U.S. Missionaries Face Taxing Times; Groups Protest Kenyan Threat to Impose Monthly Levy
Byline: Heather J. Carlson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
(Editor's note: All the missionaries and mission organizations, both in the United States and in Kenya, spoke only on the condition of anonymity, saying they feared reprisals from the Kenyan government.)
Orphanages, schools and health clinics are just a few of the services that missionaries established in Kenya since one U.S.-based mission began its work there more than 30 years ago.
But the 43 American missionaries who keep these programs running soon may be forced to flee the East African country.
The Kenyan government has threatened to charge Protestant missionary groups a 30 percent monthly tax on property, vehicles, missionary salaries and health benefits, said the area director for the East African mission organization. In addition, the government says missionaries should have been paying these taxes all along and has threatened to make them pay back taxes, he said. But missionaries say local tax lawyers have long told them that they were exempt from such taxes because their funding is based entirely on charitable donations.
The mission organization faces payment of tens of thousands of dollars in taxes - money the religious nonprofit does not have, he said.
"We added up all our benefits the way they wanted us to pay, and it was just outrageous," he said. "How ridiculous it is that they would drive away people who are there donating time, hundreds of thousands of dollars in buildings such as churches [and] schools. We're drilling wells, we have clinics [and] orphanages, and all this is in jeopardy because we cannot afford to stay there and pay those kinds of taxes."
Despite numerous calls over several weeks, the Kenyan Embassy in the United States declined to comment on the tax situation.
The Kenyan government is demanding that the missionary groups come forward and apply for tax amnesty. If they do so, the government has pledged to charge no penalties, but the back taxes will be due immediately.
For many missionaries, comprehending the Kenyan tax code has been the biggest challenge, a missionary in Kenya said.
"Our mission has been in Kenya since the mid-1970s and has tried for many years to get a clear statement from the Kenya Revenue Authority as to what taxes we owed, if any," he said.
To navigate the complex tax code, missionary groups typically hire Kenyan consultants. Often, these tax specialists offer contradictory advice - some say missionaries must pay taxes on their donation-based salaries; other consultants say the missionaries are exempt. Meanwhile, some church groups, including Roman Catholic organizations, are exempt from all taxes.
Another Protestant denomination was among one of the groups told earlier that they owed no taxes on missionary salaries, property or vehicles. However, they recently were told the opposite, said one of the group's missionaries. …