The President of the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council (GPCC), Reverend Paul Frimpong-Manso, has broached a conversation that deserves the attention of the political establishment and the general public.
He says he does not support the call for the government to tax offerings and tithes collected by churches.
He thinks the state should rather strengthen the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) to identify religious bodies, including churches, that operate businesses like schools and clinics, tax them and leave those which use their resources to support humanitarian projects.
He explains that congregation members, including church workers like pastors, pay taxes on their incomes before making such contributions to the church.
Then Reverend Frimpong-Manso chips in the fact that even in some advanced countries, the state supports the church with back taxes.
It should be noted that back taxes are taxes whose payments are suspended on such conditions as ascertained disaster(s) striking the taxpayer, individual or organisation; death or serious illness of a dependent of a taxpayer; and inability to obtain records.
Interestingly, back taxes continue to increase with the inclusion of interest and penalties, and non-payment can be allowed up to 10 years.
Rev. Frimpong-Manso’s allusion to back taxes, therefore, seems to support his call for taxes to be placed on businesses of religious bodies.
That is okay, but looking at the conditions necessitating back taxes, the Ghanaian Times thinks church leaders with dubious character can exploit the condition of lack of records and eventually go for tax reprieve to short-change the state.
Thus, when it becomes necessary to tax religious bodies, lack of records must not be part of the condition for back taxes.
Concerning the issue of religious bodies paying tax, it is on record that a 1947 Ordinance first gave tax exemption to charitable organisations, including religious bodies, and ever since religious bodies have not been paying tax on their incomes.
Today, some religious bodies are exploiting in various ways the age-old provision that has been maintained by subsequent pieces of legislation.
The time has come that such provision should be scrapped and, at worst, some stipulated percentages of tax charged on incomes accruing to churches and other religious bodies, as well as on their imports and other spending.
There is no justification for the claim that religious bodies provide charity so they should not pay tax.
What about individuals and organisations that undertake charity activities but still pay tax?
These days, there are churches in the country owned by foreigners who repatriate huge sums in dollars to their home countries.
Should they continue to exploit Ghanaians this way?
Taxing such churches can reduce how much they can repatriate and thus ease the strain on the dollar in the country.
In Matthew 22:17-21, Jesus was asked by the Pharisees whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar [the Emperor] or not.
Jesus responded in verse 21 that “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”.
It is clear Jesus, originator of the Christian faith, the Man believed to be God-incarnate, Himself supports taxation.
Therefore, no church has any basis to oppose the introduction of a law to make religious bodies pay tax.