Church Ministers did not mince words when they expressed anger and disappointment at the government’s decision to tax their incomes – and gratuities - starting on 01 January 2018.
Strong emotive language was used which led to one government official shedding tears in an attempt to appease unhappy members of the clergy.
But a number of Church Ministers who attended a seminar, called by the Ministry of Revenue to explain how the new tax laws will work, say the government had underestimated the impact of what they have done not just on the church but on all members of the public.
“If this is God’s way to punish Pastors in Samoa then so be it,” one Church Minister said. “But if this is from man’s creation, then I just want to remind you that someone (in the Bible) fell, broke their neck and his body parts strewn all over the place when he disrespected the will of God.”
The dialogue was held at T.A.T.T.E building. The talk was a platform for church ministers and government officials of the Ministry of Revenue to interact and raise issues associated with the taxing of pastors.
“For your information, peleti (pledge) is not a salary; it’s a divine portion from God to give straight to the pastor,” he said. “But you are now trying to reach out onto the altar.”
One Rev. Leauma agrees.
“A servant of God works in the spiritual life of people because it’s the fulfilment of God’s commandments,” he said.
“What the people give to church ministers is for God, not for pastors and what people give is sacred, meaning its untouchable.”
He reminded the government that people perished because of the lack of knowledge.
“It’s not that if you’re a Cabinet Minister then you know everything,” Rev Leauma.
During the seminar, Ministry of Revenue officials said they would take note of the concerns expressed. They also revealed that a form would be given to churches for pastors or church secretaries to indicate how much money a pastor receives. This form should then be submitted to the Ministry of Revenue with the payment of the tax.
But another pastor who identified himself as Rev. Faraimo rejected it.
“It’s not our duty to bring this form to your office after every fortnight,” he said.
“For your understanding, if someone is given this task, it also takes money to come here to pay the pastor’s tax.
“If that’s so, then the Ministry should pay for the church’s secretary or any other person that will be doing this. I mean we should not be held liable for your responsibilities.”
He stressed “there are totally two different things between an employee in the government and a pastor.”
“A person who works for the government works from 9am - 5pm from Monday to Friday. As for a church minister, they don’t just work during daytime, they work days and night, I mean 24/7.”
Church Ministers also demanded that the Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, should have been present. They said it was unfair for their criticisms to be directed at the staff when the decision making is done by the Minister.
“The Minister is the best person that should have been here this morning.”
Another Pastor said their wives should also be taxed.
“Our wives also play an important role in the work of God; they are the ones that deal with other motherly duties in the church.
Another Pastor questioned the relevance of the seminar.
“Are we the right people to attend the seminar? Are we?” he asked. “In my opinion, our church members should attend this seminar because they are the ones who give money to us for our alofa.”
The general attitude from Pastors who attended is that they do not oppose the government’s tax scheme.
But they want to ensure it is done for the right purpose and the right motives.
“Do it with love and honesty,” said another Pastor. “For your information, what we get for the alofa we also give back when church members come asking for help.”
In July, the former Head of State signed into law the Bill which legalised the taxing of church ministers and the Head of State. This is the first time this has been done since Samoa became independent 55 years ago.
Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt told Sunday Samoan that 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 ministers and Head of State was my idea and not the government’s.”