…as stakeholders storm out, protest public meeting
Dozens of stakeholders stormed out of a nearly three-hour long meeting with Government officials after Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo announced that his Administration will most likely not remove the 14 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) on private education anytime this year.
Following weeks of protests and a submission of a petition with over 14,000 signatories, Government finally decided to hold a meeting with stakeholders to discuss the imposition of VAT on education.
The session was held at the National Cultural Centre on Friday where the Prime Minister; Education Minister, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine; and Public Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes addressed the gathering.
After listening to the concerns of parents, students, operators of private schools and other stakeholders; Nagamootoo attempted to convince the disgruntled audience that his Government cares about education by alluding to the 3Bs initiative where Government donates buses, boats and bicycles.
But frustration grew among stakeholders when the Prime Minister began to stray away from the issue and talked about unrelated topics.
When the gathering objected to this, Nagamootoo reminded those gathered they had their time to speak and it was now his turn to make his contribution.
Nagamotoo subsequently announced ambiguously, what the critics were saying going into the meeting, that VAT on private education might not be removed this year.
“Incrementally, the 14 per cent VAT will be removed, as well as other taxes. But whether it will be removed for 2017, I cannot say that definitively. I can tell you for sure, that 2018, it is a possibility,” he stated.
Upon hearing this the stakeholders became livid, prompting many of them to leave.
Absorb the taxes
During his opening remarks, Dr Roopnaraine argued that records show that private institutions should be able to absorb the taxes.
“The records from the Ministry of Finance demonstrate that the schools are able to absorb the Value Added Tax (VAT),” he stated, noting that only 57 per cent of private schools operating in Guyana are registered with the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA).
But the President of the Georgetown Chambers of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), Deodat Indar explained that such a logic is flawed.
“VAT is not a business tax, it is a consumer tax. It is passed from the hands of businesses to consumers,” he explained, noting that it would technically be against the law for private institutions to absorb the 14 per cent tax.
“You’re asking the private schools to take a cut of 12.28 per cent in their revenue but the Government is not prepared to accept less than a quarter per cent of a cut in its tax revenues,” he stated.
President of the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA), Dr Melissa Ifill, in her capacity as a parent, criticised the Administration for charging taxes on a service which she said can be used to develop the nation.
She also outlined that major countries in the Caribbean which have a public/private educational structure, rather than imposing taxes on schools, they were in fact exempted from paying tax because of the recognition that they are aiding the State in providing education.
“I find it completely incomprehensible how a Government that says it cares about education, could impose this tax. We are dealing with parents, lots of parents who are struggling to pay for these fees… I find it incomprehensible that a Government could think this is justifiable,” she stated.
Director of Nations University, Dr Brian O’Toole urged the Government to desist from punishing private institutions which pay taxes simply because others do not.
Dr O’Toole disclosed that 12 per cent of students have already dropped out of the prominent ABE programme, presumably because of the extra expenses.
Furthermore, in clarifying the misconceptions that only affluent persons attend private institutions, several students, including foreign nationals, shared how their lives have become more challenging due to the imposition of VAT on their education.
“Here I am, in a private school, doing a graduates degree and here you are, my Government, that says it’s a good life for all, you have just increased my fees by 14 per cent…the only way I can get an increase in my salary is by promoting my own personal advancement. At my level, the company is not going to give me a raise in pay just because they love me. I have to earn it and I am trying to earn it by getting a graduate degree and my Government is putting a huge stumbling block in my way,” said Jarvin Yearwood, who after years of finishing high school, decided to go back to school.
Yearwood, in detailing his plight and how the VAT will lessen his disposable income significantly, implored the Government to revoke the tax on education immediately.
A student, who is studying aeronautical engineering, highlighted that there is no other institution in Guyana offering the programme; therefore it makes no sense in making it more difficult for persons to pursue that course.
He outlined the struggles of his life and the sacrifices he and his mother made to finally afford to send him to study and how the 14 per cent VAT takes away from money which could have been used otherwise for transportation and meals.
“The Minister said that children can’t focus on school if they’re hungry. Well, you’re starving me, you’re starving me,” he stated with much distress.
Though Government committed to reviewing their concerns, majority of the stakeholders left dissatisfied.
As the Ministers were leaving, several students staged a mini protest to express their disappointment with the outcome of the meeting.