Church Ministers argue violation of constitutional rights under government tax law

A prayer outside court before the church ministers and supporters head inside the District Court this morning

By Rula Su’a – Vaai

APIA, SAMOA – TUESDAY 19 FEBRUARY 2019: The Counsel representing 20 church ministers of the Congregational Christian Church charged for not paying government taxes is applying to refer the matter to the Supreme Court as the District court has no jurisdiction to hear a matter on constitutional rights.

Counsels representing Inland Revenue and Government opposed the application.

However defence counsel Alex Su’a argued that it is a matter of constitutional rights which has been violated and it must be heard in the Supreme Court.

Under Article 15 (1) of the Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa, Su’a and his team will argue “Freedom from Discriminatory Legislation (1) where is says, all persons are equal before the law and entitles to equal protection under the law,” has been violated when the church ministers were taxed under the 2018 tax legislation.

“Constitutional Rights argument on the issues of Faletua (ministers’ wives), were being discriminated against in terms of how tax operates,” says Assistant Counsel for the Church Ministers, Leilani Tamati outside of court.

The Church Ministers have yet to enter their pleas.

The court has yet to make a ruling on a notice of motion seeking orders to quash information and stay proceedings.

The defence counsel is arguing to have all information relating to the defendants be quashed, and that all future information relating to future prosecutions of Church Ministers of CCCS in relation to the Income Tax Act 2012 and the administration Act 2018 be temporarily stayed until further orders of the court.

District Court, Judge Leota Raymond Schuster will hear submissions from lawyers representing CCCS church Ministers and Inland Revenue, to decide whether to refer the matter to the Supreme Court.

Again the court room this morning was packed with supporters of those facing charges and a prayer was said outside court before they headed inside for the proceedings.