Taxman should lay axe on the right trees
IT seems all eyes are now on churches. Government seeks to regulate them in terms of the Constitution and registration. The urban councils seek to control open air worship activities of the church in terms of time and venue sanitary requirements.
The latest seeker is the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) which seeks tax revenue from the church. All these authorities are pouncing on the church not only with words but with statutory instruments.
This makes one fact clear: The church is a force to reckon with and is a vital part and parcel of any society.
However, the church’s polite and submissive response to all these moves is highly commendable because it shows obedience to God’s word.
According to the scriptures, the church has a duty, like any good citizen, to be subject to the State and to honour authorities “for there is no power but of God: The powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1).
The church recognises that its duties of citizenship include: “Render therefore to all their dues: Tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour” (Romans 13:7).
The reason the church is commanded by God to subject itself to authorities is three-fold: To avoid wrath from rulers, for the sake of conscience and to fulfil the law of love (Romans 13:5,8).
It is therefore the hope and belief of the church that all these authorities are seeking to regulate the church in order to build the nation and to foster faith in God and not to erode the freedom of expression and worship that the church enjoys in our nation.
Now, concerning ZIMRA’s push to levy taxes on the church, my opinion is that the taxman should target businesses run by churches and not the churches per se.
Real churches are supported and financed by free-will offerings, donations and tithes. And these monies are taxed at source where they are earned.
Where offerings and tithes are concerned, opinion is not divided — they are not subject to tax. Even the commissioner-general of taxes seems to be aware of this as he declared that these are exempted from tax on November 6, 2014 when the Financial Gazette hosted an Executive Dialogue between businesses and ZIMRA.
All the shouts urging the commissioner to levy taxes on churches went quiet after his declaration. I thanked him for making it abundantly clear that churches are exempted from taxes.
Nonetheless, the coming up of this issue of levying taxes on churches again must mean that something different (loopholes as reported) has been discovered.
I would like to think that the so-called loopholes have nothing to do with the church’s core activities of worshipping God which are supported by tithes and offerings.
In my own opinion, loopholes occur when businesses run by churches are not taxed.
Some churches have business wings like property development, schools, universities, clinics and hospitals, bookshops, car sales and so forth. These economic activities carried out for profit should be taxed.
Furthermore, full-time chu-rch employees who are paid salaries should be subject to Pay-As-You-Earn like any other employees in public or private business sectors.
The challenges, however, that the taxman will face here is that most church employees including the pastors are not paid salaries but paltry allowances and where salaries are paid, they are well below the first taxable band.
This is not done to avoid tax but there is no big money in real churches.
Why is this so?
It is so because churches are supported by offerings and tithes from working church members, and if the income earning members are not being paid for months or have their salaries cut down, you can bet that churches will suffer the most as they depend on these working members.
There is this controversial issue of taxing wealthy church leaders who brag about being very rich. It is my thinking that they should be taxed so that the money can be used to build the nation, after all they should afford even to lend to the government.
The Bible says that we can be so blessed that we can lend only and not borrow (Deuteronomy 28). There is nothing wrong if the sources of their money and the uses of their money are investigated so they are taxed accordingly.
The point is that some leaders of large congregations are charging very high consultation fees, very high prices on ‘wares’ like anointing oil, books, wrist bands which practice is tantamount to undertaking a business.
These monies should be taxed because they are economic activities carried out for profit.
The Bible instructs gifted spiritual leaders to heal the sick freely, raise the dead freely and to cast out devils freely (Matthew 10:8).
When we charge fees for miracles, then it is not wrong for the taxman to charge us in return.
There is something wrong every time business is done in the church. Jesus at one time had to crack the whip to cleanse the temple of vendors (Luke 10:45,36; Mark 11:15-17).
Today if business happens in the church, the taxman has a mandate to bring his collection bag into the church. In simple terms, to keep ZIMRA off from the churches, let us do our business outside church.
Lastly, monies raised in churches should be used to further the interest of worshipping God and to meet the needs of the poor.
If money is raised in churches and is used as capital for businesses or is donated to organisations other than charitable ones, it must be taxed.
It is, however, necessary for the taxman to consult umbrella church bodies like Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Council of Churches and the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference.
May the taxman lay his axe on the right trees.