N.C.C’s intervention interesting but no end in sight in Govt. and Church tax row

The longstanding dispute between the Government and the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.) over the law demanding Ministers to pay taxes on their alofa (love offering) has reared its head once more.

More than three years after Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s administration introduced a law requiring the Head of State and Church Ministers to pay taxes, the feud involving the biggest church denomination on the land simply refuses to go away. Neither party has been willing to compromise and from where we stand today; it’s difficult to see the end of this ongoing dispute.

While the C.C.C.S’s General Assembly reached a resolution two years ago to defy the requirement of the law, the Government on the other hand has been relentless in its efforts to ensure the C.C.C.S. obliges. This has resulted in Church Ministers being prosecuted and persecuted publically in a legal matter that is still before the Court.

But an interesting development surfaced on Sunday with the Chairman of the National Council of Churches, Deacon Leaupepe Kasiano Leaupepe, appealing to the elders of the C.C.C.S to “obey the law” and “pay their taxes.” It was certainly unexpected and one can only wonder what motivated the decision.

 “It is a humble request for them to consider paying their taxes," Deacon Leaupepe said about a letter he has written to the Church elders. "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."

In an attempt to mediate the dispute, Leaupepe said some Ministers of the C.C.C.S. are already paying their taxes and reminded that the Government has final authority when it comes to enforcing the law.

 “[Our] plea is for the [C.C.C.S.] to reconsider the request…” the Chairman said.

The plea from the N.C.C. is obviously not lost on the Minister of Customs and Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, who said he hopes this, will go towards finding a solution to the matter. That said, the Minister issued another veiled warning to the church that the Government would proceed with the charges against the Ministers, reminding that the law is the law.

The threat and the Government’s insistence on legal action will not go down well with the C.C.C.S who are obviously prepared to take on the Government in Court. As for the appeal from the National Council of Churches, the General Secretary of the C.C.C.S, Reverend Vavatau Taufao’s response was swift.

“I agree it’s not nice,” he said about the Government dragging Church Ministers before the Court. “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?”

Well that’s a pretty strong rebuke of the request by Leaupepe and the N.C.C, isn’t it? It is quite clear that the C.C.C.S., judging from the General Secretary’s comments, are also unwilling to reach a compromise. And when it comes to matters of opinions about “beliefs” and “faith” in a Christian country like Samoa, it’s a debate that knows no end. Which means this controversy is far from being resolved and no amount of pleas from the N.C.C., or anyone else for that matter will change anything.

“We cannot undo what was passed during the General Assembly in 2017, unless a resolution comes from the Church during its annual meeting,” Rev. Vavatau insisted. “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. 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.”

Well that’s several months away and with so much uncertainty surrounding the future of travel and public gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic, the C.C.C.S. General Conference might not even happen next year. Which means that if the border lockdown continues for another five or ten years, the C.C.C.S. will still not be able to reconsider its position. That’s going to be a long, long, long wait.

In the meantime, we are reminded that the Assembly of God (A.O.G.) Church has called on the Government to suspend the law until the Court rules on the matter between the Government and the C.C.C.S.

Reverend Faumuina Alofa wrote to the Government on behalf of the A.O.G. to make the request, arguing that it would be unfair for all Church Ministers who are already paying taxes, if the Court in the end rules in favour of the C.C.C.S. Rev. Faumuina added that if this happens, would the Government re-compensate all church Ministers who are already paying the tax?

 “This is why we believe the Court ruling of this matter should provide the basis of the law…,” Rev. Faumuina said.

Well Rev. Faumuina has a legitimate point.

But this will only add fuel to the Government’s fire in pursuing legal action against C.C.C.S., since they cannot deny that other churches are now beginning to question, and cry foul, as C.C.C.S continues to defy Prime Minister Tuilaepa, the Government and their law. What’s next? Only time will tell so stay tuned!





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