After almost four hours which included a late start, a meeting which was intended to be a consultation on the 14 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on private tuition came to an abrupt end at the National Cultural Centre.
The Private school owners and operators along with teachers, parents and both local and international students thought they had enough, during the closing remarks of Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo at the 14% VAT on Private tuition meeting on Friday, (April 07, 2017).
In his failed attempt to convince the audience, the Prime Minister’s comments did not seem like a quick solution for the concerns raised earlier by those in attendance. Though he noted that Friday’s meeting was hosted to hear the concerns of those present and have it deliberated at Cabinet in the coming week, he could not give an assurance that anything will be done.
“The 14% VAT will be reviewed, it will be reviewed as well as all the taxes but whether it will be reviewed for 2017, I cannot say that definitively. I can tell you for sure that 2018, it is a possibility,” Nagamootoo told the gathering.
Meanwhile, Education Minister, Rupert Roopnarine assured the concerned audience that Cabinet is in complete agreement that improving the education system.
“The president leads us in this direction that we need to concentrate on getting the education system working. At the moment, I must tell you that I am not altogether satisfied with how it is operating in many parts of the country,” he noted.
However, he added that “in light of the forego, it is clear that private education institutions can absorb the VAT without passing it on to students”
The concerns raised by a wide cross section of stakeholders had one common message, which outlines the hardship to pursue private education and the need for the tax to be revoked.
School of Nations, Board Director, Dr. Brian O’Toole as he stood up to raise his concerns noted that all the school is asking for, is a level playing field. As such, he said “if some schools do not pay tax, put that in the newspaper tomorrow…because the solution is not to punish the people that do pay tax, it is to go after the ones who don’t and that’s the business of Government.”
This was supported by Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram who pointed out that “whichever Private School or any entity, not only schools, are evading their taxes, there are laws to deal with those persons and those laws must be implemented.”
A Medical Student of Rajiv Gandhi University of Science and Technology, Murphey David said “I am speaking for thousands of students who came from single parent families (applause) and have to struggle; you are putting our education in jeopardy. You’re giving us thoughts of continuing our education or not and by the way you are jeopardizing the future of a Doctor.”
It did not slip the attention of Consultant, John Seeram that no member from the Ministry of Finance was present at the meeting. “I have my doubts about the numbers which are coming out of from the Ministry of Finance. I also am a bit perturbed to know that at this consultation today no member from the Ministry of Finance is here,” he said.
A concerned parent questioned the government’s decision and its implications on the education sector. “My question directly to the Ministers and those in the Cabinet that represent the various parties that formed the Coalition. Have you each individually considered the implication on this VAT on the Educational sector? Do you all Ministers agree with this imposition and if so, can you say if the government is to take this VAT off you would look into other ways of generating revenue into our country to boost our economy” she asked.
Public Telecommunications Minister, Cathy Hughes, comment which said “I want to say that yah know (pause), we are all in the same boat, we really are” was met with loud NO’s! from the audience who all sounded their disagreement with the Minister who was forced to move onto the next speaker at the microphone.
Shortly after that interruption, a Public School Teacher who was present at the meeting in the interest of her grandchildren said “If you are going to put VAT on Education what you are doing is opening up the public schools for more entries, are you prepared for that one?” she asked.
Another parent urged the Government to “remember that Private Schools are not just about school children, they’re not just about children on the Coast and they include adults. Guyana’s development really needs more education, not less.”
UG lecturer, Melissa Ifill who is also a parent noted that “I find it completely incomprehensible that the government could think that somehow, this is justifiable and I would like to say, I am speaking on my own behalf here, if this VAT is not removed, the resistance certainly from me will continue.”
Also a student, Jonathan Yearwood debunked claims that only those who can afford it, goes to private Schools. “For students like me, it’s not a risk, it’s a desire for improvement. The only way I can get an increase in my salary, is by promoting my own personal advancement. At my level, the company is not going to give me a raise in pay just because ‘Mr. Yearwood I love you’, I have to earn it and I am trying to earn it by getting a graduate degree. My Government is putting a huge stumbling block in my way,” he said.
With an improper closing of the meeting some of the students along with their teachers pulled out their plaque cards to demonstrate their disapproval with the introduction of VAT on private tuition.
Subsequently a statement emanating from the Department of Public Information noted that the Government of Guyana has committed that Cabinet will review the Value Added Tax on private education tuition at its next meeting on Tuesday, April 11th.