Last week Standard Digital reported that the Kenyan Publishers Association was calling on its government to drop the tax it collects on books to zero. Many countries exclude books from the standard VAT they collect on sales, but Kenya doesn't.
Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) Chairman David Waweru said the law as it currently stands is lopsided and is affecting the quality of learning.
“The bill seems to favour the middle and upper classes. For example, why is VAT not charged on parking fees, an elitist thing, while books that are needed by a majority of Kenyans are taxed?” Waweru asked. The publishers want the law amended to ensure books and other learning materials, as well as the raw materials that go into making books, are all zero rated.
The publishers added that the industry has been in a recession for the past three years, with sales reducing by as much as 36 per cent annually, and the VAT charge was making things even worse.
And as revenues shrink, companies in publishing and associated sectors have been forced to freeze hiring and are laying-off workers. Mr Mwazemba, who is also KPA’s treasurer, added that this year, 10 leading bookshops have been forced to close shop. “It is a pity Kenyan children cannot enjoy books by homegrown writers such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o, while these books are common and popular in neighbouring East African countries where reading materials are zero rated,” he said.
People complain about taxes the world over, and have done so since time immemorial.
But when it comes to Kenya publishers are also arguing that the tax introduced in 2013 is also creating an incentive for pirates to copy books and sell them cheap to schools.
Longhorn Publishers Managing Director Simon Ngigi recently told Capital Business that poor quality knockoffs were cutting into his business. “These people get one of our books from the store, taken down town for photocopying and sold to schools. The papers they use are shiny and end up harming our children eyes. It’s a big problem.” Ngigi said.
“For every three books one pirated. And that is a fact, and it has been there for the last five years. The problem is the penalty. Kenya is a law abiding country so when you are convicted with a crime you can only be dealt with in accordance with what the penalties are, in the law. Currently it’s Sh800,000, so nobody cares as they know they can be able to afford that because they have stolen 100 times more,” Ngigi lamented.
One way to solve this problem would be to lower the tax on books, or remove it all together, but what are the chances that the bureaucrats in the Kenyan gov't will go along?
Judging by the most recent activities of the Kenyan Ministry of, that isn't too likely .Rather than make books cheaper for students, it has recently taken a step to make them inaccessible.
Standard Digital reported that in May 2016 the Kenyan Secretary of Education Fred Matiang’i issued an order for public schools to stop purchasing new books until a review is done on procurement guidelines. The review was scheduled to have been done by June this year but publishers say that the gov't has yet to release the funds.
"The lack of funds to purchase books in public schools means 10 million children are at a learning disadvantage as opposed to their counterparts in private schools. This will surely see performance in public schools decline," reckoned Oxford University Press General Manager John Mwazemba.
It will also see a rise in piracy, you can bet on that.
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