The Chairman of the Samoa National Council of Churches, Deacon Kasiano Le’aupepe, has cautioned the government over its plan to tax the offerings received by members of the clergy.
“It is something they have to consider very carefully,” Leaupepe told the Samoa Observer. “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.
“The other important role of a faifeau to me is that they never stop praying for the betterment of our country.
“They pray day and night not only for members of their congregation, but also the whole country as well. For those working in offices, they close their offices at five, and then go straight to drinking their Vailima before going home. But that’s not the same for the faifeau.”
Leaupepe also wondered why the framers of the Constitution did no consider taxing the clergy back then.
“I wish this was something that was included in the Constitution of our country,” he said.
“It would’ve been very easy if it was there from the beginning. Because we all know that all the churches we have in Samoa now did not originate from within our country.
“They were all brought into the country. So it would’ve been nice if they had this in the beginning, so they could ask all the missionaries who brought in the churches in Samoa to pay their taxes before establishing their churches in Samoa.”
He said the best thing for the Ministry is to tax the Church as a whole, rather than targeting individual pastors.
“I believe they shouldn’t ask the individual pastors to pay tax. I believe they should target the income each church gets. For example, they should tax the money the Catholic Church gets and the money the Methodist church gets.
“In that way, it would be fair for each church, because it is harder and unfair to go after each individual pastors.
“You know for most people in Samoa, they give their best to the church and church ministers. Samoans are used to giving money or whatever they can offer to pastors.
“It’s something our ancestors did and this was instilled in the minds of our people.
“The money that our people offer to pastors is given out of their own will. This is not because of anything else. They do this in the name of God.
“Pastors are addressed as representatives of God; they were chosen to spread the word of God. To me, I know the main reason why they offer things to pastors is because of their love for God, and because our people are used to giving with the belief that they will be blessed tenfold by God if they give wholeheartedly.”
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.”