A poor turnout by the Guyana Private Schools United yesterday did not deter the protest action against VAT on private education, outside of the Ministry of the Presidency.
In its fifth week of protest, a smaller than usual crowd consisting of a handful of parents, teachers and students, lined off on Vlissengen Road, in front of the Ministry, once again picketing for the removal of VAT on private education.
According to one protestor, Chaitram Ramdyhol, he was disappointed with the crowd turnout, but at the same time, he understands that there are factors which hindered some of the parents from coming out to protest. “… [some] parents work and because of their work they cannot be able to come every time we have a protest, and there are some transportation issues but we are hoping that the crowd gets back to the way it started,” Ramdyhol said. Never the less, the protestor said that every time they protest, they see new faces which means that the number of those against the cause, is growing.
Apart from this, the protests have moved to the Ministry of the Presidency, which according to some protestors is the last resort since they were told that the president has the power to tell cabinet to remove the VAT from private education.
“We have started the protest outside of the Ministry of Finance, and we went to the Ministry of Education, and we were told that the cabinet decided that they would review the VAT in 2018. So, it seems as though targeting the individual ministers serves no purpose, so we are now going to move it to the top,” Jonathan Yearwood opined. He told Stabroek News that the buck stops at the president, since he has the ultimate responsibility for the government and asking cabinet to revoke the VAT on private education.
Yearwood suggested that the government put a hold on the VAT immediately, and to review the process for the 2018 Budget. He believes that not much thought was put into it by the government for the 2017 Budget. Yearwood said that though there are some wealthy parents who can afford the VAT, there is a large percentage of parents who will be punishing, because they cannot afford to find the extra 14% VAT to pay private schools.
One mother, who was on the picket line, told reporters that she has four children in private schools and will find it very challenging to keep up with the payments. She told Stabroek News that she is making a sacrifice to send all of her children to private schools because she has seen the benefits.
“… my four year old daughter who is in a private school for the last two years can read, so I am seeing the benefits of sending my children to private schools,” the mother said, whilst adding that she is aware that she is paying more than what most tertiary educations cost, but she said it is a sacrifice she is will to make for her children. The mother of four went on to say that the government is not providing assistance to the private schools, like text books, uniform vouchers and school feeding programmes which they do for the government schools, but parents who send their children to private schools make a sacrifice for their children.
According to a father of one who wished to remain anonymous, the schools have sent messages to the parents asking them to pay the 14% VAT. He said that he only paid the school fees minus the VAT. “I told them that that is all I have, I cannot pay any more and they took the money,” the father said.
According to Ramdyhol, many schools have been calling on parents to pay the tuition fees plus the 14% VAT, but parents are hesitant since they are waiting to see if the government might change its position.
The protestors said that they will continue their protests until the president makes a decision to stop the implementation of taxes on private education.
Private education became subject to VAT on February 1, following the removal of zero-rated items as a measure of the 2017 National Budget. Minister of Finance Winston Jordan said earlier this month that only private schools that earn more than $15 million a year and are registered for VAT, will be expected to charge the tax, which is not being applied to education or educational supplies, but to tuition fees payable to private schools.