Thursday, March 11, 2010

Religious groups’ commercial deals and tax question

I REFER to Sunday’s report, ‘City Harvest paying $310m to become Suntec co-owner’.

While it is City Harvest Church’s right to decide how it spends its money, there are related issues which the Government should address.

Religious organisations are registered charities. Therefore, contributions and income are non-taxable.

However, with more and more religious organisations venturing into business and owning commercial properties, is their tax-exempt status still relevant?

Should the Government continue to let religious organisations own commercial properties and earn income from rent? After all, the revenue these organisations use for the purchase is tax-exempt in the first place.

Suntec City was developed for commercial purposes. With the church’s purchase of the development and its proposal to convert a section of the exhibition space for church use, is it in breach of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s land-use policy?

For years, New Creation Church has rented space in Suntec for church services on a commercial basis. However, now that City Harvest owns the space, and wants to convert some part of it into the church’s auditorium, is it legal?

Besides Suntec, this issue is also a concern with the new civic and cultural centre at one-north, which is co-owned by New Creation Church.

Land sales for religious purposes by the Government are on a 30-year lease. With some religious organisations acquiring land earmarked for other uses, with much longer leases, and using it for their religious purposes, is it fair to other religious organisations which must tender for 30-year lease land?

Religious organisations obtain their funding from their congregations. However, some religious organisations, such as New Creation, and now City Harvest, own commercial properties which generate income for them.

Lester Lam

Source: Straits Times, 11 Mar 2010

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