- The Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) has agreed with the decision by Lighthouse Chapel International not to pay the outstanding mandatory SSNIT contributions of six pastors who resigned and have sued the church for abuse and exploitation.
- One of them is Rev. Edward Laryea, who was employed by the Lighthouse Chapel International and sent to Kade in the Eastern Region in July 2005 to start the mission there. He was never posted outside the country but three years of his SSNIT contribution was not paid by the church.
- Emails from Lighthouse, which Rev. Laryea said he presented to SSNIT, incriminate Lighthouse Chapel International.
- The first email was sent to Rev Edward Laryea on Thursday, June 5, 2008. It was sent by Mrs. Bortei-Doku, Secretary to the Presiding Bishop for Denominational Affairs. Rev. Laryea recalls that Mrs. Bortei-Doku was one of those who interviewed him in 2005 for his job as a pastor of the church. The rest of the panel included Adelaide Heward-Mills, wife of the founder of the church; Bishop E.AT. Sackey, and Emelia Aidoo.
- Then 28-years old, Edward Laryea said he was successful at the interview and the HR office asked him to submit his SSNIT number to their office at Qodesh. He was told, along with others, that same day to report the following week and for preparation prayers for the mission.
- His posting was not through a letter. Bishop Dag Heward-Mills met the newly recruited missionaries at the basement of the Korle-Gonno building of the church and wrote names of the places in a bowl and asked them to pick. He picked Kade.
7. The church asked him to go and find accommodation and when he did, he was given cash to go and pay. He began the church’s first branch in Kade.
8. He said Lighthouse started paying his salary of 600,000 cedis (now GHc60)the following month. He was under an overseer (later called Governor) and his salary was paid in cash. He signed a voucher anytime he came for the monthly meeting at Achimota. He said his Overseer/Governor at the time was Bishop Steve Asare.
9. His salary was next increased to 1000,000 cedis (GHc100). This time it was paid from the headquarters of Lighthouse Chapel into his account at the Ghana Commercial Bank (now GCB Bank) until the middle of 2008.
10. In the middle of 2008, some three years into his work, the church sent an email to Rev. Laryea, explaining that it had come out with a policy to cease support for some missions that had existed for some time. The email said: “In that regard, any mission that is above two years will have to be nondependent and take care of itself. It implies that the mission should be able to:
a.Take care of the salary of the full-time missionary.
b. The accommodation of the full-time missionary.
c. The church rent of the L.C.I church.”
- Until this letter came, Rev. Laryea, who had been working in Kade for three years was receiving his salary from the headquarters of the church in Accra. This letter meant that he was now going to be paid from the funds he generated at Kade to run the church and open more branches.
- This letter suggested that Rev. Laryea was being paid a salary by the church he worked for. The new policy required that he would start paying his salary from Kade, and no longer receive it from the church’s headquarters.
- Before Rev. Laryea could start implementing the new directive from the church, he had another email from the headquarters of Lighthouse Chapel International in Accra, giving him specific instructions on what to do.
- The information was sent on Wednesday, 27 August 2008 by the same email address that sent the June 5 email: “[email protected]. The message of this email was:
1.A letter explaining your ssf and IRS payments.
2.”The actual payments you need to do based on your salary. This has already been calculated for you and it’s the one that is bolded or highlighted.”
“PASSWORD FOR THE IRS SHEET IS ‘adminscale”
17. The word document on SSNIT and Tax payments asked Rev. Laryear to “take note of the following:
a.”The deadline for payment of SSNIT is the 14th of the next month for the current month you are paying.”
b.” The deadline for payment of IRS is the 15TH of the next month for the month you are currently paying.”
c. “Ex for August salary, your deadline for payment is the 14th and 15th of September. NOTE. YOU WILL BE CHARGED A PENALTY IF YOU DEFAULT.”
18. Part of that message gave this specific instruction: “You will need your SSNIT No. to do the SSNIT payment. It’s the No. you submitted to the HR office. In case you have forgotten please crosscheck at the then, Governor’s Office as the previous month’s payments were made by them.”
19. Laryea said when he was employed in 2005, the church took his SSNIT number. The church has confirmed that and asked him to crosscheck with the relevant department of the church for the SSNIT number he had submitted.
20. The church also claimed that the SSNIT contributions for Rev. Laryea had been paid in previous months.
21. Laryea paid himself for the first time in August 2008 and followed the instructions to pay the tax and SSNIT contributions as the church had directed and calculated.
- Laryea realised that contrary to the claim by Lighthouse that it had paid his previous months’ SSNIT contributions, it did not pay.
- SSNIT has confirmed that the first time any SSNIT payment for Rev. Laryea was made was in August 2008, when he himself started supervising his payment.
- From the above, it is clear Lighthouse Chapel International knew its SSNIT contribution obligation to Rev. Laryea before August 2008. The church knew that it was an offence to delay payment of SSNIT contributions after a specific date of the next month, so it definitely knew that not paying the SSNIT at all was a bigger offence.
- Lighthouse in their letter directing Rev. Laryea on how to pay his SSNIT suggested they had been paying it for him since he was employed. But it turned out to be completely false.
- Rev Laryea petitioned SSNIT to compel Lighthouse Church to pay his SSNIT contribution from July 2005, when he started working for the church, to July 2008, the moment he took over the payment of his salary and SSNIT.
- SSNIT, after reviewing this evidence from Rev. Laryea, still said the Lighthouse Church was not liable to pay for the three years it had failed to pay the SSNIT contribution for Rev. Laryea.
- Edward Laryea is now 44 years old.
His other colleagues are Rev. Seth Duncan who resigned from the Ghana Navy and served as a full-time pastor of Lighthouse for 10 years. Rev. Edem Amankwa worked for Lighthouse for 11 years, serving in Nigeria and in Liberia during the Ebola Crisis.
Pastor Faith Makafui Fiakojo Graduated from Anagkazo Bible College and was posted to Fumbisi in the Upper East Region, where he worked from November 2013 to December 2019. Lighthouse did not pay the SSNIT contribution for any of these three pastors for even one month. The Church claimed they were volunteers.
Bishop Larry Odonkor and Bishop Oko Mensah had parts of their SSNIT contributions paid. For the periods they were transferred by the church to its branches outside Ghana, Lighthouse said it’s not liable for their SSNIT because Lighthouse Chapel’s headquarters in Ghana is “legally, financially, administratively and governmentally independent organisation from other LCI ministries outside the borders of Ghana and only shares a spiritual relationship with the others.”
SSNIT makes U-turn
When the former pastors petitioned SSNIT on February 1, 2021, SSNIT wrote in a letter addressed to Lighthouse Chapel International dated May 5, 2021, in which SSNIT laid down the law.
In a three-page letter, SSNIT said, “The LCI is an organization registered under Act 766 hence had a responsibility and obligation under the law to ensure that all workers were registered and contributions paid on their behalf at all times, whether they were in Ghana or outside the country.”
SSNIT, for the avoidance of doubt on whether the former pastors could be categorized as workers, quoted the law’s definition of a worker. SSNIT in that letter said,
“A ‘worker’ includes a person who is employed for salary in any kind of work, manual or otherwise, in or in connection with the work of an establishment, and who gets his salary, directly or indirectly from the employer, and any person employed ….. (ii) outside Ghana but employed by an employer in Ghana.”
SSNIT, in that letter which The Fourth Estate sighted, said it had done preliminary investigations and found that the petitioners were workers. SSNIT gave at least three reasons:
- “The central church decided when and where a pastor should be moved at any point and took all decisions as an employer in the regulations of the activities of the pastors.”
- “It was also the case that the affected pastors worked and reported at all material times to the headquarters of the church in Accra. The various branches of LCI were not independent of the mother church in Accra and that regular policy directives were issued to these pastors on the running of their branches”
- “The leave days of the pastors were also scheduled by the Human Resource office of the LCI.”
SSNIT said that in the light of the above, “an employer and employee relationship had been established between the pastors and LCI, taking into consideration all the factors and circumstances relating to their engagement and the conduct of that relationship.”
In its final decision, however, the SSNIT concluded that it found no evidence of this relationship between LCI and the pastors during the disputed periods of their working lives, especially when they worked outside the church’s branches outside Ghana.