Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 26th 2016 Contents Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Tuesday, January 26, 2016
There was a bit of furore on
social media over the last couple
of weeks about the Government s
decision to reintroduce VAT on
books and computers, at least some
of it fuelled by my own post
(http://ow.ly/XrPUs) on the issue.
It s clear that the precipitous fall
deleterious and quite menacing
effect on the national economy and
the Minister of Finance is being sen-
sible in setting up income streams
designed to form fiscal bulwarks
against challenges pursuant to the
In considering the move to tax
books and computers (as well as
computer peripherals and network-
ing backbone gear), I m left with a
resonant feeling that this is simply
wrong and it s worth exploring why.
Both books and computers---
which are increasingly compact and
a matched pair, bookends, if you
will, of affordable access to a world
of information that s essentially lim-
My first response was based on
the possibility of a chilling effect
that s likely to happen as a result of
the price increase.
And rest assured, the increase will
not be a readily measurable 12.5 per
Local retailers will jump on the
opportunity to raise prices a bit more
than that. My own estimate is
between 25 and 30 per cent, though
some colleagues insist that ready
access to prices abroad will stifle
Needless to say, I do not share
that optimism. I don t think the cost
of even price-controlled food items
will see the benefit of a 2.5 per cent
reduction in VAT.
It s pretty easy to see how this
kind of thinking might leap off a
napkin into full-fledged Government
policy. Books, after all, are a kind
of luxury beyond the necessity of
school textbooks and we tax luxury
items, don t we?
As for computers, well they have
become a commonplace commodity
and one that s only led to a majority
percentage of the T&T nationals
using online services spending their
time on Facebook.
But there are other, tangentially-
related items that seem ready for a
discerning look by Minister of
Finance Colm Imbert.
The eCAL programme which
placed thousands of computers into
the school system was poorly sup-
ported by a lack of classroom
focused software and teacher train-
It was also plagued by mainte-
nance issues (http://ow.ly/XsDwM)
and looks set, if only because it was
a front-section, banner issue for the
People s Partnership Government,
to be quietly dropped.
What eCAL needed was fewer
computers for free and more end
user support, with the Government
stepping in to provide hardware for
underprivileged students who qual-
ified, after review, for a device sup-
plied by the State.
Gate, which costs at least $700
million per year has been notably
lax in enforcing something as basic
as the Grade Point Average required
of students to access educational
opportunities under the programme.
The programme has neither
offered means testing for students
applying for support nor has it
sought to encourage students (per-
haps through increased funding for
specific courses) to pursue studies
that align with national development
But decisions to raise money
through taxation are as much about
politics as they are about finance
and that s kept Gate on a loose leash
since it was introduced.
And this, ultimately, is my real
grind with the tax on books and
People who buy computers with
VAT added might be less testy about
it if that money was to be earmarked
for specific programmes that drive
technology as a pillar of national
Consider the old CKD (completely
knocked down) model of car assem-
bly that was once part of an indus-
trial drive in T&T.
It did not create a lasting auto-
motive industry, but it led directly
to The Bamboo, an aggregation of
entrepreneurs with a deep knowl-
edge of car parts and how they are
both assembled and disassembled.
Unlike cars, computers are not so
much a commodity as they are a
key to unlocking opportunity.
Hardware assembly tends to come
first, then software customisation
and networking expertise and finally,
the Holy Grail of technology adop-
tion, nation and region specific soft-
ware development that solves local
Why not turn that 12.5 per cent
haul from computers into a tech-
nology diversification fund, certify
hardware assemblers and allow them
access to VAT relief to build sys-
T&T has both flourished and fal-
tered with an economy built on pro-
ducing raw materials for refining
abroad which is then reimported as
We re not going to be manufac-
turing hard drives or motherboards
any time soon, but we need to
develop education and career oppor-
tunities that drive our labor further
up the development and manufac-
turing chain of technology.
If we don t, we will remain con-
sumers of technology, VAT or not.
VAT on books and computers:
Minister of Finance Colm Imbert.
PHOTO COURTESY GORTT
What should Government have done?
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