C.C.C.S. leaders to discuss election clash

The Congregational Christian Church of Samoa's (C.C.C.S.) General Assembly executive will meet on Thursday to discuss whether to proceed with this year's fonotele after it appears to clash with a scheduled second election.  

This follows the call from the Head of State, His Highness Tuimaleali'ifano Va'aletoa Sualauvi II on Tuesday evening, for a fresh election by 21 May 2021. 

The C.C.C.S.'s Fonotele (annual meeting) begins next week and is scheduled to last for two weeks. 

Therefore it appears that the new election will fall on the second week of the biggest denomination's annual conference.

Hundreds of church members and church ministers from all across the country are expected to be in Malua for the conference. But the call for a fresh election and date might affect their plans and the church's schedule. 

In a recent interview with the C.C.C.S.'s General Secretary, Reverend Vavatau Taufao, he confirmed that there are no plans to discuss the proposed taxation of members of the clergy this year. 

C.C.C.S. General Secretary Reverend Vavatau Taufao said that a Committee or District of the church has to raise it in order for the matter to be included in the annual conference's agenda. 

However, Reverend Vavatau said no one has submitted the matter for discussion. 

“Whether or not we will discuss this [during the annual conference], it just depends on whether a District or Committee brings it in,” said Rev. Taufao in an interview with the Samoa Observer.

“The agenda is pre-planned, they are based on subjects brought in by the Committees and Districts, such as their appointments usually in February and July as per founding policies – those are raised in the Fono Tele.

“So far, none of the matters brought in are on this specific matter. But even matters raised by Committees have to be finalised in the first week for endorsement in the bigger session on the second week; only then when we will truly determine all the matters that may be raised for the Fonotele.

“Right now, I don’t know if a Committee may have a question on this matter; I don’t think there will be anything on that from the majority. Generally, the church does not discuss that anymore.” 

Rev. Taufao said the item most likely to be on the agenda is the election of a new church treasurer after former treasurer, Reverend Rimoni Wright resigned from the position. 

He said it is also “very likely” that there would be discussions on the tenure of the Malua Theological College Principal after being called to serve at a parish.

The uncertainty associated with the reopening of international borders and the pandemic has not stopped the C.C.C.S. Fonotele as they move their yearly meetings online, starting on the second week of May.

The decision followed an emergency meeting called by the executive members of the General Assembly (Laulau a le Fonotele) seeking consent from members on whether the church should host its annual Fonotele in February. 

Rev. Taufao said the Fonotele that usually starts at 8am has been put back an hour to ensure all overseas districts can make necessary adjustments due to the time difference

“The biggest adjustment I think would be the lunch break in the afternoon. Typically we would have a break in between the sessions up to two hours long, but it has been reduced to 30 minutes, and then continue with the proceedings,” he added.

“Time difference is not easy to resolve but when it is time for the Fonotele, we cannot have another portion meeting while the rest meet some other time. There’s no other choice, but we thank God that we have such a medium for us to connect and use for the Fonotele.

“There is no other way, all we can do is to apologise to those in Australia because they have to tune in at the early hours whilst we apologise to those in the United States as they have to tune in very late at night.”

Asked whether he believes the position of the church against the Government’s move to tax church ministers influenced the outcome of the 2021 General Election, Rev. Taufao refused to comment, saying that he does not speak for every person in the denomination.

In June last year, the now-caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi assured that the legal battle with church ministers who didn't register to pay tax on their alofa (love offering) was far from over.

“There are quite a few church ministers that have paid for their tax from the E.F.K.S. [Congregational Christian Church of Samoa] who feel that it’s a must to pay tax,” said Tuilaepa at the time. 

“The delay in Court proceedings is due to the COVID-19 but it’s in progress.”

The caretaker Minister of Customs and Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, also declared in January last year that CCCS members of the clergy who didn't pay their taxes would face fresh charges of tax evasion. 

Tialavea was among prominent Human Rights Protection Party cabinet ministers who lost their seats in the April 9 election, which saw the ruling party with its 47-strong Members prior to the polling only return with 25 seats.

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