The Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.) is standing its ground in the ongoing dispute with the Government over the law requiring the Head of State and Church Ministers to pay taxes on their alofa.
“The decision from the Fonotele remains the same as in 2017 and that is to reject the law requiring Church Ministers to pay taxes,” said the C.C.C.S. General Secretary, Reverend Vavatau Taufao.
“Keep in mind that in the C.C.C.S., there is no such thing as one’s discretion. That is why I have pride in my church because we practice the true meaning of democracy. We are a democratic church, the decision was not decided by one person, rather the entire church."
The General Secretary made the comments during a press conference held minutes after the closing of their annual conference at Malua yesterday.
Rev. Vavatau said about 90 per cent of the church leaders reject the law.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi made it clear that any Church Minister, including the C.C.C.S., who refuses to pay their taxes will face the full force of the law.
“This law is the same as the law governing murder,” Tuilaepa said. “Once you violate that law, you alone will be criminally charged. And if you conspire with someone else to murder another person, you’ll be charged as well.”
Reverend Vavatau said the issue was put to a vote during the General Assembly.
“It was way over the majority who rejected it, approximately 90 percent of the attendees who voted. So the decision is not by Elders of the Church, it is the decision by the Fonotele.”
Asked about the way forward, Rev. Vavatau said they would seek a face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Tuilaepa.
“The Fonotele has agreed for the representatives of the Church to meet the Government because in the past there was correspondence going back and forth.
“Today, the Fonotele has decided to seek an opportunity to meet the Prime Minister to officially inform him of the decision by the Church.
“The decision by the Fonotele is a decision by the Church members who are attending on behalf of their respective parishes, not the Church Ministers.”
The General Secretary maintained that church members want to understand the rationale behind the law.
“The reason has to link to church beliefs. There is no teaching by Jesus that points to the taxing of Church Ministers.”
According to Reverend Vavatau, “Jesus teachings is clear, what belongs to God, give it to him.
“And the common belief among church members of their alofa to the Faifeau, is that they give freely with the notion this is their way expressing of their love for God. That is why they give and more reasons why they do not want the Church Ministers to pay taxes.”
Rev. Vavatau said it is the right decision.
“For me personally, I am very proud of my church, they stand by their faith and I am very proud of that,” said Reverend Vavatau, while fighting back tears.
“I am proud of my Church,” he reiterated.
He reminded the teachings of the Bible not to compromise the Gospel.
“We can’t compromise the Gospel to satisfy human necessities.”
Reverend Vavatau gave an example, “overseas countries have accepted gay marriage, are we going to compromise the Gospel to satisfy human nature?
“With my belief in my God, I can’t compromise my gospel, over laws that were not thoroughly thought out.”
Reverend Vavatau made it clear the decision by the Fonotele to reject the law in question is not the decision by the elders, the committees nor the Church Ministers.
“It is the decision made by the Fonotele, the Church and that is because the foundation of the C.C.C.S. is based on the fact that we are a democratic denomination.
“Just to be clear in case the blame is laid upon the Elders when in reality the decision was made by the Fonotele.
“We requested the Government for postponement, as I have said earlier this Church does not operate on one person’s views and that is why we have to stand by the decision made by the Fonotele.”
He also commented on the notice by the Ministry of Revenue that will be fully enforced by 30 June 2018 that should Church Ministers insist on not paying their taxes, the Government will use the power of the law to hold them accountable. That includes the threat of fines and further charges.
Reverend Vavatau expressed grave concern about the so called implementation.
“Now this is where we have to be very careful, because we don’t want the affairs of the State to mingle with the affairs of the Church.”
He said the irony is quite significant.
“So tell me, who are the employers for the Church Ministers to pay taxes, should the employers attain a business license to operate?
“This is what I mean; only employees are to be pay taxes. And I have asked this question during the consultation and I want to make another thing clear is that the Church never once endorsed the taxing of Church Ministers.”
Reverend Vavatau said during Tofilau’s Administration, “he vehemently rejected the suggestion to tax Church Ministers.
“I don’t know what is the motive behind the move of the current Administration to level such taxes.
“I know the Government needs money, but I don’t agree with the way they are trying to get money from the church, this will hinder the Church’s future plans.”
He said the Prime Minister has made numerous public complaints against the Church, but the Church carries on without countering the complaints.
Reverend Vavatau put it out that he’s ready to face the consequences of the law pertaining to the Church Minsters who refuse to pay taxes.
“For the Church, I hope they are ready, but for me personally, I am ready to face the consequences.
“I cannot speak for the Church Ministers but considering the response of the Fonotele, they are ready to face the consequences,” said Reverend Vavatau.
Reverend Vavatau declined to comment on the move by some C.C.C.S. Church Ministers who have already registered with the M.O.R. and have agreed to pay taxes despite the decision.
“I cannot comment on that issue because there is a Committee that deals with Church Ministers.”