The nation’s biggest denomination, the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S), has rejected the plan by the government to tax church Ministers.
The decision was reached during the Church’s annual conference, which ended on Friday.
The meeting resolved that a letter will be formally presented to the government outlining the church’s objection.
The rejection of the government’s plan was widely supported by the Church’s membership.
“This is not a type of local government, I mean this is a church,” church member Tautolo Masele told the Sunday Samoan.
“Looking closely at what is happening now, they are targeting the money given to faifeau every week. That’s a double tax for us members of the public. I mean we are not only paying taxes to the government through other ways and now we will all be taxed again through the faifeau.”
Mr. Masele said people’s offerings to the Pastors should be left alone.
“The money we offer to the Pastors is money we have dedicated to God through his servant."
That should be left alone as it is holy money.
“I’m happy that the church has rejected this decision.”
Another church member agrees.
“This is not because of anything else, we are doing this in the name of God,” he said.
“I think the government is waiting on the E.F.K.S. (for their decision), but I’ve heard the Methodist Church have also rejected it.”
The church member said the government must rethink its decision.
“It’s something our ancestors did and this was instilled in the minds of our people. Why is the government changing it now?”
Accrording to the Minister of Revenue, Ti’alavea Tionisio Hunt, the government’s intention is for everyone in Samoa to be taxed.
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," he said.
“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.
“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.”
In March, the Chairman of the Samoa National Council of Churches, Deacon Kasiano Le’aupepe, cautioned the government over its plan.
“It is something they have to consider very carefully,” Leaupepe said. “It’s a sensitive matter because it is not the same for all the churches in Samoa.”
For that reason, Leaupepe said the National Council of Churches does not have an official opinion on the plan by the Ministry of Revenue.
“We’ve told the Ministry that the decision will not come from the Samoa National Council of Churches. This is because the Council are not the ones to decide on this matter.
“We will leave it to leaders of each Church in Samoa to come up with their own ideas in relation to this and then present it to the Ministry for their report to Parliament.”
Leaupepe said his only wish is that the review is fair and that everyone is given an opportunity to present their views.
“You see different churches in Samoa have their own systems,” he said. “So it’s something that they should look at carefully because it is not the same for all the churches in Samoa.
“For example, the Methodist church and the C.C.C.S church have their own systems, different from the Catholic Church’s system. If we look at the plan they have now, they are targeting the money given to faifeau on Sunday (alofa/peleti).
“To me, it seems like the Church ministers for the E.F.K.S and Methodist are the ones who will have to pay. I say this because for us in the Catholic Church, we will definitely not be paying tax because we don’t get as much as my brothers from the Methodist and E.F.K.S church.
“We also have our own system of paying those who are in charge of conducting services in our church. I think the same goes for other churches aside from the Methodist and E.F.K.S.
“And that’s what I mean that the Ministry should look at this very carefully before they make their final report.
“If they want to tax everyone, including all members of the clergy, then they should do it in a way where it is fair for everyone. They should also look at how some churches are bigger than others. Things like that.”
Leaupepe added that there is a big difference between a person working for the government and a faifeau (church Minister).
“A person who works for the government works from 9-5 from Monday to Friday. As for a church minister, they don’t just work during daytime. They work days and nights.
“For example, if someone from the congregation dies late at night, the family always have to call the faifeau to come and do a service before anything else. No matter what time of the night something like this happens, the faifeau will always have to get up and do it.
“It can happen any day and any time of the day or night. There are a lot of differences. They sacrifice a lot in order to do their duties and calling from God.
Asked for a comment about the Prime Minister’s claim that even Jesus Christ paid taxes, Leaupepe laughed.
“We all know the story,” he said. “Jesus held up the coin and asked the people to look at the image on the coin. He asked them whose image was on the coin and people said it was Caesar’s.
“So he said, give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.
“This means, what’s been set aside for God and has been blessed for God should be for God. Those are sacred.”