THE Jamaican church said yesterday it would have no problem paying property taxes, if the Government asked it to pay up, as part of measures preparatory to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) pact.
"Whatever tax the Government feels that is reasonable for us to pay, we'll pay it," said Rev Rennard White, chairman of the powerful Jamaica Umbrella Groups of Churches (JUGC), which represents the large majority of Jamaican Christians.
In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, White said: "We should pay our fair share like everybody else, and if the Government decides to ask us to pay taxes on property that church buildings are on then so be it."
Currently, respective churches pay tax on all other properties. Yesterday, White was unable to give specific figures, but said that the church's real estate holding is "substantial" — especially those of the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, and Seventh-day Adventist denominations.
The JUGC members are the Church of God in Jamaica, Jamaica Association of Full Gospel Churches (JAFGC), Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC), Jamaica Pentecostal Union (Apostolic) — JPU(A), Jamaica Association of Evangelicals (JAE), and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
White said he was "strongly inclined to believe" that member-churches are up to date with their property taxes.
White's comments followed a press release in which the JUGC called on the Portia Simpson Miller-led Administration to implement other cost-saving measures such as reducing the size of the Cabinet, slashing salaries of MPs, as well as reducing the number of advisors to the Government.
"The JUGC therefore appeals to our Government, as it prepares for the next national budget, to have such actions implemented," said the release.
The JUGC's release comes on the heels of a $16.4-billion tax package announced in Parliament by Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips last Tuesday.
The package, which drew the ire of the Opposition and has been met with general shock and outcry by the public, includes increases in property and education taxes, some Customs duties, as well as on taxes levied against lottery winnings, and telephone calls. It also includes the lifting of $45 billion from the National Housing Trust over a four-year period.
The measure is geared at increasing public revenues to secure an Extended Fund Facility with the IMF, a centrepiece of which is paying down Jamaica's ballooning debt.
Yesterday, while White expressed a willingness on the part of member churches to start paying tax on properties on which their sanctuaries are located, the issue of taxing weekly offerings remained a no-no.
White argued during the interview with the Observer that taxing offerings would amount to double taxation as the givers' incomes would have already been taxed at source.
White was keen to add that the church deduct, and pay over to the State, the required taxes from persons employed by the church.