The irony with the government, the church and those taxes

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Oh the irony of all ironies. 

Barely a month after the church in Samoa praised the government ever so highly for making Samoa a Christian nation; the government has turned around and given the church the boot.

It comes in the form of the government’s move to tax pastors, which is part of an overall plan to review all taxes with the likelihood of the V.A.G.S.T also increasing. 

Whatever the outcome, there are some interesting times ahead. 

But the government’s reaction – or slap in the face if you like - after the church showed overwhelming support to amend the Constitution to define Samoa as a Christian State is just hard to ignore. It’s a classic.

You can’t help but feel for the church – especially the same Pastors and Reverends - who immediately jumped on the bandwagon to hail Tuilaepa as the savior of Samoa at the time.

The story is well known. 

According to Tuilaepa, it is necessary to change the Constitution since it’s inadequate for Samoa to only have “Christianity” in the preamble.

 “This shows that it is not part of the Constitution. This does not stand in Court as it is not included in the body of the Constitution,” Tuilaepa said.

Besides, because Christianity is not in the body of the Constitution, Tuilaepa said Samoa has been fooling God all this time.

“Every time we say that Samoa is founded on God because it is in within our Constitution, God must’ve had a good laugh and thought that we have been fooling him,” Tuilaepa said.

 “And it has been more than 50 years since we have been fooling God, because this is not in the body of our Constitution.”

In any case, Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his government got what they wanted and more. All over Samoa, Pastors and Reverends were thanking the government for the move, saying it was the best thing to do.

Fast forward a few weeks later, what do you know? The government has instead turned around and slapped local Pastors where it hurts the most, in their pockets.

Yes we are referring to the plan by the Ministry of Revenue to change taxation laws to allow the government to tax officials who are currently exempted from PAYE.

The plan was revealed by the Minister of Revenue, Ti’alavea Tionisio Hunt, last week. In terms of Pastors, Tialavea said the Ministry has been in consultations with the churches.

“The proposed changes targets the money church ministers receive from the congregation every two weeks (alofa/peleti),” he explained. 

 “We will not touch other contributions made by the church. We believe those other contributions are for the development of the churches. This will also exclude the money they get from funerals, weddings, and other things.”

So how will it work? Well according to the Minister, a form would be provided by the Ministry for every church Minister in Samoa. 

“They will write down how much they get and we will calculate the amount of tax they have to pay depending on how much they receive. It’s just going to be just like other workers in Samoa. You have to pay as you earn (P.A.Y.E).”

So why is this necessary? And why now?

 “These taxes are for the development of our country. It is to help our people,” the Minister said. 

Ti’alavea added that there is no need to hide the fact the government needs revenue.

“We don’t have minerals like other countries. We depend on our hands to do the things we want. We also rely on our development partners to fund the development.” 

 “With the proposed change, our developing partners will be able to see that everyone in Samoa is contributing to the development of our country.”

The Minister said it is not the Ministry’s intention to offend members of the clergy.

“We don’t belittle their commitment and the performance of their roles in our country but we just think it is only right for them to pay tax as everyone else,” Tialavea said. “If God wants it to happen, it will happen. If not, then it will not happen.”

Now speaking of God, when the government pushed to amend the Constitution to make Samoa a Christian state, all the Pastors insisted that this was God-ordained and that timing was from God. Fair enough then. Who are we to question that?

Interestingly, many of them are now openly opposing the government’s plan to ask them to pay taxes. 

But what can they do? 

Folks, nothing apart from praying that it will not happen, which is highly unlikely.  

But then what did we expect. Didn’t someone warn about the dangers of the church and the state becoming inseparable? 

Think about it. 

Have a restful Sunday Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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