More church Ministers charged

Twenty more Ministers of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.) have been charged for tax related offenses, in connection with the Government’s law that makes it mandatory for them to pay taxes on alofa.

The new group of church Ministers are the latest to be charged following charges against the first group of 20 whose hearing is pending.

The new group Church Ministers are scheduled to appear in Court on Tuesday.

One of the Church Ministers involved confirmed the charges.

He said he was served with a summon letter a week after the C.C.C.S. General Assembly at Malua.

He said 12 of the new Ministers charged serve congregations in the rural villages while the other eight are serving villages in the urban area.

The first 20 Church Ministers were individually charged in November last year. They have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them with their hearing set for 1 July 2019.

During the recent C.C.C.S. General Assembly, a sum of $1 million tala was approved by the gathering to cover for legal costs against the church ministers connected to the tax related proceedings.

The saga of church ministers being liable to pay tax began when a proposed amendment to the Income Tax Act 2012 called the Income Tax Amendment Bill 2017 was tabled in parliament in July 2017. It was effective on the 1 January 2018.

The amendment made it a requirement for ministers of religion to pay salary and wage tax where previously ministers of religion were exempted.

Consequently, in the C.C.C.S. annual general meeting in May 2018, a General Assembly resolution of 2017 to oppose the legislation by non-compliance was re-enforced by the General Assembly.

As a result of abiding by the resolution of the C.C.C.S. General Assembly the first group of twenty church ministers posted in various villages were individually charged in November 2018.

Each of the church ministers was charged with two charges of failure to withhold tax and two counts of failure to file tax returns.

In February this year, lawyers representing the church ministers filed an application to have the matter transferred to the Supreme Court.

Although opposed by the Ministry of Revenue lawyers, the defense counsel say the charges raise a few questions of law “which are of general and of public importance for the Court to adjudicate on”.

It was also argued that it is desirable in the public interest of justice that the trial is conducted in the Supreme Court.

The Court also heard alleged infringement of the Constitution. The application was dismissed and the District Court has the jurisdiction to hear the matter concerning the church ministers.

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