Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi rebuked Salega East’s Member of Parliament, Olo Fiti Vaai, telling him to stop fooling the country.
“Don’t do that,” Tuilaepa told Olo. “You can fool one or two people of the country but you cannot fool the whole country.”
The Prime Minister had left the Parliament complex to open the Frankie 2018 Samoa Food and Wine Trade Expo when he heard Olo address the House about the Income Tax Amendment Bill 2018.
The bill, which was passed, seeks to amend the law to tax the alofa of church Ministers while the gifts they receive from weddings, funerals and other community activities they conduct are not taxed.
The second amendment is a tax credit clause to encourage companies to invest in Samoa’s efforts to host the Pacific Games next year. The law promises companies who invest $5,000 and upwards returns of up 200 percent.
In the absence of Prime Minister Tuilaepa who had left the building, Olo took the floor to address the bill.
“If you remember Mr. Speaker, when the Income Tax Law was first discussed, I requested during Parliament at that time not to tax the pastors’ gifts and envelopes from weddings, funerals and so forth,” he said.
“But I’m glad that you have taken into consideration a request from this district to do this.
“Secondly, it’s the tax credit. I know one Member of Parliament has requested 150 percent but I would personally suggest 120 percent. Two hundred percent is too much.”
“When we think about it, this is very easy money for the big companies. If for example Digicel and Bluesky decide to donate $1m and then they claim 200 percent, that means they will get $2m in just this short period of time.”
Olo also raised a question about Samoa’s readiness for the Pacific Games in terms of finances.
“This raises another concern, are we looking for money for the S.P.G. just now? We are only 12 months away from the event and I’m worried that we might not be ready for the event.”
Olo concluded his remarks by pointing to the book of Romans 13 verse 7.
“When the tax collectors went to collect taxes from the people and the people refused, this was when Jesus said to them; ‘Give everyone what you owe them, if you owe taxes then pay taxes, this refers to the tax collectors, if revenue then revenue, he refers to companies, if respect then respect, Jesus is referring to the churches and lastly Jesus said, if honour then honour, this refers to the leaders of the government.
“Not everyone should be taxed and not everyone should be given honour and respect.”
Olo reminded the Government that: “We must obey God rather than man.”
The Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, acknowledged the points raised by Olo.
“Mr. Speaker during the time I was thinking of bringing this law here to Parliament, I didn’t use the Bible as a reference. My sole focus was to ensure everyone contributes (through taxes) to the development of the country.”
As for the 200 percent tax credit incentive for the Pacific Games, Tialavea said this was also done when Samoa hosted the 2007 South Pacific Games.
“The reason is to attract the business community so that they can help with the funding of the S.P.G. Because if they don’t, the burden will fall on the government. We have to find money to fund this event.”
The Games, he added, has a budget of around $40million. The Government, through the budget passed last week, has forked out $11million.
It was at that point Prime Minister Tuilaepa intervened.
“Mr. Speaker, I had almost reached the place where I was invited to speak at but I turned around and came back because I want to correct the misinformation that has been spread this morning,” Tuilaepa said.
“The reason businesses are involved in the Pacific Games is because they should make a contribution. Why? Because they will be the ones who benefit from this. There are many people who will be coming to the event and the businesses will benefit from them.”
The Prime Minister dismissed suggestions that Samoa is not ready.
“We have just passed the budget and the government has already allocated a huge amount of money for these Games. We are ready, we have the facilities and everything to host the games.
“All that needs to be done is to repair and renew some facilities. The Chinese have come in and said they will do all of that. And it’s not because we don’t have enough money. We do have enough money but this is for them (the business community) to contribute and not just sit there and do nothing.”
Tuilaepa then turned his attention to Olo.
“Another issue is when the M.P. of Salega acknowledged the Minister for the amendment in the law to tax pastors (claiming it was his idea).
“When did the authorities ask for taxes from the matai’s envelopes that they get from their usu? There is no such thing. The only thing that the Minister touched on is to elaborate more on the reason behind the law.
“But what the M.P. said that he acknowledges the Minister because this is what he said, no, don’t fool the country.”
In relation to Olo’s reference about Romans, Tuilaepa said: “That is so wrong, you are talking about the things that you do not understand. You can fool one or two people of the country but you cannot fool the whole country.”
Olo though insisted.
“Mr. Speaker there are two things that I want to give to the Prime Minister,” he said.
“It’s the Bible and the hansard of what we discussed before (in Parliament) when I shared my thoughts about the taxing of the pastors. I am right I did tell them not to tax the gifts that include the envelopes from weddings and so forth.”
In the end, the bill was passed into law.
Parliament has been adjourned until 2 October 2018.