Publishers renew call to scrap VAT on textbooks

Treasury CS Henry Rotich PHOTO: COURTESY

Publishers have renewed their appeal to the Government to scrap the 16 per cent value-added tax (VAT) charged on books.

At a media briefing yesterday in Nairobi, the publishers asked Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich to push for the amendment of the VAT Act 2013 when the Finance, Planning and Trade Committee of Parliament opens discussions on the Finance Bill 2016 that is before the House.

“Cheap and affordable learning is a right that every Kenyan child should be accorded, as per the goals of Vision 2030,” reckoned Oxford University Press General Manager John Mwazemba.

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.

Waweru further noted: “Only Sh200 of the grant capitation funds is allocated for the purchase of textbooks and supplementary reading materials per child per year. Another Sh100 is allocated for the purchase of teacher’s guides and reference materials. Subjecting this little amount to VAT means even fewer books to schools,” Waweru added.

The publishers added that across Africa, save for Kenya and South Africa, learning materials are not taxed.

“The practice all over Africa is that books are never taxed.” Waweru noted the Act only favours private schools where parents can afford the books, at the expense of public schools.

“In public schools, the ratio of books to children is 1 to 5,” Waweru explained.

Apart from the VAT affecting the quality of education in public schools, the publishers argue the tax has also fostered piracy. “Bogus publishers are stealing copyright from legitimate writers and are publishing books cheaply, while avoiding the tax. This has seen new investors shun the industry,” explained the publishers.

The publishers were also concerned with the failure of the Ministry of Education to release Sh1 billion meant to procure books in second term.


In May 2016, Education Cabinet Secretary 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 supposed to have been done by June this year.

But the publishers claim that the ministry is 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,” said Mwazemba.