Kenya, with about 2,300 missionaries from 30 countries, is a missionary magnet in East Africa. Suddenly high taxes could change all that.
The tax code, written in the 1970s, targets nongovernmental agencies that raise money through charitable donations. The code states that individuals shall be taxed monthly on a sliding scale ranging from 10 percent to 30 percent of the value of property, vehicles, salaries, and health benefits. Individuals who make more than $500 per month fall into the 30 percent bracket. Under the code, some missionaries would pay more in taxes than they earn in salaries.
In the past, most missionaries consulted local tax lawyers to decipher what many see as vague and confusing tax laws. Some missionaries were told they were exempt. No more.
"We've always paid some sort of taxes, just not this high," a missionary who requested anonymity said. "The bottom line is, we are liable for these taxes."
Kenyan tax laws allow government officials to recover up to seven years in back taxes. For this missionary, that means thousands of dollars. He approached the Kenya Revenue Authority and asked for tax amnesty. Officials are considering his request to pay only two years of back taxesmore than $8,000. One large organization was denied amnesty and owes more than $400,000 in back taxes.
Theories abound in the missions community on why the government is seeking to collect these taxeseverything from corruption to a simple need for more revenue. An attempt to reach an official with the Kenya Revenue Authority was unsuccessful.
The unnamed missionary is trying to get an amendment introduced before Parliament in June asking to exempt missionaries or only tax them on salaries.
In the meantime, a treasurer for one missions group said most missionaries fall into one of three categories: those who can pay the taxes and are staying; those who cannot afford the taxes and are leaving; and those who don't want to pay taxes to a government noted for its corruption and are staying with hopes that things will change.
"Right now, it's just a wait-and-see game," the treasurer said. "We don't know what's going to happen. If the law stays the same, you can bet many of the mission organizations will trim their staffs."
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The U.S. State Department's report on religious freedom in Kenya says the government's "Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice."
The Washington Times reported on the tax increase: U.S. missionaries face taxing times | The Kenyan government has threatened to charge Protestant missionary groups a 30 percent monthly tax on property, vehicles, missionary salaries and health benefits. (Feb. 10, 2005)
Other Christianity Today articles on Kenya include:
Mixing Religion and Politics | Churches attempt to overcome constitutional stalemate (March 18, 2004)
Courting Trouble | Christians oppose embedding Islamic tribunals in Kenya's new constitution. (July 22, 2003)
Churches Back Truth Commission | Panel will examine allegations of murder and corruption under former president. (March 18, 2003)
Churches Celebrate Kenya's New President | They are pushing for health care, free education, and an improved economy. (Feb. 20, 2003)
U.S. Blacks Preach Abstinence Gospel | Mission workers testify that Christ helps control sexual urges. (March 27, 2002)
Christians Flee Rioting | Tensions between landowners and tenants spark violence in Nairobi slum. (Jan. 31, 2002)
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