Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has dodged criticisms of his government’s decision to tax gratuities traditionally given to church ministers when they officiate at birthdays, weddings and funeral services.
He has also rejected calls for the government to tax similar tips received by Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament from opening government and community projects.
The criticisms come from members of the church and Village leaders who have accused the government of misleading members of the public in relation to the taxes.
Asked for a comment, Tuilaepa said the issue is at the discretion of the Ministry of Revenue.
Earlier this week, one Church Minister spoke up angrily about being duped over a Bill taxing pastors that was signed in July this year.
He discovered that the Bill that legalises the taxing of church ministers is not limited to the “alofa” or contributions made by members.
“I feel deceived by the Samoa Government,” he said.
“The amendment to the law extends to other income received from performing services in our roles as church ministers.”
“I am sad because we were not informed about this during the public meetings.”
“Under Income Tax Act 2012 3. Section 61 amended clearly indicates that it is not limited to the contributions from the churches.”
Responding to questions from the Samoa Observer, Tuilaepa said all of the Church Minister’s income would be taxed. He emphasized the key word “income”.
“Just like us, it’s our income that is taxed,” said Tuilaepa.
“They (church ministers) can negotiate with the Ministry of Revenue whether their additional income will be taxed.
“That decision lies with the Ministry of Revenue.
Pressed on the issue, Tuilaepa said: “Look, taxes are allocated for all the income that you get, but for additional income from services that can be negotiated by the Ministry of Revenue.”
Asked whether Cabinet Ministers’ additional income of the envelopes they receive from ground breaking ceremonies and other events should be taxed as well, he replied: “Those are additional income they don’t get on the daily basis.”
As of last month, the Ministry of Revenue has begun collecting personal details of church pastors in preparation for a seminar to discuss the next stage of how the law will be implemented.
The information is being collected through forms distributed to pastors throughout the country.
The form is labeled as “Form for collecting information for a special seminar for church ministers Samoa 2017”.
In July, the former Head of State signed into law, the Bill which legalized the taxing of church ministers and the Head of State.
This is the first time this has been done since Samoa became independent 55 years ago.
The Bill was signed on 30 June, 2017, three days after it was approved by Parliament.
INCOME TAX AMENDMENT BILL 2017 3. Section 61 amended – In section 61 of the principal Act: (a) in subsection (1), after paragraph (f), substitute “full stop” with “semi colon” and insert –
“(g) income of minister of religion.”; (b) after subsection (9), insert: “(10) For the purposes of this section, the income of a minister of religion whose sole occupation is the spiritual guidance of a specific congregation in Samoa is comprised of:
(a) contributions made by members of the congregation, and
(b) income received from performing services in their role as church ministers.”