To tax or not to tax

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Mika Kelekolio*

With apologies to Shakespeare, but this is no longer the question.

Prime Minister Tuila’epa and his Government have made up their mind. Faife’aus will pay tax. 

The only question left is how they will get them to pay and what process will be used to ensure that the tax they pay is fairly assessed.

Meantime, the P.M. should cut E.F.K.S. some slack and keep the conversation going. It is not a sign of weakness to keep the opposition engaged but of good leadership.

E.F.K.S. on its part should keep the issue out of the media while continuing to talk to the Government until a solution is found. (Its Secretary needs reining in as he sounds self-centred.) By running to the media at every opportunity, they are actually putting a gun to the Government’s head. 

They are playing politics whichever way one looks at it. Unfortunately, it is not very smart politics at all. They will lose.

It may not be obvious, but what this issue has revealed for me, and I don’t think I’m alone thinking this, is a deep-seated sense of entitlement that faife’aus have, to receive all kinds of benefits and any amount of money from their congregation and give nothing back for the common good.

One suspects that, the E.F.K.S. sees the proposed tax as chipping away at this sense of entitlement, and it’s irking them. That is what underpins their stand against the Government on the proposed tax.

As one of my tax-payer friends says, “Tax in the form of P.A.Y.E (Pay As You Earn) is tax that you and I pay, based on what we earn from whatever job we do. Every employee, whether they are in the private or public sectors, pay that tax. 

 “Alofa is what faife’aus earn from whatever they’re doing. For some, it must be a hell of a lot or they wouldn’t be able to afford large homes on their freehold property compared to those who are in well-paid employment or own a medium business? 

 “So, why shouldn’t their alofa be subject to tax? It’s a fair question.

So, what should the Government do?

Well, all it could do is keep drawing the faife’aus and E.F.K.S’s attention to the fact that it is the revenue from taxes that has enabled the government to build the school their children attend, build hospitals and pay medical staff who treat those suffering from all sorts of illnesses especially diabetes which affects more than half of our population. It is taxes that pay for the construction and maintenance of road that faife’aus drive their flash cars on. It is taxes that pay for the building of power station that supply electricity to their fancy manse (although the bills are paid for by their ever struggling congregations).

One could go on compiling a list of the many benefits that faifeaus’ currently enjoy because the rest of the Samoan people are uncomplainingly paying their taxes.

Since this tax debate started, there are people already referring to faife’aus as selfish and free-loaders. They cannot forever continue to hide behind the Bible by citing texts from it to justify their selfishness.

That brings me to another issue. What I can’t understand is why we call church ministers faife’au? It’s a misnomer because it carries the connotation that he/she is someone who has chosen to give away all the worldly things to serve God, His people and their government. 

He/she is therefore, there to cater to the spiritual, physical, emotional and psychological needs of their congregation. He is there to provide pastoral care to His flock.

In terms of our societal hierarchical structure, they should therefore rank bottom of the pecking order. 

Yet, that is not the case. Their status in society is such that they usually expect and receive the best of everything. Like having the best residence in the village, driving flash cars bought by their congregation’s alofa, sending their children to the better-resourced schools in town as well as living a lavish life-style compared to members of their congregations, some of whom are struggling to extricate themselves from the dire poverty they’re in. 

You wouldn’t want to question them about all this, because you know they will point you to sections of the Bible that says, “it’s better to receive than to give” or “God helps those who help themselves first” or “your forehead need not have to sweat for you to eat etc. etc.”

Church ministers shouldn’t have been called faife’au. Instead, they should have been called ‘tagata sili’ or ‘masa’ (master). Even ‘sifi’ (chief) would not be inappropriate.

When you are a ‘tagata sili’, ‘masa’ or ‘sifi’, you get your congregation to pay for your every need including a private home. There, you and your family can live during the week, while you play golf every day and get sloshed with your friends afterwards, on the pretence that you’re in town so your children could go to school. Sending your children to the village school or local college like most members of your congregation is a no-no. It wouldn’t befit your status.

At weekends, you return to the village to prepare for Sunday and to collect more alofa. 

One of the reasons for opposing taxing of the faife’aus by the EFKS, according to the media, is that it “violates fundamental religious beliefs and core beliefs of [their] church.”

Well, I’m sure a member of the Satanic Sect (Church) of Tiavi will vouch that they have exactly the same beliefs. And they will vigorously oppose and do everything in their power to disobey any law that violates their fundamental religious beliefs and core values.

They will argue that they and EFKS (including other Christian churches), are the yin and yang of religion; one cannot exist without the other. They’re supposed to balance each other out – the good against the evil. 

But in our Samoa of today, things appear very lopsided in favour of the Satanics. Their influence is everywhere and their work is succeeding beyond all expectations.  They can point to the rate of criminal offending that our courts have to deal with day-in-and-day-out as the as prime example of the great work they’re doing? Rape, incest, sex with minors, murder, domestic and sexual violence, personal assault, drunkenness, thieving and other dishonesty crimes – the list goes on - is sky rocketing.  

They will gleefully thrust their trident heavenward while pointing out that Faife’aus who are supposed to be working, fighting their Satanic influence , by bringing people together at every opportunity, especially the young and the vulnerable, to give them Christian guidance and help shape their lives for the better, are nowhere to be seen in the villages. 

That’s because they’re in town playing golf.

 

*Views expressed in this column are those of the writer and may not necessarily be shared by the management of this newspaper.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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