I am still busy learning every day, drawn mainly to questions of religion, health, law, family and society, so when a few months ago my lawyer daughter-in-law told me about a law which exempts citizens 70 and over from paying property rates, I was eager to find out more.
My immediate reaction was how good it was for the drafters of the local government law to consider the elderly whose contribution to the neighborhood since their working life has left the assemblies standing; but the most interesting for me was the fact that I was gradually approaching that age and that I would one day also enjoy the fruits of my contributions.
My excitement was temporarily paralyzed. Shock and dismay set in when I found out that the magnificent Local Government Act of 2016 (Law 936) and its subsequent sections that give back to the elderly at 70 were only on paper.
Real estate prices
Law 936 exempts people aged 70 and over from paying a “base rate”. Explaining further, Article 234 defines “base rate” as an amount imposed by the District Assembly payable by a person 18 years of age or over and under 70 years of age who resides in a district.
Further on, Law 462 Section 99 (Exemption and remission of tariffs) stipulates that “persons aged 70 and over are exempt from all tariffs, including real estate tariffs”.
However, my finding of three sub-metros within the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) was left blank. The obvious flank reaction was like “exempt from property rates?” You’re kidding. Just show us and we’ll show you what the law says ”.
I was amazed by the responses and reactions, both spoken and in terms of body language, from the three assemblies I turned to for confirmation.
While two of them, including my own district, were very familiar with the Local Government Law 936 of 2016, the officers I spoke with in both cases refused to acknowledge that people in their 70s. years and over are exempt from paying property taxes.
Speaking with great confidence as employees knowing their job, they pointed out to me that the law only referred to “base rates”.
While one of them argued that there had been many people who had come with the same “interpretation” of the law, she asked rhetorically: “In this district, if we apply such an exemption, to where are we going to get almost 50% of our income from? “
An officer quickly turned on his laptop and scrolled down to show me specific sections on what the law says.
She then gave me her WhatsApp number to pass on all the information I have to support the exemption request and she would resume discussions with her management team at their next management meeting.
Meanwhile, at one end of town, another neighborhood seemed to me to be aware of the exemption clause.
They have, however, added their own requirements and explanations.
They said anyone in their district who falls within the range must prove that they are fully retired.
They have to prove that their only income is their pension and that they have no support from their children or other family members.
I strayed from my conclusions on this particular confused and disappointed local government law due to the way officers were using it and interpreted it differently. There does not seem to be any consistency in the interpretation of a law they are working with.
So why not an exemption law? We live in neighborhoods where homeowners struggle to fix all of the basic amenities that residents should instead be enjoying from the local government, as is the case in other jurisdictions.
With the exception of those who buy their properties from established developers and therefore get their roads, drains, and sometimes streetlights as part of their packages, people who buy land to build their homes cover their own roads. access, drains, lampposts and organize their own garbage collection.
We have makeshift structures located all over our communities, marring the beauty of these regions. Invaders have taken over open spaces, garbage is everywhere, and newly constructed walkways in some communities have been taken over by used tire dealers.
Assorted drink and water vendors, used toy vendors and others see the aisles as created for them to sell their wares.
Unfortunately, these assemblies are in the same communities seeing no evil, hearing no evil and saying no evil. What do our real estate prices do for us?
A local government law on exemptions is commendable. This could be interpreted as a sign of recognition of support in the old days.
It is surprising how heavily we as a country are burdened with a plethora of beautiful laws, but sadly, countless numbers of these laws seem to be dormant. They only exist on paper.
Perhaps it is time to test some of these laws in the courts for actual interpretation instead of the varied meanings read in them by various assemblies. It is time to deepen our rights.