By Delicia Bailey
One of the measures of Budget 2017 is the removal of Education services and supplies from the list of zero-rated items, causing them to now attract 14% Value Added Tax (VAT); of primary concern to stakeholders is the effect this would have on parents and other users of these services and supplies.
Recently Finance Minister, Winston Jordan was quoted in sections of the press on the matter as saying that “there is no VAT on public education (and) it remains a choice of the parent. Government is not making that choice for them.”
Speaking to the News Room, Former President and Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo has described it as shortsighted, noting that the Government lacks a clear vision for the Education sector.
He noted that “You can’t separate the education system into oh we’re supportive of the public education policy but not supportive of the private education policy. You have to be supportive of the entire system of delivery of education and that is why this is so shortsighted.”
It is also his view that there should be freedom of choice when it comes to the delivery of education and points out “people who believe that private education may get their children a better quality education…must not be penalized.”
According to Jagdeo, it is not necessarily rich people who seek out private education but the middle class, a point that was raised by another critic of this policy, Dr Brian O’Toole, the Director of the Nations University.
Dr Brian O’Toole some days ago began his campaign against the new policy with a letter to the press which has since given birth to an online and paper petition. His latest report is that both petitions have garnered 3507 signatures. The petition says it is making an appeal on behalf of private schools but “rather all Guyanese since parents find they are paying more for pencils, crayons and basic school supplies.”
Another point raised by Dr O’Toole in his letter was the fact that School of the Nations was introduced as an alternative some 20 years ago following a need with one of his own children for a subject teacher at one of the leading secondary schools at that time.
A similar sentiment on seeing private education institutions as alternatives was expressed by Mr. Jagdeo who says “it takes some of the pressure off public schools because it’s less kids we have to cater for.”
The Government is currently conducting a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the education sector after which it should set the tone for the Ministry’s policies and programs going forward. According to the Ministry, the objectives of this inquiry launched in April 2016, are to “establish a baseline analysis of the state of the public education in Guyana,” and to, “recommend broad strategic guidelines for the enhancements of public education.”