Ex-Head of State's debt claim denied: Minister

The Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, has strongly denied claims that the Government decided to tax the Head of State and  Church Ministers because it was broke.

The claim was made by the former Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, during a press conference at Tuaefu on Friday where he revealed that Government officials themselves had made the admission to him.

Tui Atua recalled a meeting with Tialavea when the Government proposed to tax the Head of State and church ministers, something that had not been done since Samoa became politically independent in 1962. 

The Head of State at the time queried the reason behind the decision especially when the Government and Tialavea's rationale was so that everyone contributes to the development of Samoa.

“So I had asked to prepare a paper to explain it further and its justification..." Tui Atua said.

“After a week from that meeting [with Tialavea] representatives from the [Revenue] office came to me and apologised saying the new change is not so that everyone is treated the same but it is because there aren’t enough funds for the office for the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education.”

Contacted for a comment, Tialavea denied the claim.

"Records of revenue surplus every year is proof that the Government is not in debt,” Tialavea said. 

He confirmed that he did talk with Tui Atua some years ago regarding the Church Minister's tax law where he told him the changes were the right thing to do and so everyone is treated equally in terms of paying tax.

The Minister declined to comment on allegations that taxing of faifeau was due to lack of funds available to aid the Health and Education sector.

He said he was in Savai’i and cannot confirm the allegations being directed at M.C.R. staff who allegedly claimed the faifeau tax was due to lack of funds.  

The Government's outstanding debts for the December 2019 quarter stood at $1.04 billion, official statistics show.  

Speaking at his Tuaefu residence yesterday about the three bills for the Land and Titles Court, Tui Atua said the amendments including the taxing of faifeau are all part of Government’s effort to pay its debt.  The three bills are the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Bill 2020 and Judicature Bill 2020. 

Asked if he agrees with the new law to tax faifeau, Tui Atua disagrees pointing out that the church never asked to be pardoned from paying tax in the past. 

He said in the past, the position of the Head of State was pardoned from paying tax and then later the churches.

In his opinion, Tui Atua said he would have reconsidered the question on taxing faifeau if it was something that was a practice from the past.

In addition, Tui Atua said taxing faifeau breaches a sacred covenant in the Samoan culture where they play a crucial role in bringing peace and calm during difficult times. 

He compared the taxing of faifeau to that of a blessing or gift that has already been presented and is later being taken back while it’s already in the mouth of the other person. 

Tui Atua maintained that the claim insisted on by the Minister that taxing faifeau will be fair for everyone, he said, is not the truth. 

“Taxing faifeau is not because of fairness for everyone or any farsighted plans,” he said. 

“It's money. One must consider our culture and look towards peace for our families, villages and district.” 

The Government in 2017 passed a law that removed the tax exemption clause for income generated by faifeau.  

The law means that all income earned by faifeau will be taxed – including monetary gifts they receive from funerals, weddings and other fa’alavelave. 

 In July 2019, the District Court dismissed charges of tax evasion filed by the Government against 20 faifeau of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa. 

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