The General Secretary of the E.F.K.S. Church, Reverend Vavatau Taufao, has challenged Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi to rein in expenditure and admit that Government finances are in a poor state.
He said the Government should ask the Church for help if it is in desperate need of funding instead of pushing a taxation policy targeting church ministers’ alofa.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer in an interview, the General Secretary also refused to respond to the comments of the Prime Minister recently, where the Prime Minister compared Rev. Vavatau’s statement likening the taxation policy to colonialism - to that of a fa’afafine.
“I don’t want to respond to that type of insulting language,” Rev. Vavatau said yesterday. “Let him (Prime Minister) say his piece. I won’t go down that path, I’m not like that.”
But Rev. Vavatau offered some advice to Prime Minister Tuilaepa and his administration.
“The Government needs to look at ways to save money because this is why they continue to seek revenue sources. They need to control their spending,” he said.
Looking at the Government machinery today, Rev. Vavatau said are just too many Boards members.
“Does the Government really need five to six people overseeing the enterprises, on top of the C.E.O. and the Managers and of course the Minister and the Associate Minister?
“Here is another point, what is the purpose of having Associate Ministers. It’s not like they will act on behalf of the Minister, in his or her absence. It is the Prime Minister who acts of behalf of the Ministry not the Associate Minister. And that is why they are just one of those unnecessary expenses.”
Rev. Vavatau also had a go at the new and improved Faleolo International Airport.
“The question that comes to mind, realistically, do we really need an Airport that cost approximately $147 million tala? For what? To impress the world, yet the Government continues to seek revenue sources?”
Last week, Prime Minister Tuilaepa said Rev. Vavatau’s claim about that the Government is reviving colonialism attitudes in the way it is running the country today sounds like something a fa’afafine would say.
“That is what a fa’afafine would always say,” Tuilaepa said. “That man is my kolone and who knows maybe the General Secretary has a fa’afafine side.”
During an interview at his Office yesterday, Rev. Vavatau said Tuilaepa is free to express his views. But he said he would rather focus on the issues and in this case, he wonders why it has become necessary for the Government to now tax the alofa of Church Ministers.
Rev. Vavatau said the Government needs to live within its means and reign in spending that is hurting the country’s finances. He added that this is why they’re in dire need of money and they are so desperate they have decided to tax the alofa of Church Ministers.
Rev. Vavatau suggested that the Government should have asked the Church for financial assistance if they are that desperate.
“The church is compassionate. That would be better instead of implementing such a law making it mandatory for the Church Minsters to pay taxes.”
Asked if the Church is likely to change its mind after threats from the Government to prosecute Church Ministers who don’t pay taxes, Rev. Vavatau said no. He said they are ready to face the “fury” of Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s Government.
The General Secretary made it clear that while they have the utmost respect for the Government, the issue in question cuts to the core of their beliefs and for that reason, they will continue to fight it.
“Under the law, it labels our Church Ministers as employees but for us, who are Samoans. we don’t look at our Church Ministers that way. It’s just not right; I mean this is an insult to our Church Ministers and our beliefs,” he said.
“The denominations do not call the Church Ministers to be their employee; they are the most respected people in Samoa.
“To be honest it’s never about the money with this issue. If the Government need financial assistance, which is obviously why they are taxing everything and the Church Ministers, they should have just asked, it is that simple.”
The General Secretary said the church would have donated financial assistance “had they asked instead of this ridiculous law demanding us to pay taxes.”