Its official. Samoa’s Head of State, his Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi has signed into law, the bill which legalizes the taxing of Church Ministers and the Head of State. This is the first time for such a bill since Samoa became Independent 55 years ago.
The bill was signed on 30 June, 2017 three days after it was approved by Parliament.
This was confirmed by Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt.
He told Samoa Observer that numerous Church pastors were supportive of the measure while only a few did not support the bill.
“The biggest challenge was facing the Church Ministers,” said Tialavea. “I had to face them, after all the move to levy taxes against the Church Minister and Head of State was my idea, not the government’s,” he said.
Secretary General of the Samoa Council of Churches, Reverend Ma'auga Motu remained neutral on the issue of taxing Church Ministers.
“I am no longer receiving any alofa or peleti, so I cannot comment on that. “However, I think the government should have given the public and Church Ministers ample time to accept their proposal.
“Its too late now its been approved by Parliament.
“Nonetheless, the government’s approach of the issue was not properly carried out, that is why the public were against it.
“I believe, that if the Church Ministers fully understood why the government wanted to tax them, it would have been an easier process. “But that was not the case, they held public consultations and then within a year, the bill is passed by parliament,” said Ma'auga.
“The government says they need funds to develop roads, education system, access roads and healthcare, and this will benefit everyone, including the Church Ministers. “I’m sure if they were informed properly, there wouldn’t be a problem,” said Ma’auga.
The N.C.C Secretary was disheartened by the move to tax the Head of State. “This is disrespectful to our Head of State. “One of Samoa’s core values in our way of life is respect and I'm saddened that we have come to this.... it’s just plainly disrespectful,” he told Samoa Observer.
During discussion of this bill last week, Member of Parliaments, Sulamanaia Fetaiai Tuivasa and Olo Fiti Vaai were vocal against the measure.
Sulamanaia said the $2million would not only affect the Church Ministers but also the entire families. “The pastors, who are catering for the denominations are feeding the spiritual beings of people, the ones who will be affected. That is why I am keen on this issue.
“During the process, there were consultations, in the villages and churches. And some churches have opposed this proposal, that is my concern,” said the M.P.
Sulamanaia said the bill was not considered properly.
“It appears the Minister is rushing the approval of this bill.”
He commended the government for the development of Samoa but said the taxing of Church Ministers is a move in the wrong direction.
Sulamanaia found support from Olo Fiti Vaai who said the decision lacked foresight and wisdom.
“I believe that if this was revealed in pre-election plan by the H.R.P.P, you would never win.”
Olo suggested the government levy taxes on the Church’s annual tithes as opposed to the pastor’s income.
“These annual tithing are collected once a year, people make loans for these. I think these annual tithing should be taxed but not the peleti/alofa for the faifeau,” said Olo Fiti.
Tuilaepa during Parliament objected to the comments by Sulamanai noting there is nowhere in the Bible which prohibits Church Ministers from paying taxes. He insisted that many pastors are happy to pay taxes.
“They are thankful, now every faifeau will be paying taxes. The law is clear, treat everyone equally.”
Tuilaepa, reminded that if the faifeau’s salary is $15,000 or less, then he will not pay taxes.
“This applies to everyone, including the faifeau.” Tuilaepa reminded that taxes are people’s contribution to “assist with health care, education, road developments which everyone uses."
“This is your contribution,” said Tuilaepa.