Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi is unrepentant over the government’s decision to tax the incomes and gratuities for church ministers.
Amidst growing criticisms of his administration from the church and members of the public, Tuilaepa remains defiant.
He insists that taxes belong to the government and therefore church ministers should pay. That was his response to the latest wave of negative comments about the tax scheme targeting churches.
During his weekly media session, Tuilaepa said there were certain types of church ministers. There are the ones who read the Bible, understand that it is their duty ‘to give to Caesar what belongs to him’ and pay their taxes.
And then there are those church ministers who read the Bible, see what it says and refuse to do it.
Such church ministers, Tuilaepa said, are “in the dark.”
“Paul made it very clear that all authorities are from God,” Tuilaepa pointed out. “All authorities in all organisations in the world are of God. So those people who reject such authorities in these organisations are against God.
“Therefore pay your taxes!”
Tuilaepa is adamant it is the right thing to do for church ministers to give the government what rightfully belongs to them.
“So give tax to the government, tax belongs to the government.”
At the beginning of the week, church ministers had a message for Prime Minister Tuilaepa.
Accepting the fact that they soon would be paying taxes, Reverend Siaosi Samuelu, of the Catholic Church at Salua Manono, urged the government to use tax monies wisely.
“There are countless families in Upolu especially at Aleipata who don’t have access to water and electricity,” he said. “Use those monies to help those families. Use it wisely please but don’t abuse and waste them.”
Rev. Samuelu was among church ministers who attended a seminar by the Ministry of Revenue to explain how the new law will work, effective on 01 January 2018.
Passed by Parliament in June, the law removed the tax exemption clause for income generated by church ministers.
This means that starting on the first day of 2018, all income earned by church ministers will be taxed – including monetary gifts they receive from funerals, weddings and other fa’alavelave.
Rev. Samuelu said he doesn’t object to the government’s plan but he wants to make it clear that common courtesy would have gone a long way.
In any case, now that he will pay tax just like everyone else, Rev. Samuelu said he wants to ensure the money is spent accordingly.
“Don’t spend it on road constructions where in the next two years, they dig the road again,” he said.
“That is a waste of taxpayers’ money. Stop wasting money on useless projects. They should look at solid developments, not another burden to everyone shoulders.”