A.O.G. calls for Ministers' tax break
The Assembly of God (A.O.G.) Church has called on the Government to suspend the taxation of Ministers until a court involving the Congregational Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.) concludes.
The church called upon the Government to resolve the matter as a priority.
The church’s objections are contained in a letter obtained by the Samoa Observer written in Samoan and signed by the Reverend Elder Faumuina Alofa Faumuina. The correspondence was addressed to the Minister of Customs and Revenue Tialavea Tionisio Hunt.
Rev. Faumuina, who has served the church for 41 years, wrote to the Government on behalf of the A.O.G.
To date, Ministers of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa are not paying taxes since their case was dismissed in court.
The Ministry for Revenue filed tax-related charges against groups of C.C.C..S. Ministers following the Church’s public opposition to taxing Ministers previously exempt from tax.
The C.C.C.S. General Assembly resolution unanimously agreed that all the church ministers oppose the Government’s law to tax their Ministers.
Last year District Court Judge, Leota Raymond Schuster, dismissed a case against a group of C.C.C.S. Ministers following an application by the Ministry of Revenue, to withdraw two charges against each defendant due to the lack of evidence.
But following the dismissal of the case the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, said the Government did not intend to leave the matter alone and would continue to prosecute the Ministers.
Rev. Faumuina pointed out that as soon as a law relating to taxing religious Ministers was approved in Parliament, their Church Ministers were instructed to abide by the law.
“However it’s noticed with a heavy heart that all church ministers are not in compliance with the law. I'm sure you are aware of the issue where I'm coming from,” he said.
“It’s apparent from the Ministry’s point of view the delay is due to the [COVID 19] however it is also evident the Government’s strong position in terms of other developments and issues they are pursuing, despite the current situation.
“We believe the court ruling of this matter will be the basis of the law and therefore the government should prioritise this issue.”
Minister Tialavea acknowledged the concern raised by the A.O.G. but assured the case is still pending with the Attorney General’s office.
“The delay is inevitable given the government is going through the State of Emergency due to the COVID19, but that does not mean we are not pursuing this. It is only a matter of time and the government will take the necessary actions,” said the Minister.
Rev. Faumuina outlined the church’s concerns over the matter and asked what will happen if in the end the court will uphold its previous decision and dismiss the case?
He said if the Government does win their case and the court rules the Church Ministers should pay taxes from when the law was first passed, it will be a difficult task given the income received by some C.C.C.S. church ministers, and their unpaid taxes will be huge.
“I think some of the Ministers will accumulate over $30,000 in unpaid taxes. How will the [Ministry] enforce the payment of these taxes? And they should also appeal to your office for assistance and your office should allow it based on your willingness to assist [the Church Ministers] in making this a smooth process,” he said.
“We believe in your leadership that there is no parity as everyone is equal including Church Ministers, but looking forward to whatever the outcome is, we will lose out.”
Earlier this month, Minister Tialavea confirmed there are complaints his Ministry had received from other denominations:
“Church Ministers who are paying taxes are complaining as to why the C.C.C.S. Church Ministers are not paying their taxes, but they have been informed the investigations are continuing,” he had said.
As reported earlier, Tialavea declined to name any Minister in particular - or denomination - but several Methodist Ministers who spoke on condition of anonymity complained of “unfairness”.