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Should churches give to Caesar what they collect in God’s name?
Publish Date: Jun 23, 2014
Should churches give to Caesar what they collect in God’s name?
Women putting their offertory in a basket at a church in Kampala
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  • Pastor Male backs the proposal, saying money from churches should be used to fight moral decay

By John Semakula, Carol Kasujja & Halima Nampima

The other week, finance minister Maria Kiwanuka raised taxes on many services, including private schools. In the ensuing debate, the media hosted discussions on other sources of revenue.

Frank Gashumba, the chief executive officer of Sisimuka Uganda, proposed that pentecostal churches should pay taxes from offertory. Sisimuka Uganda is a pressure group promoting rights among Ugandans.

Gashumba told Saturday Vision that pentecostal churches are businesses, just like private schools, which have been asked to pay taxes.

“There is no difference between people working in Kikuubo and those running pentecostal churches. Pastors are in a money-making business, as are we,” Gashumba said.

However, Jim Mugunga, the spokesperson of the finance ministry, said churches were registered as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and thus, were exempted from paying taxes.

“Churches present their returns showing no profits,” Mugunga said. Uganda’s Income Tax Act provides that an organisation is exempt from paying income tax if it falls within the definition of “exempt organisation” and religious sects are therein.

However, Hajji Nsereko Mutumba, the spokesperson of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, said they (Muslims) pay direct taxes to the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA).

Asked why they were paying taxes, yet the law excludes them, Mutumba told Saturday Vision to ask the Government and URA.

Gashumba argued that many prominent pentecostal churches collect over sh5m every Sunday, adding that it would be unfair if the Government did not tax them.

“When (singer Jose) Chameleone organises a show, a team from URA camps at the entrance of the venue to tax him. URA should do the same to pentecostal churches,” he said.

Gashumba also noted that towards the end of every year, churches organise prayer festivals at which they collect millions of shillings.

“Some churches even hire bullion vans on Sundays and at prayer gatherings to transport the huge collections to safer places before banking the following day,” he said.

Some pastors support proposal

Pastor Simon Male backs Gashumba’s proposal, saying churches should pay taxes. “Some pastors have vehicles with personalised number plates and regularly throw lavish parties after accumulating wealth from their flock. I do not see any reason why they should not be taxed,” Male said.

Male added that there was no reason why schools should pay taxes, while pentecostal churches are not. However, he suggested that the money collected from churches should be managed by a body similar to the Human Rights Commission.

“I wouldn’t want that money to go to government coffers because some greedy people will misuse it,” he said. “The money should be used to fight moral decay.”

Pastor Steven Senfuma of United Christian Centre in Kasubi, Kampala said he does not have any problem with churches being asked to pay taxes. However, he is concerned that Gashumba’s proposal targets only pentecostal churches.

“He would have proposed that all churches pay taxes, including the traditional ones, like the Catholic and Anglican churches,” Senfuma said. He noted that it was wrong for people like Gashumba to look at the cars and other luxuries pastors enjoy and think that they are tycoons.

“They should not forget that we get those expensive gifts from our followers in appreciation of our work. Would Gashumba refuse a  car given to him as a gift?” Senfuma asked.

Churches speak out

Pastor Michael Kyazze of Omega Healing Centre in Namasuba, Wakiso said his church gives accountability to the congregation and has audited books.

“Every year, we disclose our expenditure to close members of the church. We do not pay taxes because we are a charity organisation. However, in reality, we pay taxes when we buy fuel for our cars, musical instruments and food for our people. All these things are taxed,” Kyazze said. He added that the money his church collects is used to look after the poor and orphans.

“We carry out community services like free fumigation, and some pastors go to radios to spread the word of God. I also organise mass weddings, where couples are not required to pay anything,” he said.

Kyazze also proposed that the Government starts paying churches because their buildings provide shelter to hundreds of homeless Ugandans at night.

“If it was not for churches, the streets would be congested at night. We should start to behave like Europeans, where citizens are taxed for the church,” he said.

Pastor Ram Lukwago of Living Gospel Church in Bweyogerere, Kampala supports Kyazze, arguing that pentecostal churches should be exempted from paying taxes because they do not collect a lot of money from congregations.

“Gashumba should think about what the churches do to help society in relation to what they collect from the congregation. He should have done some research before coming out with such a poposal,” Lukwago said.

However, Gashumba rejected the argument that pentecostal churches offer free spiritual services to their followers, and thus deserve a tax exemption.

Watoto explains expenditure

Patricia Ochol, the public relations officer of Watoto Church, explained: “We are a Bible-based church that recognises the practice of paying tithe and offertory by the voluntary membership. The church returns its tithe (10%) annually on the tithe and offering received to the Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG), to which it is affiliated.

“Our financial statements are prepared annually after a comprehensive assessment by independent auditors - currently
PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC).

“The financial reports are compliant with International Financial Reporting Standards, under the historical cost convention. Our income includes tithe, offertory and donations received during the financial year. The church is a faith based organisation and is, therefore, exempt from income tax under the Uganda Income Tax Act.

“Audited financial statements are presented at an annual general meeting, which is open to the public, every April. The financial report is available to members, upon request, at any time,” she said.

Gashumba advised

Mugunga noted that the finance ministry is yet to receive Gashumba’s proposal. He added that they would receive and review the proposal if he submits it.

“I encourage Gashumba to always participate in the budgetary consultative meetings, which take place about four months before the budget reading,” Mugunga said.

Also related to this story

Do you really have to pay to enter church?

Sending mobile money to God

 

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