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Taxes — a topic of vital interest to both candidates and businesses

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Final in our series on the recent CoC gubernatorial forum

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — “Taxation without representation” was one of the topics raised at the recent American Samoa Chamber of Commerce gubernatorial forum, where only three of the five gubernatorial teams were able to participate.

This is the final issue from the forum, in the Samoa News coverage of the first gubernatorial forum, which gave those in attendance a chance to hear what these candidates had to say on various issues. There were other segments and questions the Chamber had prepared that were not raised with the candidates due to the time constraint.

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.

“One of the challenges our businesses have faced in past administrations has been taxation without representation. If elected, How would you engage and involve the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce on any taxation discussion during your administration?” was the question from the moderator.

The question was directed to the Nua and Satele team first and Nua gave a short reply — “If elected, we will invited a member of the Chamber to be involved in discussion of the taxation process.”

For the Lemanu and Talauega rebuttal, Talauega notes that for the “issue of taxes, we have to look at it on a wholesale basis.” He recalled during his tenure as Attorney General, when he served as chairman of the governor’s Revenue Task Force, they looked “at the revenues of government in different ways that we could help improve.”

“That discussion involved taking away some taxes and repealing the 2% wage tax; lowering our taxes for individual income taxes and corporate taxes. But discussion also looked on the other side of the coin — how do you fill that blank in,” he said referring to lost revenues if taxes are taken away or lowered.

“Businesses rely on government to build roads, fix roads, have services that allow you to operate. So government needs money in order to do things that businesses need to thrive in this economy,” he said.

The moderator pointed out that one of the things implemented based on the task force’s recommendation was scanner fees. Talauega, as chairman, was asked by the moderator, if he solicited any feed back from the business community.

“Yes. We had conducted several meetings. The scanner operation was championed by ASG Treasury and it’s Customs Division,” he said noting that he had no authority to solely made that decision.

“All of these were presented to the community” including the business community and the Fono, which approved it, he said.

“And that’s the process we went through and we still have the opportunity as a community to look at things, learn from it and if we need to change, we change it,” he said. “That’s the type of governance, administration that Lemanu and I promise if we are so fortunate to get your support in November.”

Samoa News points out that the revenue task force came up with a whole slew of revenue measures, and they were presented to the Chamber, as well as a separate briefing with lawmakers. The scanner fees were included in legislation dealing with changes to Customs fees.

Among the measures presented to the Fono about three years ago, was the Alternative Minimum Business Tax (AMBT), which taxed corporations 1% of annual gross sales. Several businesses objected to this measure but in the end the Fono approved it and later it was signed into law.

At the gubernatorial forum, it appeared that time was ending for the taxation subject —and I’aulualo asked the moderator for a chance to provide rebuttal after the moderator gave two chances to the Lemanu and Talauega team.

When given the chance, which was a one-minute rebuttal, I’aulualo said, “I’aulualo and Tapaau would support the Chamber of Commerce request to consider the legislation making the AMB tax waiver permanent to encourage business growth.”

“We would support the Chamber of Commerce’s recommendation to consider adopting the Uniform Commercial Code, harmonizing the laws of sales and other commercial transactions,” he said. “And we would support the Chamber’s request to consider legislation that would encourage the growth of green energy and the technology sector.”

“And lastly... we would work very hard to work with the federal government so that we can build the economy of American Samoa,” he added.

With no time left in the Taxation segment, one of questions remaining on this list that went unasked, was “If elected, would there be a consideration to repeal the AMBT, and why?”