Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Patria-Kaye Aarons| The Church and money

Published:Tuesday | May 10, 2016 | 5:00 AM

This morning, I shall mash a whole lot of holy corns. So be it. (Father God, please don't smite me with lightening for this blasphemous probing), but I have a question about the Church and taxes.

It has come to my attention that a particular local church is currently exploring the option of leasing a helicopter and hiring a pilot on retainer so that its minister can spread the word of God wider, faster.

Draw brakes! How is that possible? I asked myself, how can they afford that? Is that the best use of the collection money? Said church has acquired several buildings over the past two years and is leasing them, collecting rental income to finance 'church activities'.

If a church can make so much money that it can afford to lease a helicopter and retain a pilot, that church should be paying taxes. Render to Caesar, man!

I thought all churches were exempt from paying taxes, until I learnt that the exemption was only afforded to those institutions that have registered with the Department of Co-operatives and Friendly Societies as a charity.

 

Church not registered

 

My curiosity forced me to further investigate the earnings of this church, and I went on to the website of the Department of Co-operatives looking to see if the church I was told of had registered for tax exemption. To my surprise, it had not.

If I am a church - and I am only doing God's work - why wouldn't I take the tax-free status which the law allows me? I was even more surprised to discover, by my calculation, that there are fewer than 100 churches who have registered with the society in Jamaica. Less than 100. This is in a country reputed as having the most churches per square mile in the world. Another print publication in 2011 estimated 2.75 churches per square mile - and Jamaica has 4,411 square miles. That's a whole lot more than 100 churches.

So where are the rest. Why aren't they registered to spare themselves from paying taxes?

A requirement of the Charities Act of 2013 is that if you are registered in this country as a not-for-profit organisation and do not contribute to the financial coffers because you get a tax exemption, you are required to provide audited financial statements to the Department of Co-operatives and Friendly Societies on an annual basis. I can't help but believe that it is that provision of scrutiny that keeps some churches from applying for charitable status. I stand ready to hear other plausible options.

 

Private businesses

 

I called the Department of Co-operatives and it did, in fact, confirm that most churches had opted for the route of registering as private businesses. That concerns me. The ties between Church and money have always made me very uncomfortable. The secrecy which enshrouds the earnings of the churches, how much they seemingly spend on administration, versus how much of the money actually goes into doing good, collectively raises huge questions for me, as they should for the members of any church.

It is my belief that a church congregation should know how much collection makes it to the offering plate weekly and how that money is spent - down to the last cent. It is, after all, their money. And especially if the church is registered as a business, the members, therefore, are the unofficial shareholders of said business and should be treated as such.

The Government's daily complaint is a shortage of monies to fund its activities. This, to me, is low-hanging fruit. If a church has opted to register as a business, said church has opted to pay taxes. Who looks at the books of these churches? Who is checking that these churches are even registered either as private entities or as charities? Part of government's responsibility is to protect its citizens. All too often, we hear of little old ladies handing over their pensions to churches in the hope of a miracle.

If the comedy series Oliver at Large taught us anything, it's that anybody can start a church. Sad to say, but in God I trust. Man must prove his trustworthiness. Show me your books!

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.