The lawyer for six former pastors of Lighthouse Chapel International has said his clients won’t appeal the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) decision that they are not entitled to any outstanding social security contributions.
Kofi Bentil said his clients would focus on the legal action they had already taken at the Labour Division of the Accra High Court, which decision could override SSNIT’s position.
In a nine-page response to SSNIT, Mr Bentil described the decision as “grotesque” and questioned the pensions collector’s interest in enforcing its own rules and laws.
The six former pastors and bishops had petitioned SSNIT, reporting the church’s failure to pay a cumulative 42 years and five months of outstanding social security contributions.
The church had insisted that it operates a lay system and describes three former full-time pastors as “volunteers” for all the 11, 10 and seven years they worked. For some, parts of their service were described as voluntary.
SSNIT had, in a preliminary statement, said it had found 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.”
But after three months of “independent investigations” SSNIT finally concluded that; “According to the records currently available to us, we could not establish an employer/employee relationship between LCI Ghana and your good self for the period…. claimed in your petition,” a letter dated August 20, 2021, and signed by its Compliance Manager, Felix Cudjoe Ahiable, said.
SSNIT said it could therefore not compel Lighthouse Chapel International to pay these outstanding contributions.
SSNIT made the ruling despite the availability of evidence that implicates Lighthouse Chapel International, especially in respect of Rev. Edward Laryea.
The lawyer for the petitioners, Kofi Bentil, had earlier indicated that he had “lost confidence” in SSNIT along the way” when it noticed SSNIT’s “strange” posture during meetings with his clients.
In a formal response to SSNIT following its decision, Mr Bentil said the stance taken by the pensions collector is “indeed inconsistent with applicable law and settled judicial precedent. We disagree entirely with it.”
“We had occasion during the process to express our dissatisfaction with the conduct of this investigation and the posture of SSNIT, but the outcome still is shocking because it flies in the face of what the laws establishing SSNIT dictate, and indeed undermines SSNIT’s purpose.
“We have therefore decided that unless SSNIT itself is minded to amend its position, we have elected not to engage with SSNIT further, or appeal the decision under the dispute Sections of Act 766. We will let the Labour court, which is already seized with this matter, rule on it and make consequential orders which will be binding on SSNIT,” portions of the letter reads
Kofi Bentil explained the law on who is an employee is and the established legal principles in determining employer/employee relationship.
The Fourth Estate reproduces the full letter to SSNIT, in which the lawyer for the pastors argued the “basic” and “established” legal principles defining employment relationships.
You can reach the writer of this story, Edwin Appiah, via email at [email protected]. You can follow him on @edwinologyLB