And so it continues. The war between Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s Government and the church, especially the biggest denomination on the land, the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.) over taxes has taken another ugly turn.
It happened this week with confirmation that the Government has moved to enforce the law to tax the alofa of Church Ministers by forcibly seizing funds from the clergies’ bank accounts. Two of the biggest pillars of life in Samoa colliding.
But the Government is not stopping there. As if bullying their way through using their political muscle is not bad enough, they are also threatening to use the law to seize assets and other properties.
The Minister for Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, has maintained that the law is the law and church Ministers are not immune.
“The law applies to everyone. The law does not wait until it is accepted or not. We have given church ministers six months and those who continue to defy the law will face the consequences,” Tialavea said.
“As of last week, we have given all the banks a list of names of the church ministers whose personal accounts will be affected by this seizure. And if they don’t have any money, we will seize their cars and lands, whatever asset they own, which has a market value, we will take and again, this is done under the authority of the law.
“The seizure of funds is for each and every church minister, who has not filed their monthly taxes.”
Wow, isn’t it sad what Samoa has become? What has happened to the so-called Christian-state the Government keeps talking about? Why is that not reverence for God and his representatives on earth not reflected in what the Government is doing now?
Think about this for a while. What happens when Tialavea’s men turn up to seize a Church Minister’s car and he refuses? Are they going to call the Police on him, handcuff him and throw him into jail?
Progressive Samoa? Democratic Samoa? Christian Samoa? You’ve got to be kidding me. But then what can Tialavea do and say. He is only toeing the line his boss and Prime Minister Tuilaepa tells him to.
To avoid all this, Tuilaepa said: “That is why the Church Ministers must allow their church officers to remove the taxes before the alofa is handed to him.
“It is that simple as I am certain that once the Church Ministers get their salary or alofa they won’t want to pay taxes. I mean I would probably do the same if the treasury did not deduct taxes before I get my salary,” said Tuilaepa, laughing.
He then urged the church ministers to leave the responsibility of paying taxes to the church officers so they have to worry about it.
It would be interesting to see what the Churches will have to say. Sadly, while the National Council of Churches has declined to comment, the once outspoken Congregational Christian Church of Samoa’s General Secretary, Reverend Vavatau Taufao, has not responded to emails from this newspaper seeking a reaction from the church.
In the meantime, Minister Tialavea cannot stop, reiterating that no one is above the law. He added that the Government did not want to go down this path but they had no choice but to do “what is right.”
“They should walk the talk,” Tialavea said about church Ministers. “They preach one thing yet turn around and do the opposite.”
What about Cabinet Ministers and their pledge to be accountable, transparent and work in accordance to the principles of good governance?
What about Cabinet Ministers who are implicated in deals that have conflict of interest written all over them? What about the countless cases of senior public servants abusing their power and authority to enrich their families and friends at the expense of taxpayers and members of the public?
At this point, we want to remind Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his Minister Tialavea that the Bible is quite clear when it says “how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
On this White Sunday, let’s think about the word hypocrite very carefully and try to avoid becoming one. What these so called self righteous political figures should insist on instead is honesty, integrity and to remember that members of the public are not all stupid. They have very good memories.
Lastly, Minister Tialavea insists that Government’s decision is about doing “what is right.” Fair enough.
Why then has the Government not done anything to collect an outstanding debt of $87.6 million identified in the Public Account Management Audit report for the 2014-2015 financial years?
How did this debt come about? Who in Samoa and what companies are responsible for it? If the principles of accountability and transparency were applied, would the Ministry of Revenue have been left with such a massive debt?
And why haven’t Tuilaepa, Tialavea and their boys applied the law to recover this debt?
Why haven’t they gone ahead and seized financial accounts, assets and properties from the people responsible for this gaping hole?
By the way, in case you are wondering what this has to do with taxing church Ministers, well let me tell you, it has everything to do with it.
It is this sort of reckless attitude from the Government towards public finances over the years that has resulted in their desperation to do anything – including taxing money people offer to God – to plug this massive hole they have been digging, which they will eventually end up in.
That day is coming.
We just know it.
Happy White Sunday Samoa, God bless!