P.M. says Govt. will pursue prosecution of Church Ministers
The Government is not giving up the fight to prosecute Ministers of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.) over their refusal to pay taxes on the alofa (love offering).
That's the message from Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, who has announced that the Office of the Attorney General will take on the prosecution of the matter, instead of the legal team for the Ministry of Revenue.
The announcement was made by Prime Minister Tuilaepa during his weekly media programme, after the District Court dismissed tax related charges against the first 20 Ministers of the C.C.C.S. to have been charged.
“I just saw the announcement by the Attorney General they will take over the matter," he said. "This means this is not the end of this case.”
Tuilaepa said the Government, especially the Ministry of Revenue, was hesitant perhaps to use Police officers to serve the summons against the Church Ministers.
"Due to the fact these are Church Ministers, the Ministry felt it was inappropriate to send the Police Officers to serve them and it would have brought shame to the Ministers they are being served with the summons by Police Officers.
“They (Ministry for Revenue) failed to do what is right and serve them with the summons as per procedure, but it was because of their respect for the Ministers they did not do what was right.
"And like one man said about the law….. the law is an ass (asigi Samoan),” said the Prime Minister, chuckling.
Tuilaepa said the Judge noted that the proper procedures were not followed.
“And that is because the Church refused to give out the identities of their Church Ministers.
"The Revenue office did not follow protocols out of respect for the church ministers. They should have consulted with the police and have them serve the summons, instead they went on their own."
But Tuilaepa said this is not finished.
"There will be other charges later on,” said Tuilaepa.
The Prime Minister added that the matter will now be handed to more intelligent lawyers as opposed to what he described as "weak" lawyers who handled the matter.
“This is a game and just like what occurred in Parliament three days ago. There were three Court cases and the fourth one was the Parliament.”
Tuilaepa was referring to the vote in Parliament to reinstate the suspended President of the Lands and Titles Court, Fepulea’i Atilla Ropati.
“In started in the District Court, then it proceeded to the Supreme Court and onto the Appellate Court. And in this court is where we have bring down overseas judges and it automatically eliminated the issue of –buddy-buddy. Common courtesy does not apply there."
Going back to the tax matter, the Prime Minister said the A.G.’s office will handle the matter.
“They have about 40 lawyers versus two shallow lawyers from the Ministry for Revenue,” said the Prime Minister.
He again utilised the opportunity to urge the Church Ministers to pay their taxes and put a stop to the Court case.
The decision to dismiss the case was handed down by District Court Judge, Leota Raymond Schuster, saying the prosecution failed to identify the defendants as ministers of religion.