Church, Govt., taxes and Leta’a

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Last week, a story titled “E.F.K.S. Church elders’ decision questioned” was published on the front page of your newspaper. It made for some very interesting reading. That much we know. 

You see, just when we thought the long-standing battle between the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.) and Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s administration over the taxing of pastors’ offerings had been buried, along came Leta’a Daniel Devoe. Keep that name in mind.

But first let’s refresh your memory just a bit. 

Keep in mind that this controversy has been going for a good couple of years now, with the most heated debates taking place not too long ago, with some of what was said still very fresh. 

Up until now, the main players have been Prime Minister Tuilaepa, his Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt and the General Secretary of C.C.C.S., Reverend Vavatau Taufao. As three of the most powerful men in Samoa today, they have been at loggerheads since Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s Government decided life in sleepy old Samoa was a bit boring so it was time to tax God’s servants.

We don’t need to tell you the story. Suffice to say whereas Minister Tialavea insists the tax law is merely about everyone contributing to the development of Samoa, Prime Minister Tuilaepa believes his Government’s rule is a divine appointment so that whatever they decide to do must also be God-inspired. 

Now who can argue against that? When someone flags the almighty God as their source of inspiration, who are we mere mortals to question it?

But that’s where Rev. Taufao comes in. As the leader of the biggest denomination in Samoa with membership nearing 60,000 people, he has been the face of the C.C.C.S’s fierce opposition to the Government’s law.

 “Let the Government implement their law. As for the E.F.K.S. church, we stand by the decision reached at the end of the Fono Tele,” he said.

“We will wait until the Fono Tele next year to review that decision. If there are consequences in the meantime, we have to remember that Jesus said I’m sending you as sheep among wolves.  The pastors are prepared to carry the cross.

 “But remember what Jesus told Peter. He said I would establish my church upon this rock and give you the keys; even the gates of hell wouldn’t prevail against it.”

Well that was a few months ago. 

Today, the C.C.C.S. leadership has flatly refused to pay any tax, meaning they have already broken the law. When the Government will start charging Church Ministers for refusing to comply we don’t know yet. 

And while we have been patiently awaiting the next development in this most interesting clash, along came Leta’a Daniel Devoe. You see while all this was going on, Leta’a had been sitting there quietly fuming, until last week when he couldn’t contain his rage anymore.

Leta’a for your information is a member of the C.C.C.S. As such, he claimed that many members of the wider C.C.C.S. do not support Rev. Vavatau and the Elders decision. How many members, he did not say. 

 “As a senior member of the church, I’m very embarrassed at the stance the church is taking,” he said. “My concern is that I know a lot of people do not support this move by the Elders with their instructions to the faifeau not to register as taxpayers.

 “I know I will cop a lot of flak for this, but I also know that I must voice my own opinion because it sounds like it is the whole church going against the Government – it’s not.”

Let’s give it to Leta’a for finally finding his voice. Everyone after all is entitled to an opinion, which is what democracy is all about. We need more people like Leta’a.

Now according to Leta’a, the stand-off between his church and the Government is a result of overlapping between the two institutions, which should not happen. 

 “If the Elders or the leaders of the church wish to be involved in politics – leave your parishes and go into Parliament where they can voice their political views but don’t mix church and politics,” Leta’a said. 

Really? What about politicians who act and think that they are God’s gift to Samoa? What about politicians who think they are gods and are therefore above the law? We see many of them and they get away with it? What does Leta’a say to them? 

Folks, did this mess not come about because the Government started meddling with the alofa, which is something that belongs to the church? And if our ancestors did not see the need to tax church ministers back then, why now? Is God not the same yesterday, today and tomorrow?

But Leta’a wasn’t finished. He went on to say the Church’s decision to encourage the faifeau in their churches to break the law is morally and ethically wrong.

 “The Bible clearly tells us that if you break one commandment, you break all of them. For them to say to the faifeau ‘don’t pay your taxes’ is encouraging them to break the law, yet they preach integrity and honesty,” he said. 

“You can’t say one thing and do another - they are condoning the breaking of the law. There is no difference between being punished for a crime of stealing and being punished for not paying your taxes.”

Morally and ethically wrong? Church leaders condoning the breaking of the law? Stealing the same as not paying your taxes? These are very, very serious allegations against the Church.

Has anybody – including Leta’a – bothered to raise their voice against the abuse of public office and the corrupt practices that have landed us where we are today, resulting in the Government needing to tax the Church to finance this hole?

Isn’t that the sort of morally and ethically wrong thing we should be more concerned about? 

Tell us what you think!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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