|Nyamira Girls High School students stranded at the Kisumu bus terminal as schools re-opened, yesterday.|
By NGARI GICHUKI
Parents are having to contend with long queues and hiked bus fares in a chaotic back to school rush.
In Nairobi, the streets were full of parents with their children doing last minute shopping and depositing school fees in banking halls.
At the bus terminal, public transport operators capitalised on the back to school rush by hiking fares up to double the normal rate.
“There are barely enough vehicles and there are many children reporting back to school today. The situation is chaotic and to make things worse, the fare has been doubled. We have no option but to pay so that our children can return to school,” said John Thuo, a parent who had escorted his son to the terminus.
Public transport operators blamed the chaos on the Government, citing that harsh traffic regulations and ‘unfair’ crackdown on public service vehicles had led to many vehicles being impounded over the festive season, resulting in a shortage.
“We have made sure that we have complied with the set traffic rules as we know the Government will be keen during this back to school season. But this has resulted in many vehicles being pulled off the road to avoid getting impounded,” said Peter Murimi a matatu operator on the Nairobi-Embu route.
The situation was no better in bookshops and supermarkets as parents and students rushed to shop for learning materials.
Bookshops and supermarkets were filled to capacity, with people queuing outside shops. This was despite the 2013 VAT Bill, which imposed 16 per cent VAT on commodities such as textbooks and exercise books.
Sarah Ngeywo, the mother of Ruth, a Form Two student of Asumbi Girls High School, said the high prices of books and other essential educational materials would disrupt her budget, compromising her family’s other basic needs.
“The 16 per cent VAT imposed on books is putting a huge dent in our pockets since the cost is passed down to us, the consumers. The Government should consider mwananchi when implementing such policies. The VAT plus my child’s school fees means I must cut down on things like house shopping,” said Ms Ngeywo.
Fiona Musembi, another parent, said it was unfortunate that the VAT was imposed on essential goods, terming it financial blackmail as parents would still have to buy them.
She called for a review of the Bill and asked schools to be considerate by not asking parents to buy school supplies in bulk but to spread them into manageable portions throughout the academic year.
However, in alleys across Moi Avenue the situation was different. Small scale open-air booksellers offered much needed relief to parents and students shopping for books as they offered second hand ones at cheaper prices. Desperate customers thronged these stands.
Kennedy Omollo, a second-hand book vendor along Dubois Road, was a happy man, recording his highest sale in months. He said though he was not rejoicing over other people’s troubles, the VAT Bill had come as a blessing to him and his business.
“My business has never recorded sales like today since I started it. The money I am getting will help me take my own children back to school easier and I’m grateful to God for this opportune favour. I’m planning to expand my business to help many more Kenyans avoid the high cost of education by providing cheaper books. People shouldn’t fear old books as the knowledge inside them is just as new as that found in the new books,” said Omollo.