The long-awaited SSNIT report on the “electrifying” brouhaha between the Lighthouse Chapel International (LCI) and its 6 renegade Ex-Pastors is out. It has been a long journey filled with suspense, emotion, tension and a fiery social media war.
The six pastors are Bishop Larry Odonkor, Bishop Oko Mensah, Rev. Edward Laryea, Pastor Seth Duncan, Pastor Edem Amankwah and Pastor Faith Makafui Fiakojo.
Alleged 58 Cummulative Years of Unpaid SSNIT Contributions
Their complaint to SSNIT was that the LCI had neglected to pay their SSNIT contributions while they were in the employment of the church. Bishop Larry claimed the church owed him 15 years of unpaid SSNIT contributions, Rev Edward Laryea’s was 3 years while Pastors Seth Duncan, Edem Amankwah and Faith Makafui Fiakojo were 9 years, 11 years and 6 years respectively. Bishop Oko Mensah was claiming over 14 years of unpaid SSNIT contributions. This makes 58 years of alleged non-payment of SSNIT contributions.
Complaint to SSNIT and Writs Went Simultaneously
While SSNIT was investigating their complaints, the complainants surprisingly sued LCI on the same complaints. One averment that runs through all the six statements of claim is as follows: “Defendant refused, neglected and or failed to pay his social security contributions as required by law, as a result of which he has been constrained to file a complaint with “the appropriate authorities to deal with the social security contribution issue.”
The SSNIT held several meetings with both parties to determine whether or not there existed an employer/ employee relationship between LCI and the complainants during the respective periods in contention. Then again, in case there was an employer/employee relationship, whether LCI had indeed neglected to discharge its obligation under The National Pensions Act 2008 (Act 766), which obligates employers to pay SSNIT contributions for the employees.
The Church’s defence to the allegations of non-payment of SSNIT contribution was two-fold;
1. That Pastors Seth Duncan, Faith Fiakojo, and Edem Amankwah were volunteer pastors like thousands of LCI pastors who signed consent forms to be volunteers and never become employees. The same argument went for Edward Laryea’s 3-year period in contention. LCI however paid Edward Laryea’s 9 years SSNIT contributions uninterrupted from August 2008 to March 2017 (9 years). LCI also said that Bishop Larry Odonkor was a volunteer pastor from 2001 to 2005.
2. The Church’s second argument was that LCI Ghana is a legally, financially, administratively and governmentally independent organization from other LCI churches outside the borders of Ghana and only shares a spiritual relationship with the others. LCI churches worldwide share a common vision of propagating the gospel worldwide and training leaders and pastors to take the gospel to the four corners of the Globe. The Church added that pastors who leave LCI Ghana to serve in other jurisdictions were considered not to be in the employment of LCI-Ghana.
On this basis, the church submitted that Larry Odonkor while in South Africa and Madagascar from September 2010 to December 2019 was not in the employment of LCI Ghana but in the employment of LCI South Africa and LCI-Madagascar respectively. All his salaries and allowances were paid in South Africa and Madagascar and not from Ghana and therefore LCI Ghana does not owe him any SSNIT contributions for that period. He was however in the employment of LCI Ghana from June 2005 to June 2010 and from January 2020 to April 2020 during which period LCI paid his SSNIT contributions in full.
This same argument of legal separation was LCI-Ghana’s defence in respect of Bishop Oko Mensah for the period, December 2018 to April 2019 when he was in Burkina Faso and being paid by LCI Burkina Faso. For the remaining 16-year period for Bishop Oko Mensah, LCI maintained that the church fully paid all of Bishop Oko Mensah’s SSNIT contributions and wondered why Bishop Oko Mensah would claim 14 years of unpaid SSNIT contributions when his SSNIT statement was always readily available to him at his request.
NOW THE VERDICT
After several months of weighing the evidence from both parties find below in verbatim a portion of the verdict of SSNIT dated 20th August 2021 which exonerates the Lighthouse Church:
“Bishop Larry Odonkor
Records currently available to us indicate that there was an employer/employee relationship between LCI Ghana and Bishop Lawrence Odonkor for the period June 2005 to June 2010 and January 2020 to April 2020. During these periods, social security contributions were paid on his behalf, based on the available employment history records.
From our independent investigations and records currently available to us, we could not establish an employer/employee relationship between LCI Ghana and Bishop Lawrence Odonkor for the periods September 20 IO to September 2017 and April 2017 to December 2019. This was because he was in the employment of LCI South Africa and Madagascar respectively; and not LCI Ghana.
For the other period under contention, (November 2001 to May 2005), we could also not establish an employer/ employee relationship, based on records provided and our own investigations.
Rev. Edward Laryea
From our independent investigations, we could not establish an employer/employee relationship between Rev. Edward Laryea and LCl Ghana during the period July 2005 to July 2008. Rev. Edward Laryea also failed to provide us with evidence of being in your employment for the period under contention. We were, therefore, unable to establish an employer/employee relationship for that period and by extension, any salaries earned on which social security contributions were not paid.
Ps. Seth Duncan
Ps. Seth Duncan failed to provide evidence of being in the employment ofLCI Ghana. Our independent investigations also could not establish an employer/employee relationship between LCI Ghana and Ps. Seth Duncan, during the period under contention and by extension, any salaries earned on which social security contributions were not paid.
Ps. Edem Amankwah
Ps. Edem Amankwah failed to provide evidence of being in the employment of LCI Ghana. Our independent investigations also could not establish an employer/employee relationship between LCI Ghana and Ps. Edem Amankwah, during the period under contention and by extension, any salaries earned on which social security contributions were not paid.
Ps. Faith Makafui Fiakojo
Ps. Faith Makafui Fiakojo, failed to provide evidence of being in the employment of LCI Ghana. Our independent investigations also could not establish an employer/employee relationship between LCI Ghana and Ps. Faith Makafui Fiakojo, during the period under contention and by extension, any salaries earned on which social security contributions were not paid.
Bishop Emmanuel Oko Mensah
Bishop Emmanuel Oko Mensah was employed and worked as a full-time Pastor for LCI Ghana from August 2003 to November 2018 during which period his contributions were paid. We did not find any employment document contrary to what was available to us, for the period under contention apart from May 2019 where his name was cited on your PA YE records. On the basis of that, you are requested to submit a contribution report to the nearest SSNIT Branch for validation and subsequently, pay the contribution amount and any accrued penalty for the period May 2019.”
One Month Out of 58 years
Upon examining the over 58 year period of the alleged non-payment of SSNIT contributions in contention, the SSNIT found that it was only in respect of one month that LCI had failed to pay SSNIT contributions. LCI says it was a normal administrative lapse since that month was the complainant’s first month in a new branch of the LCI and he was being moved unto a new payroll.
We have all waited with bated breath for this report. Finally, it is out and the Lighthouse Church has been exonerated by SSNIT which according to the complainants in their own statements of claim is “the appropriate authorities to deal with the social security contribution issue.”