Minister places hopes in N.C.C. tax plea

The Minister of Customs and Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, says he hopes a plea from the National Council of Churches [N.C.C.] will conclude a dispute with the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa over taxes. 

“The Government will proceed with the [income tax] matter in court,” said Tialavea. 

"It's understood this is not easy to accept, but it is the law and its time the Church considers the plea, because not all the C.C.C.S. Ministers are defying the law, they are already paying taxes." 

The comments follow a plea from the Chairman of the N.C.C., Deacon Leaupepe Kasiano Leaupepe, to church Elders to “obey the law” and “pay their taxes” as required by law. 

The Government passed a bill in 2018 requiring previously exempt Ministers to pay taxes on their income, a taxation policy development that the C.C.C.S. opposed on principle at its General Assembly. 

The request 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.

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 [the resolution against paying taxes that] 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.”

But Minister Tialavea told the C.C.C.S. that the law had already been passed and the Government will proceed with this case. 

“We are waiting on the Attorney General’s office on this case. Other denominations such as the Assembly of God and the Seven days Adventist have questioned the parity in the fact that while they are paying taxes, the C.C.C.S. are not following the law, ”said Tialavea. 

And rightly so, because the law has been passed and yet two years later the C.C.C.S. are still not paying any taxes.”

Last month, the Assembly of God (A.O.G.) Church called on the Government to suspend the taxation of all Ministers until a court matter involving the Congregational Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.) definitively reaches a conclusion. 

The church called upon the Government to resolve the matter as a priority.

The church’s objections are contained in a letter written in Samoan and obtained by the Samoa Observer. The letter is signed by the Reverend Elder Faumuina Alofa Faumuina. Rev. Faumuina, wrote to the Government on behalf of the A.O.G.

The Ministry for Revenue initially 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. 

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.

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 not] all church Ministers are not in compliance with the law. I'm sure you are aware of the issue where I'm coming from,” Rev. Faumuina 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.”

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