P.M. firm on Church vs. Govt. tax dispute
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has called on the General Secretary of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.), Reverend Vavatau Taufao, to do his job.
He wants him to explain to Ministers of the Church – including the Elders Committee - that the Government will not delay the implementation the new law to tax the Head of State and Church Ministers, simply because their Church is dragging their feet.
Tuilaepa made the call in Parliament when he was responding to concerns raised by Gagaifomauga No. 3 Member of Parliament, La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Schmidt.
According to La’auli, the C.C.C.S. has taken a stance and has asked Ministers not to oblige until the Elders make a decision during the Malua annual conference later this year. He said the order was made in a letter from the “Malua Fono Tele.” It was discussed by their parish at Alamagoto last week.
La'auli pleaded with the government to delay the implementation of the law until the Church meets.
But Prime Minister Tuilaepa flatly denied the request.
He took the floor and informed Parliament that he too has received a copy of the letter.
“My response to the Secretary is that your duty to the Elders is to explain that there will be no more delay,” Tuilaepa said.
“Besides, what other delay are they looking for? The Bill was approved in June (2017), but implementation was only in effect this month (1 January, 2018.).”
According to Tuilaepa, the Secretary General was informed a month prior to the implementation of the taxation law.
“I informed the Secretary that there is only a month and a few days left, then there will be no more delays.”
Tuilaepa made it clear that ample time was given and there will be no more delays.
“I also told the Secretary,” he said, “you were a Professor at the N.U.S. You are a well-educated person, you go and explain to the Elders that there will be no more delays in the implementation of Church Ministers taxation.”
Speaker of Parliament, Leaupepe Toleafoa Fa’afisi, who is also a senior member of C.C.C.S. also commented on the issue.
“The said matter is moot, it was heavily deliberated. There were numerous explanations given by the Prime Minister in previous occasions."
“And the law has been approved and as indicated before, only one Member of Parliament from Vaimauga Sasa’e opposed the issue.”
Leaupepe reminded the M.P's the oath they had taken when they were sworn into Parliament.
“We should also play our part and inform our respective churches and denominations,” said Leaupepe.
Attempts to get a comment from Vavatau have been unsuccessful as of press time.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Tuilaepa explained that the government’s new tax laws do not target church bodies; rather it is focusing on individual Church Ministers who have an obligation to pay their taxes. It is up to them to obey or disobey the law.
The Prime Minister maintained that Parliament has already discussed the matter and their decision is final.
When La’auli persisted with the matter, Tuilaepa raised a question.
“Can I ask the member if he is in Parliament as a representative of his church or a representative of his constituency? I’m asking this because we are here as representatives of our constituencies.”
La’auli responded that he was merely expressing concerns on behalf of the church who are not happy about what has happened.
Asked why he did not speak up when the matter was initially raised in Parliament, La’auli said he trusted the Minister who assured that “everything is fixed.”
“But what is happening now is that some of these things (that the church is objecting to) have only surfaced, this is why I’m raising this now.”
But Tuilaepa wouldn’t have any of it.
“Don’t bring your church stuff in here,” he said. “We all go to church and we all know what the Bible says about taxes and the law and giving Caesar what belongs to him. Leave your church stuff out there. Parliament has made a decision and that is it.”