Amidst strong opposition from the church, Parliament has passed a bill, which will see the Head of State and Church Ministers being taxed for the first time since Samoa became politically independent.
As if to add insult to injury, all that’s needed now for the bill to officially become law is the endorsement of the highest official on the land who will soon be taxed – his Highness the Head of State.
The bill was passed during this week’s Parliament session.
The Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, said that eighty per cent of the Church Ministers whom they consulted supported the measure.
“Only a few did not support the measure,” he said. “The biggest challenge in this proposed bill was facing the Church Ministers.”
He said the Church Ministers will have to register and they will fill out a tax form, similar to what the businesses use.
But what happens if the Minister refuses to pay?
Tialavea said there are penalties and fines the faifeau will have to pay if they violate the law.
Earlier this week, Member of Parliament, Sulamanaia Fetaiai Tuivasa said the $2million the government anticipates to collect from taxing church Ministers will be funded by church members. He said the $2million would not only affect the Church Ministers but also entire families.
But Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi intervened.
He reminded that there are a lot of church ministers who have been paying their taxes except for Church ministers who are pastoring in the villages.
Sulamanaia said those church ministers are the ones working for their respective church offices.
“But the pastors, who are catering for the denominations who are feeding the spiritual beings of people are the ones who will be affected. That is why I am keen on this issue."
“During the process, there were consultations, in the villages and churches. And some churches have opposed this proposal, that is my concern.”
Sulamanaia said the bill was not considered properly.
“It appears the Minister is rushing the approval of this bill.”
He commended the government for the development of Samoa but said the taxing of Church Ministers is a move in the wrong direction.
Tuilaepa objected to say there is nowhere in the Bible which prohibits Church Ministers from paying taxes. He insisted that many pastors are happy to pay taxes.
“They are thankful, now every faifeau will be paying taxes. The law is clear, treat everyone equally.”
Tuilaepa, reminded that if the faifeau’s salary is $15,000 or less, then he will not pay taxes.
“This applies to everyone, including the faifeau.”
The Prime Minister pointed out to Sulamanaia that in his district, their pastors make between $100,000 to $200,000.
“That’s a significant salary. So they should also contribute to the developments of the roads."
“You’re the loudest in voicing your requests for government assistance for the projects in your districts. Don’t be afraid to do what is right."
“Don’t worry about the election, if God chooses you to come back given your boldness and doing what is right, you will return.”
Tuilaepa reminded that taxes are people’s contribution to “assist with health care, education, road developments which everyone uses."
“This is your contribution.”
Sulamanaia found support from Olo Fiti Vaai who said the decision lacked foresight and wisdom.
“I believe that if this was revealed in pre-election plan by the H.R.P.P, you would never win.”
Olo suggested the government levy taxes on the Church’s annual tithes as opposed to the pastor’s income.
“These annual tithing are collected once a year, people make loans for these. I think these annual tithing should be taxed but not the peleti/alofa for the faifeau.”