Revenue C.E.O. backs Minister, denies debt claim
The Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Customs and Revenue, Matafeo Avalisa Fautuaali’i, has thrown her weight behind the Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, to deny a claim that the Government taxed 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 last week. He said representatives from Customs had told him in a meeting that the Government was moving to tax Church ministers because there were insufficient funds for the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education.
Minister Tialavea had strongly refuted the claim from the former Head of State.
In an email to the Samoa Observer, Matafeo said she accompanied the Minister and another Assistant C.E.O. during a meeting with Tui Atua at Tuaefu in 2018.
Matafeo explained that the meeting with Tui Atua at the time was to explain to the former H.O.S. why the Government had made the decision to tax church Ministers.
“Hence, I confirmed our Minister’s statements made to former H.O.S. Tui Atua, that the rationale behind that decision was ensuring that everyone contributed fairly and equally in the development of Samoa’s economy and certainly not because the ‘government was broke’,” she said.
“I further strongly deny the former H.O.S.’ claim about the apologies and statement made by the ‘representatives of the Ministry’.
“Due to former H.O.S. request for our Ministry to explain how his own income will be taxed; not that of the Church Minister, and I had led our team of two other A.C.E.O.s and went to his residence at Tuaefu two weeks after the meeting with our Minister, to explain how his income will be taxed.”
Matafeo said, “I can say with certainty that we did not advise His Highness Tui Atua of our ‘Ministry having insufficient funds for the M.O.H. and M.E.S.C”.
The C.E.O. said the Ministry of Revenue is not responsible to give funds to the sectors but collects revenue from taxes and duties with some non-tax revenues and pass on to the Ministry of Finance for distribution of funds.
The Samoa Observer contacted Tui Atua, through Masiofo Filifilia Tamasese, on email for a comment.
"Thank you for your query," Filifilia responded. "I asked Tui Atua about your request and this is what he said: "In reference to the C.E.O. of Customs and Revenue's denial of what was said in our conversation, I can only say: The people of this country know Matafeo Avalisa Viali and they know me. I have nothing more to say".
Matafeo also pointed out the income earned by church ministers were taxed in the years before and after the Independence in 1962.
She said this was until the Government in 1974 imposed income tax exemption on the Head of State and church ministers income which is now removed in 2017.
The Income Tax Act 1974 is repealed and replaced by the Income Tax Act 2012 and amendments, she said.
In a previous interview, the Minister of M.C.R., Tialavea Tionisio Hunt had denied claims from Tui Atua that the Government taxed the church ministers because it was broke.
He maintained the record of revenue surplus every year is testament that Government is not in struggling with its debt.
But Tui Atua claimed the reason behind the decision to tax church ministers and the H.O.S. is because of Government’s debts.
He disagreed with the new law to tax church ministers saying 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 church minister if it was something that was a practice from the past.
In addition, Tui Atua said taxing church leaders 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 church ministers 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 church minister 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.”