Churches still anti tax laws

By Ilia L. Likou 09 July 2017, 12:00AM

The National Council of Churches in Samoa hasn’t received any guiding principles on how to tax pastors in the country.

This was confirmed by the General Secretary of the N.C.C.C., Rev Ma’auga Motu in an interview with the Samoa Observer.

“There’s nothing much to say. As you all know the government is going on with their plan to tax pastors. We have had a meeting and it’s now up to each denomination (on how to deduct taxes from their pastors) according to the bill that has just been passed.” he said.

“For now, the C.C.C.S. has rejected the plan. We haven’t heard from the Methodist Church and I think the majority of churches in Samoa rejected it (tax) as well, except for the Catholic church.”

This year, the nation’s biggest denomination, the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S), rejected the plan by the government to tax church Ministers.

The decision was reached during the Church’s annual conference. 

The meeting resolved that a letter will be formally presented to the government outlining the church’s objections.

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 a 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.

However, at the beginning of this week, Samoa’s Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi signed into law, the bill which legalizes the taxing of Church Ministers and the Head of State. This is the first time for such a bill since Samoa became Independent 55 years ago. 

The bill was signed on 30 June, 2017 three days after it was approved by Parliament. 

This was confirmed by Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt. 

He said that numerous Church pastors were supportive of the measure while only a few did not support the bill. 

“The biggest challenge was facing the Church Ministers,” said Tialavea. “I had to face them, after all the move to levy taxes against the Church Minister and Head of State was my idea, not the government’s,” he said. 

During discussion of this bill last week, Member of Parliaments, Sulamanaia Fetaiai Tuivasa and Olo Fiti Vaai were vocal against the measure. 

Sulamanaia said the $2million would not only affect the Church Ministers but also the entire families. “The pastors, who are catering for the denominations are feeding the spiritual beings of people, 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,” said the M.P.  

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. 

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,” said Olo Fiti. 

Tuilaepa during Parliament objected to the comments by Sulamanai noting 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 them that if the faifeau’s salary is $15,000 or less, then he will not pay taxes. 

“This applies to everyone, including the faifeau.” 

Tuilaepa reminded the public that taxes are people’s contribution to “assist with health care, education, road developments which everyone uses."

“This is your contribution,” said Tuilaepa.

By Ilia L. Likou 09 July 2017, 12:00AM

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