in this 21st century in Ghana, the church (as an institution) must pay tax to the state just as its leaders should. In this sense, the state will be profiting from the contributions of that segment of the society whose leaders always admonish their followers against worldliness but unashamedly go to bed with Marmon. If they will not give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, then, they have no right to practise their trade in Caesar’s domain which needs resources to provide social amenities and security for the people—which they (these non-tax-paying entities) enjoy, anyway. It’s a simple matter of quid pro quo.
It was not for nothing that the late Steve Biko of South Africa said in his I Write What I Like that God is not in the habit of coming down from the heavens to help men (humanity, generally) solve their existential problems. If the Christian creationist theories are to be believed, then, God created us in his own image and likeness, endowing us with all the spiritual and material attributes (including the talent to make money) that we need to take care of our lives on earth. Why, then, should we not use those endowments to solve our problems of existence but turn to God for the manna that he has stopped delivering since the era of the 40 years wandering in the desert by the Jews during their Exodus from Pharaoh’s land of sumptuous meat and good wine (Egypt)? The days or parasitic living are gone and the Church and its leaders must know this fact.
Ever since the Christian missionaries (the German Basel Missionaries, to be precise) set foot on our soil to introduce their version of “God” to us, we have found ourselves enmeshed in the roaring currents of a kind of Christian religious fervor that will astound those very Missionaries should they to return to our part of the world today. By this religious fervor, we have validated their initiative, which paved the way for two major phenomena that have continued to dominate our lives.
That initiative led to the intensification of the exploitation of our natural resources within the context of the legitimate trade that succeeded the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. It also facilitated our mental colonization and subservience to their mechanisms for defining spirituality in the workings of their Christian faith. Believe it or not, these two phenomena constitute some of the disturbing experiences that are at the root of our national crisis today.
Religion has become our opium, pushing us down the hill of life. How can a people be even independent who import their thoughts as they do their wares, who have not the spirit to invent even their own prejudices? Certainly, what is bred in the bone will be seen in the flesh. The state needs revenue from the Church and its leaders. This preferential treatment must cease if we want to make any headway in our revenue-generation efforts. Indeed, we still have a great deal to unlearn before we can begin to learn correctly how to build our country. The Churches and their leaders must also begin to pay tax now!!