The public funding of the National Cathedral has generated a lot of debate in the last few weeks due to the financial crisis facing the country.
Many have suggested that, at a time of financial difficulties, the state should not finance the project as it’s not a priority. Others say, when completed, it would generate income from tourism to pay for the huge cost. This article is a contribution to the debate with reference to the impending government’s engagement with International Monetary Fund (IMF).
There is no doubt that Nana Akufo-Addo like most Ghanaians is very religious. He was seen praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem in 2012. It’s not clear when precisely, the then-candidate and now President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo made a promise to build a National Cathedral for God should he become president of Ghana.
However, reports indicate that he made the pledge or promised prior to the 2016 presidential election on December 7, 2016. Whilst launching the project, the president was reported to have said, “I promised God a National Cathedral, I am redeeming my pledge”.
In a fund-raising event in February 2019 at the Museum of Bible in Washington DC, Nana Akufo-Addo again said, “I made a pledge to God, that if I become the president after two unsuccessful attempts in the 2016 presidential election, I will build a Cathedral to the glory of Ghana” (The Permanent Mission of Ghana to the UN, December 18, 2019).
The question is, if candidate Nana Akufo-Addo, a private citizen at the time made a promise to his God, how did that become a national promise? Did he put his promise in his election manifesto or that of the NPP? If not, why is the state funding it by way of even providing land, let alone the so-called seed money? Of course, many will argue that he used the words, “national cathedral” to mean it would be for the state and therefore the state would fund it. That is not necessarily true because there are national cathedrals in other countries such as Nigeria that are not state-funded.
Notwithstanding the arguments on whether it should be state-funded or not, the president and his ministers told Ghanaians that the National Cathedral would not be funded by the state. In fact, the Attorney General went to the Supreme Court to state that the National Cathedral will be funded by churches. In the case of James Kwabena Bonfeh Jnr v The Attorney at the Supreme Court (Writ No. J1/14/2017  GHASC 2 of January 23, 2019), as stated in page 19 of the written judgement, the Attorney General told the Supreme Court that the government will only provide land for the Cathedral and the churches will sponsor the construction. “We take note that the Government has maintained a consistent theme about the unifying effects of the Cathedral on Ghanaian Christians. So far, its contribution is to provide land for the cathedral, and the actual construction to be sponsored and financed by the churches”.
We now know that the government is not only providing land because that state has paid some huge sums of money for the design of the Cathedral and other costs. It is therefore clear that the Attorney General lied before the Supreme Court. My question is, will God as accept a pledge or promised fulfilled on lies?
Many Ghanaians, including myself, are now of the view that, in view of the financial crisis that the government is facing, the building of a National Cathedral should no longer be a priority and should be suspended until Ghana’s financial situation improves. Others are of the opinion that it should be continued no matter what. In fact, there are reports that some supporters of the National Cathedral claim that it would be built at all costs, whether we like it or not. We have a national crisis that according to the managers of the economy was caused by COVID-19 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As a result, the country is unable to raise enough revenue to pay her expenditures. Therefore, the country needs a bailout from the IMF. As we know from experience, IMF will insist on the government reprioritizing its expenditures and ditching non-essential expenditure items.
First, the National Cathedral is only one man’s promise to his God that has become a national pledge. Second, the country was told it would be funded by churches and all the state was doing was to provide land. We now know that the state will also provide seed money. However, it’s now obvious that the state cannot afford to continue to fund the construction of the National Cathedral. For these reasons, I strongly believe that should Ghana’s engagement with the IMF result in an IMF-assisted programme, the National Cathedral will no longer be financed by the state but by the churches as the Attorney General told the Supreme Court.
President Nana Akufo-Addo’s promise or pledge to God could now turn out to be either a bad dream or a nightmare for him because I do not believe that the churches in Ghana are willing to finance one man’s pledge or promise to his God, therefore the National Cathedral could be another white elephant, an uncompleted promise to God, that runs the potential risk of being abandoned by future governments. In fact, the controversy surrounding the funding of the National Cathedral is such that some religious leaders are now shying away from the project. President Akufo-Addo has two and half years in office to complete the National Cathedral and hand it over to God. Assuming Ghana agrees on a programme with IMF, and it’s decided that the government should stick to its original plan of a church-funded National Cathedral, I doubt the churches would be able to raise sufficient funds to complete the project before January 7, 2025, when President Akufo-Addo completes his second term in office.
The state funding of the National Cathedral vis-à-vis financial crisis and competing needs from education, health and other critical infrastructure development reminds me of a reoccurring post on WhatsApp platforms that says, “it’s only in Africa that a pastor will buy a factory, convert it into a church and the workers who are now unemployed will go the church to pray to God for jobs”. Is that not utter madness that has nothing to do with Christianity but everything to do with money-making pastors? Why couldn’t the pastor use the funds to support the factory to remain in business and provide employment to its members? Is that not better service to God?
Apply that to the state funding National Cathedral of President Akufo-Addo. My understanding is that the president’s free SHS is in dire need of funding as it’s in huge arrears, the National Health Insurance Service and other critical infrastructure projects such as roads and hospitals are also in arrears. Wouldn’t God have been better served if President Nana Akufo-Addo had used the money spent so far on the National Cathedral on the free SHS, health and other infrastructure projects? Is the president building a National Cathedral so that when citizens get sick, they will go there to pray to God to heal them instead of attending well resourced hospitals?
Would it not have been better in the eyes of God, had candidate Akufo-Addo promised or pledged to God that if he became president, he would lead a lean, prudent, efficient, and incorruptible government that will use all the resources of the state to improve the living conditions of all Ghanaians than building a National Cathedral to the glory of God? For me, service to humanity is service to God. In fact, President Nana Akufo-Addo’s free SHS is better service to God than building the edifice of a National Cathedral.
In conclusion, I appreciate the arguments for a National Cathedral. However, amid a financial crisis, competing priorities in education, health, unemployment and infrastructure development coupled with the controversy surrounding state financing, it would be folly for the state to continue to pay for the cost of the National Cathedral in the present circumstances. President Akufo-Addo should use his remaining two and half years in office to improve a lot of all Ghanaians and he will receive God’s abundance blessings than build a National Cathedral to God’s glory on deception.
Columnist: Kofi Ata