Forum hears candidates’ views on tax relief during emergencies
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The recent Chamber of Commerce gubernatorial forum provided the chance for Chamber members and the audience to hear from three of the five gubernatorial team on what actions — if they were governor and lieutenant governor — they would take to help businesses if or when an emergency declaration were declared.
The issue goes back to the Chamber’s request at the outset of the first COVID-19 emergency declaration — seeking a temporary moratorium on taxes — especially excise tax, from the Lolo administration as businesses were faced with restrictions on hours of operations in late March as well as their concerns over the possible delay of container vessels as the pandemic spread globally, quickly shutting down ports around the world.
As reported by Samoa News at the time, the Chamber had requested ASG — through the governor as well as the ASG coronavirus Taskforce — for a tax moratorium as businesses that were also faced with having to layoff employees, due to the operating-hour restrictions.
“The Chamber of Commerce advocated for the relaxing of import duties and tariffs during the emergency declaration guidelines. If you were governor and Lt. Governor, would you have agreed or engaged with the Chamber to find a solution during the emergency declarations?” was the question asked of the candidates during the “Taxation” segment.
To further clarify the question, the moderator asked, “Would you support a moratorium for the Chamber or to find a solution for this” due to COVID-19 restrictions?
The gubernatorial teams that participated were: I’aulualo Fa’afetai Talia for governor and Tapaau Dan Mageo Aga as lieutenant governor; Sen. Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga Nua for governor and Tapumanaia Galu Satele Jr., for lieutenant governor; and Lt. Gov. Lemanu Palepoi Sialega Mauga for governor and Talauega Eleasalo Va’alele Ale for lieutenant governor.
The question was first directed to the Lemanu and Talauega team, to which Lemanu explained that all tax revenues collected are already allocated for government operations and services to the public.
So if there is a reduction in taxes, the government will need to find new revenue sources to fill this void, he said, and recalled that the governor in the past had submitted legislation to the Fono imposing a sales tax, which would be paid by everyone.
However, the sales tax failed to get full support of the Fono and didn’t pass. He said that many of the current taxes target only workers and business owners.
Lemanu reiterated that a move to impose a moratorium or tax relief, means the government would have to find another source of revenue to cover what’s going to be cut.
I’aulualo said the I’aulualo and Tapaau team would grant that moratorium to the Chamber as a supportive effort to the COVID-19 impact on businesses. He said approval of a moratorium “will certainly help businesses and if the [federal] stimulus money comes — that’s exactly where the stimulus money should apply.”
Moderator for this issue asked a follow-up question, pointing to what Lemanu said that if the government does grant a moratorium or any kind of relief on taxes, “we have to find a replacement for that taxes because the government survives on taxation.”
“So what would be your recommendation to add additional revenue to replace revenues lost” through the moratorium?” was the follow-up question to I’aulualo, who responded that the “moratorium is temporary — maybe three months, [or] six months.”
“If we know there are funding sources from the stimulus money, that’s exactly where the money should go to cover that loss of revenue,” I’aulualo added.
For the Nua and Satele team, Nua said “We support the moratorium,” especially if there are going to be long delays — as occurred early this year — in the arrival of container vessels with import goods.
The Lemanu and Talauega team was asked for a rebuttal and Talauega answered saying it’s “really difficult to deal with these issues in real time” on the ground as they happen fast.
“It’s easy — I guess me, since I’m no longer in government — to sit and judge. But I think if you look in the totality of how all of this is being handled, with the lt. governor advising, I think it will come out with the understanding [that] we’re better off the way we are today,” he said.
Samoa News reported in late March into early April that the Chamber had requested a meeting with the governor and the ASG coronavirus task force to discuss a tax relief package for businesses and other issues, but it never happened.
The Chamber also requested to have a Chamber member on the task force but the governor said the task force is only for government agencies.