Church Council appeals to C.C.C.S. Ministers
The Chairman of the National Council of Churches, Deacon Leaupepe Kasiano Leaupepe, has appealed to the elders of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S) to “obey the law” and “pay their taxes” as required by the Government.
The plea was outlined in a letter addressed to the Elders of the C.C.C.S and signed by the Chairman of the N.C.C.
“It is a humble request for them to consider paying their taxes," Deacon Leaupepe said during an interview with the Samoa Observer.
"It is not nice seeing our beloved Church Ministers appearing before the Court and we hope the leaders of the C.C.C.S. will accept it."
But the General Secretary for the C.C.C.S, Reverend Vavatau Taufao, is standing firm: the church’s Ministers will be standing by a resolution by the Church passed by its General Assembly, that Ministers will not pay their taxes, because it is against the principles of the church.
“I agree it’s not nice as a matter of fact it's rather embarrassing and distressing seeing [Church Ministers] before Court but are we going to compromise our beliefs and faith for the sake of public view- that it is embarrassing to see the Reverends appearing in court?,” Reverend Vavatau said when his opinion was sought by the Samoa Observer.
“We cannot undo what was passed during the General Assembly in 2017, unless a resolution comes from the Church during its annual meeting, but for now, we will leave it like that.”
The Ministry for Revenue filed tax-related charges against groups of C.C.C..S. Ministers following the Church’s public opposition to a new law obliging Ministers previously exempt from tax to pay them.
The C.C.C.S. General Assembly resolution unanimously agreed that all the church’s Ministers were to oppose the Government’s law, passed in 2018.
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 a 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.
The N.C.C. Chairman said when Church Ministers appear before the court it has an impact on the image of other Ministers and church members.
“And that’s what prompted the move for the N.C.C. to write to the Elders to reconsider their stand and adhere to the law already passed, because not all the C.C.C.S. Church Ministers are following the Church’s resolution,” Leaupepe said.
“I’d say maybe a quarter of Church Ministers have paid their taxes, but the rest stands by the resolution [to not pay].”
Leaupepe said the Government has the authority to proceed with the enforcement of paying taxes.
“But [our] plea is for the [C.C.C.S.] to reconsider the request and as indicated earlier it’s not pleasant seeing the Reverends appearing in court of law,” said Leaupepe.
The Chairman added when Church Ministers are due in court he’s always there to offer support, as one Church Minister to another.
He said whether or not the C.C.C.S. accepts or denies the request, the spirit in which the letter was sent with a mind to have the N.C.C. play a conciliatory role in the ongoing dispute between the Church and the Government.
But Reverend Vavatau said the Chairman had always previously been supportive of the move by the Church and so the recent letter comes as a surprise.
“This decision was not made by the Elders Committee; it was a unified decision by the Church during its General Assembly and no one can change that resolution,” he said.
“That is the message that we have been trying to get across, no one can change the Church’s resolution and even with the request from the N.C.C. they have to wait for the general assembly next year.”
He acknowledged the request by the N.C.C. Committee but said the decision has been made and the resolution on the matter has been passed:
“The C.C.C.S. is firm on our resolution because we know that our alofa should not be taxed and we strongly believe that. Even for me as a Church Member I don’t believe that our donation (alofa) should be taxed.”