According to the Daily Nation , the government has proposed a raft of tough new measures that could radically change the way religious organisations conduct their business.
The new draft rules published by Attorney-General Githu Muigai are aimed at curbing religious societies that swindle Kenyans, engage in money laundering, promote terrorism or become a public nuisance.
The proposed rules come a year after investigative journalists exposed the dubious activities of Mr Victor Kanyari, a supposed pastor in Nairobi, stirring widespread public outrage and ridicule.
The draft regulations cover the registration process and theological qualifications of religious leaders, introduce umbrella bodies that will promote self-regulation and require a declaration of sources of income.
There is also the requirement to give annual returns and audited accounts.
Religious organisations will also have to disclose if members of the same family are holding any leadership positions in the same outfit. Moreover, they will have to state all their assets and liabilities and any affiliations with foreign religious groups.
There has been criticism of some pastors who stand accused of setting up churches primarily to make money and exploit the poor.
Before the new rules were formulated, churches and other religious institutions were only required to fill forms detailing the names of office-bearers, a postal address and their objectives, among other things.
They additionally needed to provide any theological qualifications of the leaders, without specifying a minimum requirement.
After the Pastor Kanyari expose on KTN in November 2014, which was followed up by extensive media coverage, Prof Muigai called a meeting with all religious organisations with a view to coming up with new rules. Some of the tricks exposed were the staging of phone calls to lure radio listeners to “plant a seed” (give offertory) and fake miracles — including mixing the chemical potassium permanganate with water and claiming it is blood.
A year earlier, NTV’s Dennis Okari exposed rogue pastors targeting their gullible congregations in Seeds of Sin.
Saturday, the AG told the Sunday Nation that two consultative meetings were held between the government and Christians, Muslims and members of other religions.
He announced that the rules will be gazetted by the end of January after religious leaders give their input within the next 14 days.
“Last year was for consultations, 2016 will be the implementation year. There shall be rules in place by the end of the month,” he said.
The Kenya National Congress of Pentecostal Churches and Ministries chairman Bishop Mark Kariuki yesterday expressed shock at the draft rules.
He acknowledged that the AG met religious leaders last year and promised to set up a committee made up of representatives from the AG’s office and religious leaders.
“The AG said the committee would have been set up within two months. The committee was to come up with the rules but this never happened. These rules are a big shock to us. I will need to do more consultations before I respond comprehensively,” said Bishop Kariuki.
All religious societies and religious umbrella bodies are required to comply with the new rules within one year from the day they come into force. The AG said Kenyans had expressed their wishes for regulations and the government had responded.
“Every freedom is subject to the rights of others and the responsibilities of those who enjoy them. There is consensus we cannot continue to have a situation where there isn’t a minimum responsibility on the part of religious institutions to ensure that the freedom of worship is exercised within responsible parameters that don’t infringe on rights of others,” he said.
Prof Muigai added: “These rules are intended to ensure all churches and all religious groups are treated in the same manner so that there can never be any group that may say ‘these rules are good for another group but not good for us.’ They are intended for all.”
He argued that lawyers, accountants, engineers, journalists, all have a framework where they are regulated and therefore religious institutions are no exception.
But the religious leaders then rejected formulation of new rules calling it persecution of the church. Kenya National Congress of Pentecostal Churches and Ministries was opposed to any move to regulate the churches.
Under the rules, all religious societies, those under recognised religions like Christianity, Islam, Hindu among others, will have to abide.
About 80 per cent of Kenyans self-identify as Christians and there is no doubt churches will be hardest hit by these guidelines.
A source at the AG’s office told the Sunday Nation that there are about 20,000 registered churches.
One contentious issue that will spark outrage from the small churches is a requirement that the leader of a church should produce a certified copy of the theological certificate from a duly registered and accredited institution.
Most churches especially, one-man shows, whose only claim to mastery of the Bible is divine intervention, do not emphasise on formal studies for their pastors.
This clause is bound to elicit rejection from the small evangelical churches that may find it hard to comply. Mainstream churches may welcome this provision as most of their clergy have the qualifications.
When registering officials, the religious societies will also be required to provide a copy of national identification card, personal identification card issued by Kenya Revenue Authority and a passport photograph.
They will also be required to provide a tax clearance or exemption certificate where applicable.
The government is also targeting clear information on property owned by religious organisations, which will greatly affect churches where property appears to be in the hands of the founders.
A religious organisation will also be required to display the certificate of registration.
“A religious society which fails to display the certificate of registration as required under paragraph (1) and each officer of the religious society who is in default, commits an offence and shall be liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding Sh10,000 and each officer shall be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or both,” read the guidelines.
The rules also empower the Registrar of Societies to inspect any religious society at any time.
Churches with headquarters outside Kenya will have to declare so and at least a third of their officials must be Kenyan.
The small churches, who have been operating individually, will now be compelled to belong to an umbrella religious society.
The rules stipulate that the minimum number of members an umbrella body will have will be 2,500.
“Each religious society shall be a member of an umbrella religious society,” read the rules.
There is, however, a provision of a registration of an umbrella body on an interim basis.
“A religious society which fails to register as a member of an umbrella body and each officer of the religious society who is in default, commits an offence and shall be liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding Sh20,000 and each officer shall be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or to both,” stipulate the rules.
Just like in the matatu industry where Saccos are encouraged to make their own rules, the umbrella body is also expected to formulate rules that will help members to self-regulate.
The code of conduct is expected to include provisions for reviewing doctrines and religious teachings of its members.
The umbrella body will be expected to create interfaith cooperation and provide a platform for consultation and dialogue between the government and religious societies.
It will also be mandatory for every religious institution to keep a register of all its members, which should be updated every year.
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING MINUTES
“A religious society which fails to register the members of the religious society under this rule and each officer who is in default, commits an offence and shall be liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding Sh10,000 and each officer shall be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or to both,” read the draft rules.
The religious societies will also be required to submit minutes of their annual general meetings to the Registrar. Every year, a religious society will be expected to file, alongside annual returns, a declaration of all assets and liabilities.
They will also give a detailed account on any charitable, educational and other commercial, educational and other commercial activities carried out by the religious society, which shall be authenticated by two-thirds of the members.
In a move likely to curb money laundering and terrorism funding, religious societies will also be filing bank statements of all accounts they operate.
Moreover, they will be expected to reveal all sources of funding.
“A religious society which submits fraudulent or falsified documents for registration under the rules … and each officer of the religious society who is in default commits an offence,” state the rules.