Deputy Speaker caught in tax dispute crossfire
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi rebuked the Member of Parliament for Gagaemauga No. 3, Nafoitoa Tala’imanu Keti, in relation to the simmering tax dispute between the E.F.K.S. Church and the Government.
“You can’t endorse the law and then you get up and say something else,” Tuilaepa said. “I want to ensure that members of the public are not misled.”
Nafoitoa, who is also the Deputy Speaker, incurred the wrath of Prime Minister Tuilaepa when he touched on the issue during the discussion of the 2018/2019 Budget in Parliament.
The Member of Parliament had expressed his gratitude towards the church following their much-anticipated meeting with Prime Minister Tuilaepa at the beginning of the week.
But Tuilaepa objected. He said Nafoitoa’s comments could be misinterpreted that the Government had in fact accepted the plea from the church to reconsider the law to tax church Ministers.
“There are times when we become so carried away with our statements that we get it wrong, especially since the Member of Parliament was not present during our meeting with the church,” Tuilaepa said.
“Cabinet is scheduled to meet so a decision hasn’t been made. But it appears from the Member’s statement last night that a decision has been made.
"That’s what we have to be careful about because there has been no official response from the Government. We have to discuss this first.”
In a letter dated 15 June 2018, the Elders of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.) urged Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his administration to reconsider the law to tax the alofa received by Church Ministers. The 11-page letter, written in Samoan, highlights the church’s position on the issue.
It was submitted to Tuilaepa prior to their meeting on Monday. The Church delegation was led by the Chairman, Reverend Elder Tautiaga Senara. He was accompanied by Reverend Elders and Deacons from Upolu and Savai’i.
In the letter, the Church argues that:
• The tax law is not in line with Biblical principles
• The tax law contradicts the E.F.K.S’s core beliefs
• The tax law will impact the work of the church
• The tax law does not take into account the church’s contribution to the development of the Government and Samoa
• The need for separation between the church and state.
In Parliament, Tuilaepa said that during their meeting, he informed the E.F.K.S. delegation that they have left their objection late.
“There are thirty five different Christian denominations in Samoa. From that number, thirty four make up 75percent of this country who have not said a thing. They have accepted it. Not one of these those thirty four churches has bothered to meddle with the issue because they know it is a government matter.”
The Prime Minister reminded that the Government and Church have different responsibilities, which have already been demarcated by God.
“What are those? The role of churches is to feed people with spiritual food; the responsibility of the government is different. The Government’s responsibility is to feed people with physical food so they are satisfied, happy and that the flock exists peacefully.”
Tuilaepa reminded about Apostle Paul’s teaching that all authorities are from God.
“Paul says everyone should obey, not just some. Everybody should obey Members of Parliament because they are servants of God, chosen to do the best they can for the flock.”
The Prime Minister cautioned Members of Parliament to be careful with what they say because the country is listening.
“So Cabinet hasn’t met yet to discuss the matter and yet it appears from the member’s statement that the Government has accepted the decision made by the church during their Fonotele.
“This is not a light matter to the Government. I thought the member was listening when I spoke for nearly an hour to explain and clarify the complexities of the issue during a recent session. I thought the M.P. understood.”
Tuilaepa said his Ministerial statement at the time underlined the integrity of laws passed by Parliament.
“In this house are representatives from all over Samoa. There is no government that goes forward, back, forward and back. It doesn’t work like that.
“It is why this country continues to support this party. This is not a government that exists to please people; this Government is not like that. We don’t exist to please people that whoever has an objection we lean towards it, so that one day we lean towards one side and a different side on another day. That’s why this Government is recognised and respected in this part of the world.”
Back on the floor, Nafo’itoa clarified that he only wanted to acknowledge the fact that the parties have at least met, which he said is a step in the right direction.