On Monday last week, 26 June 2017, Parliament passed the law aimed at taxing pastors of all church denominations, around Samoa.
It was endorsed by the Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, on 30 June 2017.
Now, that may sound confusing to some, and even quite pedantic to others most likely, but then if they feel that way, we cannot blame them.
Because just recently, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s government had been quite adamant in its decision to declare this country a Christian nation, even though it is quite clear in Samoa’s Constitution that it had been so declared right from the start, when it became politically independent 55 years ago.
Indeed, that was also when it was made succinctly clear by the same Constitution - as its Framers had conceived it should so remain till the end of time - that Samoa was a country “Founded on God’’.
What followed was that during all those years, pastors of all religious denominations in this country were accepted without question as God’s messengers, whose role was to spread the word of kindness, as well as love one another, and they would ask for nothing in return.
In other words, they would neither work for a living nor pay taxes to the state like everyone else, and instead they would depend on their adherents who would provide for them, and take care of their everyday needs.
Now that was the unwritten agreement that had been mutually respected and adhered to over the years, until today.
Since today, it looks as if Samoa’s standing as a Christian nation that has been made enduring all this time by its inherent dogma as a country “Founded on God”, is about to be by swept away by man’s hunger for power that will surely remain unquenched.
In early June, Parliament passed the Constitutional Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2017, which aim was apparently to make Samoa a Christian State.
Supported by 43 M.P.’s, no one opposed the bill.
The Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi has endorsed the bill.
Now the questions are: How deteriorating was the law previously so that an amendment was needed?
Indeed, was it in a barbaric - or a pagan state then - so that an amendment was absolutely necessary?
At the time though, when Attorney General, Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff, spoke on the matter, he assured that any suggestion the new law would endanger freedom of religion in Samoa, should not be taken seriously at all
In a statement, he said: “The amendment did not amend, alter or change the rights of individuals within Samoa, to exercise their religious beliefs as they deem fit.
“This individual right is outlined in Article 11 of the Constitution, ‘Freedom of Religion’ and it remains untouched.
“So while the national religion is now confirmed as Christianity, the individual freedom of religion of all citizens within our nation; remains intact.”
Now is that so?
So what exactly is the reason the law is amended if the religious freedoms it had been designed to protect in the first place, had neither been touched - nor would it be touched at any time in the future - anyway?
That’s what we want to know.
Never mind that a total of 43 M.P.s supported the Constitutional Amendment, and no member opposed.
Everyone knows that with the rather obnoxious majority the government is commanding in Parliament these days, it can pass any law it wants.
It would be interesting therefore to know how those pastors who have in the past, been depending on the generosity of their adherents for their upkeep, are going to behave now.
Indeed, how will they react when Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s bill will have become law, and the taxman comes around, asking for their taxes? What happens if they refuse to pay?
According to the Minister of the Inland Revenue Department (I.R.D.) Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, the law is clear.
He said: “The Church Ministers will have to register and they will fill out a tax form, similar to what the businesses use.”
And if they refused to pay, he explained: “There are penalties and fines the pastors will have to pay if they violate the law.”
How much the fines and the penalties would be he did not explain.
Another M.P., Sulamanaia Fetaiai Tuivasa, made what sounded like a sad prediction saying the $2 million the government anticipates to collect from taxing church Ministers, will be funded by church members.
He said the $2 million would not only affect the Church Ministers but also their entire families.
According to Tuilaepa though, there are many church ministers who have been paying their taxes, except for Church ministers who are pastoring in the villages.
As for the much expressed criticism, that it was wrong to suggest that pastors and church ministers should be taxed, Tuilaepa objected saying: “There is nowhere in the Bible which prohibits Church Ministers from paying taxes. (In fact) many pastors are happy to pay taxes.”
He also said: “They are thankful now that every faifeau will be paying taxes. The law is clear. Treat everyone equally.”
Tuilaepa went on to remind that “if the faifeau’s salary is $15,000 or less, then he will not pay taxes.
“This applies to everyone, including the faifeau.”
Also, Tuilaepa pointed out to the M.P that in his district, their pastors make between $100,000 to $200,000. “Now that’s a significant salary. So they should also contribute to the developments of the roads.”
Tuilaepa went on to remind that “taxes are people’s contribution to assist with health care, education and road developments, which everyone uses.”
Still, why did the government wait for 55 years to demand that church ministers, should start paying taxes now.
And so the debate goes on.
Now, the point is that it really doesn’t matter any more these days what anyone says, so long as one is not in opposition to Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailed Malielegaoi.
Indeed, with a lopsided majority of 49-3 in Parliament which enables the government of Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi to pass any law it has tabled there, who needs a Parliament?
Indeed, who needs a dud of a Legislative Assembly?
In fact, now that this country’s Constitution will be impossible to recognize by the time our government would have been through tearing it apart, how about changing it totally from “Samoa Founded on God” to one that is quite original such as “Samoa Founded on Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi” from Lepa?
Just a thought.