Changes are in the pipeline for tax laws in Samoa.
What we can tell you is that the Ministry of Revenue is reviewing how it deals with income taxes with the idea that everyone who earns an income will pay tax.
The Head of State and Church Ministers will not be spared.
The plan was confirmed by the Minister of Revenue, Ti’alavea Tionisio Hunt, during an interview with the Sunday Samoan yesterday.
“The Ministry is reviewing all the (existing) laws,” he said.
“The main idea is to make sure that everyone in this country pays tax.”
Ti’alavea said the Ministry has been entrusted with the task of generating revenue to pay for the developments and they are not leaving a stone unturned.
“I took the oath when I was selected as the Minister that I would do everything to make sure that we get extra money for the development of the country."
“So we are now in the process and we are reviewing the laws to make sure that everyone pays taxes.”
Ti’alavea said the review includes the existing law which allows church Ministers not to pay tax on their incomes.
“We are now in the process of carrying out consultations with churches,” he said. “We already had a meeting with the Executive of the Samoa National Council of Churches where we discussed the issue."
“The proposed changes targets the money church ministers receive from the congregation every two weeks (alofa/peleti)."
“We will not touch other contributions made by the church. We believe those other contributions are for the development of the churches."
“This will also exclude the money they get from funerals, weddings, and other things.”
Ti’alavea said the Ministry only wants to tax the offering received by Pastors from their congregations.
“As you are aware, these taxes are for the development of our country. It is to help our people."
“I understand that there are other pastors who are doing volunteering work and giving out money and food for those in need."
“But we (Member of Parliaments) are also doing the same. We also give out money to develop our districts and help those who need help. The difference is that we pay tax and they don’t.”
But that’s not all.
Ti’alavea added they are looking at the different businesses run by churches in Samoa.
“We are revisiting the existing law so they can all be included. They pay V.A.G.S.T but not income tax but I think it’s only fair for them to pay taxes as well for the businesses they have in Samoa.”
So how will it work?
The Minister said a form would be provided by the Ministry for every church Minister in Samoa.
“They will write down how much they get and we will calculate the amount of tax they have to pay depending on how much they receive."
“It’s just going to be just like other workers in Samoa. You have to pay as you earn (P.A.Y.E).”
Ti’alavea explained that the proposed change will make it consistent for everyone. He added that it might work out in the church ministers’ favour because some congregations might offer to pay their taxes too.
“We know and understand that our people have giving hearts when it comes to church ministers, most of our people just love giving and doing the best for their church ministers."
“We know that if we have this change, most congregations will offer to pay the pastor’s tax on their behalf."
“We already looked at this as well, we’ve come up with the idea that if such a case happens, we will also still ask for tax to be paid by the church minister. We want the church minister’s to pay the tax themselves.”
Ti’alavea said the plan has to be approved by Cabinet.
“Whatever plan and report we can come up with, we will always have to wait for a decision from Cabinet."
“So we are looking at hosting public consultations on the 27-28 of this month for Upolu. Then we will host a public consultation in Savaii from the 30-31 of March."
“We will then include all the opinions from members of the public and summarize it in a report which we will compile and present to Cabinet.”
He went on to say that this is not the first time they’ve come up with this plan.
“This is actually the third time we are making an attempt to push for this change. The first and second time we presented this in Cabinet, it was unsuccessful.'
“But we are going to present it again. We will have public consultations to get the views of members of the public and also for church ministers."
“Like I mentioned before, we have already discussed this with the executive members of the Samoa National Council of Churches."
“And from that discussion, there were mixed feelings about the issue. Some agreed and some opposed.”
Ti’alavea said there is no need to hide the fact the government needs revenue.
“We don’t have minerals like other countries,” he said. “We depend on our hands to do the things we want. We also rely on our development partners to fund the development.
“With the proposed change, our developing partners will be able to see that everyone in Samoa is contributing to the development of our country.”
The Minister said it is not the Ministry’s intention to offend members of the clergy.
“We don’t belittle their commitment and the performance of their roles in our country but we just think it is only right for them to pay tax as everyone else,” Tialavea said.
“If God wants it to happen, it will happen. If not, then it will not happen.”
Ti’alavea said they are looking at presenting the changes when Parliament reconvenes on the 30 May.
“And if Members accept the proposed changes, then it will be effective in July if the main budget for 2017-2018 gets approved.”