How churches have excelled as ‘tax collectors’

Church offering

In every corner of the country, churches demonstrate an unparalleled ability to extract funds—even from the most financially strained individuals.

Photo credit: Fotosearch

For years, the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) has grappled with meeting its collection targets despite imposing various taxes and levies. The struggle has left many wondering why the taxman’s approach seems to continually miss the mark. In contrast, one sector in Kenya has mastered the art of tax collection: The churches.

In every corner of the country, churches demonstrate an unparalleled ability to extract funds—even from the most financially strained individuals—without resorting to enforcement or penalties. So what makes the church such a successful tax collector, surpassing even KRA’s capability?

The answer lies in the promise of something tangible in return. While KRA demands money for government services, churches offer intangible yet powerful promises of spiritual fulfilment and hope. This stark contrast highlights a fundamental flaw in the tax collection system: Disconnect between the service provider and funds collector.

On the services taxpayers can expect in exchange for their contributions, KRA’s response falls short. The church promises deliverance and blessings but the taxman’s message lacks the appeal and assurance. The disparity between promises made and services rendered creates a sense of disillusionment among taxpayers, hindering compliance.

Furthermore, the church’s success in tax collection is not reliant on conventional enforcement measures. Unlike KRA, they operate effectively without the need for police intervention, court proceedings or mandatory registration. Individuals willingly contribute to church coffers, a stark contrast to the reluctance when dealing with KRA.

Visible benefits

This discrepancy underscores KRA’s failure to establish a clear link between tax collection and service provision. Western countries demonstrate a successful model, where taxes are paid because essential services are provided in return. In Kenya, the lack of visible benefits associated with taxation erodes taxpayer confidence and compliance.

The privatisation of essential services further complicates the taxpayer’s perception of the value of their contributions. Being forced to pay privately for services such as healthcare, education and security makes one question the necessity of taxation.

To address the challenges of tax collection, KRA must rethink its approach. Emphasising the correlation between taxes paid and services provided is essential to rebuilding taxpayer trust and compliance. Educating taxpayers about the benefits of taxation can bridge the gap between collection efforts and service provision.

By learning from the churches’ model of tax collection, KRA can unlock new avenues for revenue generation and ensure the delivery of essential services to all citizens. Failure to do so will perpetuate a cycle of missed targets and missed opportunities, leaving both the taxman and taxpayers disillusioned.

Mr Njora is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya.