Petitioner pleads with MPs to scrap textbook tax

Primary school head teachers select textbooks during the 14th annual Kenya Primary Schools Head Teachers Association conference in Mombasa last week. [Gideon Maundu, Standard]
A man has for the second time petitioned legislators to remove the tax on textbooks to make them more affordable.

Njoroge Waweru, whose bid to have the 16 per cent value-added tax imposed on textbooks scrapped floundered in 2016, has returned to the National Assembly with the same petition.

Mr Njoroge argues that the high cost of textbooks is hurting Kenyans' reading culture.

He also complains that the tax is discriminatory as it does not apply to online reading materials.

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“That Kenya does not charge VAT on books and journals sold online and no country does in the world and this amounts to discrimination against printed books, which would be more accessible to the majority of Kenya’s population with no reliable internet connection,” argues Waweru.

National Assembly Deputy Speaker Moses Cheboi last Wednesday committed the petition to the Departmental Committee on Finance and National Planning. 

He directed the committee to engage Waweru and report back to the House.

“This petition stands committed to the Departmental Committee on Finance and National Planning for consideration. I urge the committee to engage the petitioner and report its findings to the House within 60 days,” said Mr Cheboi.

No guarantee

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In 2016, members of the Finance, Planning and Trade committee said there was no guarantee that if the tax was scrapped, more people would read or more books would be published.

The committee further claimed that even publishers did not want books exempted from the tax.

Leader of Majority Adan Duale has supported the new petition and asked the committee to make necessary amendments to it before it is debated by the entire House committee.

“I support this petition. It is very specific. It is on VAT on textbooks. Let me not talk about journals because those are things that are used by the prestigious section of society," said Mr Duale.

He suggested that instead of committing the matter to the committee for 60 days, the MPs should look at the petition and come up with amendments for the assembly's consideration.

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“Why can't the committee look at it and bring amendments during the committee of the whole House so that we deal with the matter of VAT and zero rate it?”

Kenya Publishers Association chairman Lawrence Njagi supported the petition and said if approved, it would cut the cost of textbooks substantively.

Mr Njagi said the cost of books in the country was higher by about 20 per cent because of VAT.

"It is a good move and we fully support it. The cost of books in Kenya is up by about 20 per cent. VAT has a spiral effect where some costs are loaded because of the tax," he said.

This means a book that costs Sh500 would go down to Sh400 should Parliament zero rate the materials.?

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