Taxing the poor in current economic crisis: Should Akufo-Addo pay tax?

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The President of Ghana is variously referred to as the ‘First Gentleman of the Land’ by the people, a name that suggests venerability but also grants the president immense power.

The President has the Authority to influence laws through a Parliamentary majority and enjoys benefits such as tax exemptions. This makes it clear that taxes are only for ordinary citizens and not for the President who some argue deserves a tax break as juicy as his title.

According to Article 68 (5) of the 1992 constitution, the president’s salary, allowances, facilities, pensions, and gratuity are all tax-exempt, even after his tenure ends.

Article 68 – Conditions Of Office Of President:

(1) The President shall not, while he continues in office as President—

(a) Hold any other office of profit or emolument whether private or public and whether directly or indirectly; or

(b) Hold the office of chancellor or head of any university in Ghana.

(2) The President shall not, on leaving office as President, hold any office of profit or emolument, except with the permission of Parliament, in any establishment, either directly or indirectly, other than that of the State.

(3) The President shall receive such salary, allowances and facilities as may be prescribed by Parliament on the recommendations of the committee referred to in article 71 of this Constitution.

(4) On leaving office, the President shall receive a gratuity in addition to pension, equivalent to his salary and other allowances and facilities prescribed by Parliament in accordance with clause (3) of this article.

(5) The salary, allowances, facilities, pensions and gratuity referred to in clauses (3) and (4) shall be exempt from tax.

However, after many years of Ghanaian Presidents enjoying this unique privilege, many are beginning to question its fairness. “He lives in the country, benefiting from its infrastructure – the roads, water, electricity – all funded by taxpayers. So why the tax exemption?” queries Jaris, a resident of Accra.

But this was a law crafted way back in 1992, at the assumption of the Fourth Republic even before Jaris was born. With the increasing introduction of new taxes that seek to generate revenue for the state, many Ghanaians feel the burden is huge, and the president needs to pay taxes. The question of whether the President of Ghana should pay taxes or not is a complex and contentious issue, with valid arguments on both sides.

The Arguments

The President of the Republic of Ghana serves as both the Head of State and Head of Government, as well as the Commander-in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces. As the custodian of the Constitution, the President is responsible for overseeing all that happens in the country. Additionally, the President has Presidential Immunity from taxation, which is rooted in the Constitution to ensure that the office remains focused on national affairs without undue distractions. This immunity also protects the President’s security, as certain details regarding his income and assets need to remain confidential.

However, in a democratic state like Ghana, taxation should be a matter of equity and fairness. With increasing economic challenges, taxing the highest office in the land sends a strong message of shared responsibility, demonstrating that everyone should bear the burden of building the nation. The President is not only a political leader but also a symbolic figurehead. Leading by example and demonstrating a willingness to pay tax can foster a sense of unity and shared sacrifice among citizens. It can help build trust between the government and the people.

Although the amount that will be collected from taxing the President is relatively small, it can contribute to government revenue. Given that even the poorest citizens pay taxes, such as the E-Levy, every additional source of revenue can help fund essential public services and social programs.

Previous Constitutional Provisions

The historical analysis of Ghana’s presidential taxation status based on the past constitutions from 1957 to 1992 reveals an interesting pattern spanning four Republics.

While the President was exempted from paying taxes in some cases, he was not exempted in others, the exemption status appears to have oscillated between being in favour of the President and subjecting the President to regular tax obligations, indicating a dynamic aspect of Ghana’s constitutional history related to presidential taxation.

Picture1

Infographic by: Ibrahim Khalilulahi Usman

  1. 1957 Ghana (Constitution) Order in Council: The Governor-General was exempted from paying taxes on his emoluments. This indicates a preferential tax treatment for the Governor, possibly as Ghana was transitioning from Gold Coast to an independent state.
  2.  1960 Constitution (1960-1966): During this period, the President was not exempted from paying taxes on his emoluments. This shift could have been influenced by various factors, such as Nkrumah’s political ideologies.
  3. 1969 Constitution (1969–1972): The President was once again exempted from paying taxes on his emoluments, reverting to the previous tax treatment. This change may have reflected a shift in the political landscape or a reconsideration of the President’s role in the country’s finances.
  4. 1979 Constitution (1979–1981): In this period, the President was not exempted from paying taxes on his emoluments once more. This suggests that tax policies underwent alterations, possibly as a response to economic challenges and evolving fiscal strategies.

These highlight a degree of variability in Ghana’s approach to taxing presidential emoluments over the years. These differences are likely to correspond with shifts in political leadership, economic conditions, and fiscal policies.

The 2010 Constitutional Review Commission

In 2010, the late President Professor John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills established a Commission to consult with the people of Ghana on the operation of the 1992 Constitution and suggest any necessary changes. The Commission received numerous submissions regarding the taxation of the President, which were categorised into two opinions.

John Atta Mills
Late President John Atta Mills (Photo source: graphic.com)

A significant number of submissions called for the current legal regime, where the President’s emoluments are not subject to tax, to be maintained. This view argues that the President’s job is challenging, and he must be motivated with tax relief. The President was also likened to traditional rulers or a king who, in ancient times, did not pay taxes but exacted taxes from their subjects. Therefore, the President should be exempted from paying taxes on his emoluments.

On the other hand, almost an equal number of submissions called for the emoluments of the President to be taxable. This position argues that the President, as the number one citizen in Ghana, must set a good example for others to follow. If the President does not pay taxes on his emoluments, it gives others enough reason to evade taxes. Widening the tax net in Ghana has been challenging, and requiring the President to pay tax will encourage Ghanaians not to avoid tax.

The 2011 National Constitution Review Conference also deliberated on this issue and concluded that the President should pay taxes on his salary and emoluments as this would set a good example for the rest of the citizenry.

After reviewing all sides of the debates on this issue, the Commission recommended that the President should pay tax on his salary and emoluments as an example to the rest of the citizenry.

The most recent discussion on this subject was at a forum organised by the Media Foundation for West Africa, the Ghana Revenue Authority, and the Financial Intelligence Centre in Accra. Although it focused on enhancing domestic resource mobilization and combating illicit financial flows, a debate ensued between the audience and panel members when one of the participants questioned why the President is exempted from paying taxes.

Dominic Dokbilla Naab, the Assistant Commissioner of the Ghana Revenue Authority and Special Technical Adviser to the Commissioner General, explained the legal provisions, but the participants expressed dissent indicating that this ongoing debate over the President’s tax exemption is far from over.

The Nigerian example

A Premium Times report reveals that the provisions of a Personal Income Tax (Amendment) Act made it compulsory for the personal incomes of all categories of workers, including the President, governors and their deputies, as well as ministers and other top political office holders to be liable to taxation.

The law was signed by President Goodluck Jonathan when he was in office.

Goodluck Jonathan
Former President Goodluck Jonathan

“With the review of income exempted from tax, the President, Vice president, governors and deputy governors of state and other categories of political office holders will now pay tax on all their income as is done by every other taxpayer,” Chairman, Joint Tax Board, Ifueko Omoigui Okauru, said at a media briefing to formally unveil the Act in Abuja, a report by the Premium Times in 2012 captured.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the debate over whether the President of Ghana should pay taxes reflects broader discussions about equity, leadership, and fiscal responsibility. Finding a balanced solution that considers both the financial contributions of the President and the potential challenges associated with taxing the highest office is essential.

It is a matter that requires careful consideration of legal, administrative, and political implications to ensure that the country’s governance and fiscal systems remain effective and fair. Even if it is considered, it needs to go through parliamentary approval and implementation of amendments to the 1992 Constitution as prescribed by the 2010 Constitutional Review Commission.

For now, the President will continue to enjoy his ‘tax-free’ emoluments, while the ordinary citizens work hard to pay him.

Ibrahim Khalilulahi Usman, Next Generation Investigative Journalism Fellow, 2023.

 

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