Every time we hear Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, demanding that all church ministers in this country pay taxes to the government, the mind winces and for a moment there it feels as if it’s refusing to think.
I suppose the mind feels this way since Tuilaepa, during an interview with the Samoa Observer at the time, was quite obstinate that the government’s decision to tax all church ministers’ incomes and gratuities, would be adhered to without question, no matter what.
As a result of that interview though, the story titled “Pay your taxes, P.M. tells Church Ministers”, was published in the Samoa Observer on 17 November 2017, and as all those who were involved had predicted, in it Tuilaepa was quite determined that despite growing criticisms that had been levelled at him as a result, his mind was rock-solid.
No, he would not change it an inch even if the sky would crack up, and fall like a glass ball to the ground. Indeed, he said that was his response to the latest wave of negative comments about the tax scheme targeting churches, and he then insisted that those “taxes belong to the government and therefore, church ministers should pay.”
During the interview though, Tuilaepa was quite clear there were different types of church ministers in Samoa.
He said there were those who read the Bible, they understood that it was their duty ‘to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” and pay their taxes, and there were also those who read the Bible, they know the meaning of what it’s saying but then they refuse to do what it is saying.
Now according to Tuilaepa: “Those church ministers are in the dark.”
He did not say what he was talking about here, nor did he explain how deep in the dark those church ministers were.
All he said was: “Paul made it very clear that all authorities are from God. And that is to say Paul made it clear that all authorities in all organisations in the world are of God.”
Now when did old Paul tell Tuilaepa that?
Indeed, did the two of them talk about these things when they met somewhere, perhaps during one of those government jaunts that Tuilaepa had taken somewhere, around the world?
Tuilaepa did not explain.
His advice though was: “Those who reject such authorities in these organisations are against God.
“Therefore pay your taxes!”
Indeed, Tuilaepa is adamant that it is right for church ministers to give to the government that which rightfully belongs to the government.”
He also said: “Tax belongs to the government, so give tax to the government.”
Now did Paul tell him that?
And if he did, when?
Well, it would be wonderful to know the answers to these seemingly simple questions, since the way we see it, knowing them may well solve those pestering problems that old Paul in the Bible had whispered to his friend Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, somewhere right here in utterly confused, God-worshiping Samoa.
In any case, it was around that time that a church minister, Reverend Siaosi Samuelu, of the Catholic Church at Salua Manono, made his feelings known publicly.
In a message to Prime Minister Tuilaepa, he urged the government to use tax monies wisely.
He wrote: “There are countless families in Upolu, especially at Aleipata, who don’t have access to water and electricity.
“Use those monies to help those families. Use it wisely please but don’t abuse and waste them.”
His advice: “Don’t spend it on road construction where in the next two years, they dig up the road again.
“That is a waste of taxpayers’ money. Stop wasting money on useless projects. They should look at solid developments; not another burden on everyone shoulders.”
Two families whose lives of hardship, were first published in the Village Voice on 27 and 28 January 2018. Perhaps it’s time to show that we care.