The protest against VAT on private education tuition continued yesterday with protestors calling on the government to suspend the tax for the remainder of the year, before completely removing it in 2018.
Around a dozen parents and adult learners who are part of the private education system, lined up on Vlissengen Road, opposite the Ministry of the Presidency during the lunch hour. Those who gathered for the protest, which is now in its eighth week, said they were not disappointed by the small turnout and explained that while they were a handful, the message is still being sent to the government informing them, “that we are against VAT on education and would not stop until it is removed.”
The group also disclosed that they would also continue to picket for the removal of VAT on private education and not just tuition fees. The government has said that the VAT on private education tuition will remain for 2017 and would reviewed in 2018.
According to Jonathan Yearwood, a student of Nations University and who has been a regular in the protests, they will be protesting until they see a reversal or change in the decision by government.
“I don’t think they have considered the effects … on people paying for private education. And now that we are calling for it to be removed it seems as if they are afraid to remove it because it might be an embarrassment to them…,” Yearwood said, whilst pointing out that the tax is putting a strain on not only parents to find the money, but all working adults who are enrolled in private institutions.
“I am a student at a private institution trying to elevate myself to get a raise in pay, and possibly a promotion, but it seems as if the government doesn’t want me or any other, to get this,” he added.
The government he said is encouraging persons to empower themselves but yet they are putting a burden on the same persons, by enforcing the tax on their education.
Yearwood also called on President David Granger to take time off and meet with the group at least once, to listen to them directly, instead of relying on second hand reports relayed to him.
One mother, Bonita Dookie of AIshalton, Region Nine, said that she has been finding it challenging to support two of her children who are in private schools in the city since the imposition of the tax.
She stressed that after her daughter was granted a scholarship to attend school in Georgetown under the previous government, she had to tag along with her two younger children.
“I tried to put them in public schools but I didn’t like the facilities. And I choose what is best for them. Isn’t that what every parent wants? What is best for their children?” she questioned rhetorically.
The woman lamented that the level of education in public schools in the interior is deteriorating and nothing is being done to upgrade the schools. She stated that in the past, the schools used to produce top students to attend schools in the city, but the results from 2016 National Grade Six Examinations were “atrocious.”
Dookie added that she would be attending the picketing exercise at every opportunity she can until the coalition government rescinds their decision.
Another parent, Mohini Makhan said that there should not be an attack on private education. She said that she has seen the benefits of sending her daughter to a private school. “When I compare my daughter’s work to those who are in the same level in public schools, it shows that she is at higher level. She can read, say the ABC, knows the pronunciation of sounds and able to spell,” she said.
The mother added that many might argue because they send their children to private school they have the money but that is not so. She noted that while in public schools students are furnished with text books, students of private schools have to invest in their own.
A father who asked not to be named said that it looks as if the Government is after private schools by placing VAT on the tuition. The father stressed that Guyana is the only country in the Caribbean where private schools are not receiving any help. “I know in Barbados, the private schools are receiving help because they are contributing to the country’s development by helping to educate the nation.”
“These students are not citizens of overseas countries, to say they have to pay a different fee (from public school students)… they are Guyanese and should be treated equally,” he asserted.
Private education tuition became subject to VAT on February 1, following the removal of zero-rated items as a measure of the 2017 National Budget.
Members of the group had protested in late April at the Alliance for Change (AFC) Headquarters in Kitty, after learning that the AFC had said that it will continue to push for a review of VAT on education.
“The AFC is going to be pushing for a review, and as I said we hope it comes sooner rather than later, but at the end of the day we are a part of a coalition and are aware that sometimes pulling one string has corresponding consequences,” Raphael Trotman, Chairman of the AFC told Stabroek News in April.