Below is a commentary by Dr Leslie Ramsammy on The Alliance For Change’s (AFC) recent move to call for a review of VAT on private education, even though the party prior to its announcement had supported Cabinet’s decision to go ahead with the imposition, with a chance of review come 2018:
The AFC has been resolute in their support for VAT on Education. Every time it counts and their votes mattered, they voted 100% in favor with President Granger, the Minister of Finance and APNU. With public resentment and rejection at a high, AFC is seeking a way to speak on both sides of their faces. It is abhorrent and it is sheer hypocrisy. But they have one chance to redeem themselves – unequivocally support the PPP’s motion in Parliament to rescind the 14% VAT on Education. No “and, if or buts”. Are the AFC MP’s and Cabinet Members hypocrites? If the cap fits, they must wear it.
With universal public outrage against VAT on Education, AFC is twirling in the wind, twisting like the American Pretzel, to find a way out of this political quagmire. The AFC voted for VAT on Education not once, not twice, not three times, but, at least, four times. At each turn, the AFC stood resolutely, unflinchingly, behind APNU, the Minister of Finance and President Granger. In response to public protest, a petition letter signed by thousands of Guyanese and universal rejection of the 14%VAT on Education, a public consultation was eventually staged at the National Convention Center last week. That consultation was led by the Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, a senior leader of the AFC and the Minister of Education, Dr. Rupert Roopnarine, the Leader of the WPA.
They both defiantly announced that VAT on Education stays. The highest ranking AFC Cabinet member, the Prime Minister of Guyana, the Vice-President of Guyana, Moses Nagamootoo, did not even then dare to cross Granger and APNU by expressing even a modicum of reservation on VAT on Education. Instead, with an iron fist, he dismissed the gathering by informing them that VAT on Education stays.
The AFC voted for approval of the budget estimates at Cabinet before Budget 2017 reached Parliament. When they did so, they knowingly, willingly, without reservation approved 14% VAT on Education. In Parliament, AFC had two chances – during the consideration of the Ministry of Education Budget and during the consideration of the Ministry of Finance Budget. The PPP begged the AFC to vote against VAT on Education. The AFC rejected the request from the PPP and choose to vote resoundingly with their APNU colleagues to introduce 14% VAT on Education, just like they voted without any reservation for 14% VAT on water and electricity.
In Parliament, senior leaders of the AFC spoke firmly and glowingly in support of the budget as a whole, calling the budget transformative, the best budget ever. They demonized the private schools, wrongly asserting that only rich people’s children go to private schools. Not only did they vote for the 14% VAT on school fees, they also voted for 14% VAT on books, other teaching and educational aids and other items for schools.
These leaders included Trotman, Nagamootoo, Ramjattan, Hughes, Patterson, Holder, Lowe, Carrington, Charandass and others. They chastised the PPP for finding faults with the budget, calling Budget 2017 the best ever. AFC played politics and disregarded the welfare of the people. Solidarity with Granger and APNU was far more important to them than the welfare of the children and youth, young adults seeking higher education and of the people of Guyana.
After the budget was passed and became the law of the land, public protest exploded. There was a promised review of VAT by Cabinet at which the Cabinet remained resolute that VAT on Education stayed. A second review was done by Cabinet and the AFC still remained resolute in their support for VAT on Education. At no point did the AFC express any reservation relating to VAT on education. In various media engagements and on several TV shows, AFC leaders provided unqualified support for the position of the Minister of Finance for the vulgar imposition of VAT on Education.
Having essentially lost much of their support in all regions and virtually dead in Regions 2,3,5 and 6, the AFC is now squirming because they under-estimated the universal condemnation of VAT on Education. Not only are they squirming, they are trying to find a way to extricate themselves from the fiasco of VAT on Education. They are testing the waters by signaling their support for a review of VAT on Education.
The PPP will introduce a motion in Parliament to rescind VAT on Education. The party has been consistent and stood with the people throughout these agonizing months as the public protested against VAT on Education. The AFC, on the other hand, is guilty of sheer hypocrisy. While voting solidly to impose VAT on Education, they now seek to heap blame solely on Granger and APNU. Well, they can redeem themselves – vote against VAT on Education or stand with Granger and APNU in Parliament. No “and, ifs, buts”. Will the AFC allow the motion to be debated and will they join with the PPP to rescind VAT on Education?