Are Churches More Important Than Tax Paying Cinemas?

As we face the devastating impact the Coronavirus crisis delved to the Ghanaian economy, we have been compelled to go about our daily lives in order to survive even in the face of this killer disease. Therefore, business must go on, the Gross Domestic Product will still be calculated, and Ghana must survive. So, as we try to ease restrictions in order to allow further integration for more economic activities, the President of Ghana Nana Addo Dankwa – Akufo Addo in his most recent address to the nation on Sunday 31st May 2020, allowed Churches to operate with a maximum 100 congregation capacity rule. But, another area which may be argued to be more relevant to the growth of the economy was left in the dark…….The Cinemas! 

It’s a fact that the churches in Ghana generate a significant amount of money on a weekly basis. In Ghana, some banks even have development loan packages tailored to the unique needs of the Church called ‘Church Development Fund’ and so on. The church has become an attractive business in modern Ghana with pastors and other Christian religious leaders becoming wealthy to the extent of affording enviable luxurious lifestyles from armed body guards, expensive cars to estate homes. An irony to the ever popular statement made by the founder of the Christian faith Jesus Christ, when he said that it would be extremely difficult for a rich man to enter heaven. 

But, in spite of being a respected voice of spiritual guidance and moral values, many churches or the church as a religious symbol, disappointed many Christians especially in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis in Ghana. When the new directives by the President of Ghana were rumored to include the indefinite closure of all large social events including churches as a way of limiting the spread of the Coronavirus, a group of well known and very successful Christian religious leaders went to have a discussion with the President of Ghana at his office in order to plead with him not to give such an order. Their arguement was that it would interfere with the work of God. This action by the Christian religious leaders sparked nationwide debates on various media platforms as many viewed this request as heartless to the health of the congregation, and a selfish interest in securing a steady flow of income through offerings in the church.

But, even in the face of the deadly Coronavirus, the Church still proved critics right. After the President of Ghana did not give in to the appeal of the influential Christian leaders to leave churches open amid the Coronavirus crisis in Ghana, most of the churches, some of whom were present at the meeting with the President, announced cellphone numbers specifically for the transfer of money from their members. According to them, this was a way of ensuring members fulfilled their financial obligations to the Church and to God. Some echoed the importance of paying such monies and stated that they were prerequisites to receiving blessings from God.

Meanwhile, a more silent religion in Ghana, Islam, which caters to a much smaller population of Ghanaians, was showing concern in fighting the global pandemic. As a way of soliciting for support to fight the Coronavirus, the President of Ghana Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo – Addo established the ‘Covid – 19 National Trust Fund’ to receive donations from well wishers and corporate bodies. He even donated 3 months of his salary to the fund. On 30th April 2020, the National Chief Imam Sheikh Osman Nuhu Sharubutu led groups of concerned Muslims to donate Ghc 130,000 to the fund. But, these were still not enough to ring a conscious bell to motivate the Christian religious leaders, who earlier on appealed to government, to do like wise. Till date, nothing has been heard publicly about such gestures by the team of Christian religious leaders who wanted to do the work of God at the expense of the health of their congregation.

But, the Arts and Entertainment industry has always suffered from the absence of Government’s intervention. Even though the film industry in Ghana remains the promising sector of the entertainment community with the potential to employ large number  of people especially during movie productions, this industry has literally come to a halt since the Coronavirus emerged in Ghana. Associations such as the Film Crew Association of Ghana (FiCAG) has often lamented about the state of affairs in the industry; even before the Coronavirus  crisis. And to make matters worse, the most lucrative part of film distribution in Ghana which is the cinemas, has been indefinitely closed. Though the option of online cinemas exist, according to award winner Ghanaian movie critic Tony Asankomah of, the cinema culture of Ghanaians hasn’t matured to that stage and so filmmakers would not be able to enjoy very large financial benefits from stirring their movies online. 

But, the Government is willing to reopen Cinemas in Ghana so why the delay? In May 2020, during the inauguration of the Film Classification Committee in Accra, the Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Honorable Barbara Oteng – Gyasi, revealed to Shine Publications in an exclusive interview that once operators of cinemas could submit proposals of how they could safely operate amid the Coronavirus crisis, permission for reopening would be granted. She even hinted that cinemas were likely to be reopened this month June 2020. So, one might ask why cinemas were excluded from the President’s national address last week? Are the churches taking more priority in the eyes of the average Ghanaian or has the Film world lost its relevance? 

But, don’t be too quick to lay blame on the President or the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, because there has been very little noise about the need to pay more attention to the film industry by direct stakeholders and beneficiaries namely actors. This also raises the question whether Ghanaian actors are truly generating majority of their income or  even any part of their earnings from the Film industry.

But the major factor which can turn the story of the Film industry in Ghana around is the establishment of a credible ‘Movie Box Office’. This should be tasked with making data verifiable by the Ghana Revenue Authority available to the public stating the gross sales of movies in Ghana from showings in cinemas across the country. Last year at the Ghana Film Summit at the Accra International Conference Centre, the Minister for Tourism, Creative Arts and Culture Honorable Barbara Oteng – Gyasi, admitted that such an initiative was possible and the Government would be interested in finally having documented proof of film business in Ghana. 

In conclusion, the Film industry in Ghana is very much underrated, but this is also because of the lack of a credible source of information about sales from the various avenues of film distribution in Ghana. However, the Government of Ghana needs to pay more attention by creating tailor – made financial packages to filmmakers, establishing efficient and incorruptible structures such as a local Box Office, to ensure honesty and accuracy in documenting the financial history of the Film industry in Ghana. 

By Jerry Wonder 

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