Government and Church Ministers tax law threat

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Two Sundays ago, the Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, issued a thundering warning to Ministers of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa.

Made on the front page of the Samoa Observer, Minister Tialavea had obviously had enough of the Church’s resistance to the Government’s new law to tax church Ministers so that he just fired off.

 “I am not scared to prosecute Church Ministers who refuse to pay taxes to the Government,” the Minister told the Sunday Samoan. “So after 30th June 2018, I will not hesitate to prosecute any Church Minister who continues to defy the law. Enough is enough.”

 “The Government has given them ample time from when the law was introduced, passed and it is time to implement the law.”

That deadline is next Saturday. 

Which means that on the following Monday, 2 July 2018, it will be interesting to see how the Ministry of Revenue will begin to implement the law that has become the topic of such heated debate during recent months.

Keep in mind that the C.C.C.S., the biggest denomination on the land, is not budging at all. Last month after their Annual General Conference, General Secretary, Reverend Vavatau Taufao, delivered the confirmation of what everyone basically knew.

 “The decision from the Fonotele remains the same as in 2017 and that is to reject the law requiring Church Ministers to pay taxes,” said the 

“We are a democratic church; the decision was not decided by one person, rather the entire church. It was way over the majority who rejected it, approximately 90 percent of the attendees who voted. So the decision is not by Elders of the Church, it is the decision by the Fonotele.”

On the front page of the newspaper you are reading today, the Church has gone from talking to the media to taking the matter directly to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi. They met for the first time yesterday. 

Although the parties are unwilling to talk about what happened behind those closed doors, a letter from the Church to Prime Minister Tuilaepa, dated 15 June 2018, sees the Elders of the Church urging Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his administration to reconsider their decision.

“It is the belief of the E.F.K.S. that our customs, traditions and Christianity beliefs are the pillars of the Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa,” the letter reads.

 “Samoa is founded on God. It means any law that contradicts our customs, traditions and Christianity beliefs, should not be implemented at all. There is no doubt that the law in question violates the fundamental religious beliefs and the core beliefs of the E.F.K.S. Church. This is why the Fonotele (E.F.K.S’s General Assembly) rejected this law in 2017 and again in 2018.”

What Prime Minister Tuilaepa will do next we don’t know. What we do suspect is that he is unlikely to change his mind. You see should the E.F.K.S. Church get its way, Tuilaepa risks being viewed as a weak leader whose has had to bow to pressure. 

Besides, he has repeatedly reminded that Parliament is the supreme law making body of Samoa and as such, the law has been passed and final. 

As for his “go do it man,” Minister Tialavea, well he is ready to do what needs to be done to keep his boss happy.

 “I initiated the taxing of Church Ministers because it is the right thing to do,” he said, adding that people have threatened him since the law came into existence. 

 “I don’t care if I don’t make it back in the next General Election; what matters is what I am doing now, beyond that is not really something I care about.”

So what can we expect come Monday 2 July 2018?

Well listen to Tialavea once again: “As I had stated before, the Government will not hesitate to prosecute them and that no one is above the law, always remember that.”

We are heading for some very interesting times ahead.

Have a safe Tuesday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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