The Windhoek Observer sent its intern reporters to Wernhill Mall in Windhoek’s CBD to get public opinions on taxing churches and charities operating in Namibia.
The proposed church and charity tax announced by Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein when he read his budget speech last week, sparked the interest of many. Some support the tax as a novel idea to raise funds for the empty state coffers. Others are opposed.
As the churches declare their intention to resist such a tax, the public is keen to discuss the issue. We found that many who commented were unaware of overall income tax obligations in Namibia and unclear about the details of how such a tax would be imposed. Others, seemed unaware that the announcement of Schlettwein is not a done deal; there is no binding law made just from a budget speech.
Salomon Kamati, a church member at ELCIN, strongly agrees with the implementation of church taxation. “Many people go to church and give offerings and tithes so where does the money go? I think it’s a right decision for churches to be taxed for the government to be able to help out the needy in the country. Some churches don’t play any role in the community by supporting poor people but, are rather concerned on enriching themselves, their families and their members,” he added.
Olivia Hatutale supported the proposed taxation. “Looking at the economy, I think that churches should also be deducted tax, because they are getting a lot of money from the church members and it is very important for them to give back to the government for economic stability.”
Evon Keader, says, “One side of me is for it because churches of today are run like a business. If a pastor or a prophet can buy a house or car with the money from the church then itis reasonable for them to be taxed. On the other side, there are also churches where its leaders do not benefit from the money that is given by the members as it goes more to the expenses of the church.”
Another mall pedestrian, who preferred to remain anonymous said, “Churches are being run as a business. If the business functions as a non-profit, meaning that their income goes right back out in charitable ways, then they won’t have to pay any tax because they didn’t make a profit. If they make money, however, then totally they should be taxed like any other business. Workers of the church should be taxed on their personal income just like anyone else. If an employee of the church receives things like cars and homes, those assets should be taxed.
James Jackson opposed the church tax proposal. “If churches act as charitable organisations which they should be, then they are already giving to the society, so it’s not necessary for them pay tax to the government because the gospel is for free.”
Paul Kabo says that churches are a non-profit organization and only little money the churches are receiving from offerings, tithes and funds. “It is a good thing to pay tax to contribute to the economy but, to churches I think it is not an appropriate thing to initiate, because churches do not operate as a business and it’s not a must for the members of the churches to give offerings and tithes to the church. Churches are not like profit-making businesses and organisations where members receive a monthly salary to cater for their personal asserts. The churches depend on donations to cater for their expenses such as water and electricity.”
Jose De Diarma, who is also against the implementation of church taxation, stated that, “A church does not exist to earn a profit. A church exists to allow the practice of religion. A church collects money for this process to continue and dispenses money to those in need. So, I see no reason for most churches to lose their tax-free status. However, if the tax is spent on new buildings and improved roads and bridges, then, I would consider it a useful enough thing to spend time fighting for,” he added.
Celine Van Wyk feels that churches should not be taxed. “I don’t think churches should be taxed. They do a lot of charitable work that never gets press. I know of plenty of them that have rescued children, provided support for teens who were very much mixed up and heading the wrong way, marriage counselling, food pantries, dinners, and often the pastor has a fund to give emergency help to someone in need. If they pay tax, much of this kind of service may stop. Who then would provide these things since government cannot do so?”