Kenyan lawmakers will this week decide whether to scrap the 16% VAT rate imposed on books in the country, three years after the disastrous levy was introduced.
Even before the government brought in the tax in 2013, the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) had worked tirelessly to demonstrate the catastrophic impact that even a small increase in cost would have on such a price-sensitive market.
Over time, the KPA’s fears have materialized and the damaging effects of the tax have become clear; book sales have slumped 35% countrywide and the legitimate textbook business—which represents 85% of book sales in Kenya—has been eclipsed by its pirated counterpart.
Over the summer the KPA’s ongoing #NoVATonBooks campaign has gathered pace, and the Kenyan parliament is now set to review the Finance Bill 2016 that, all being well, could shelve the 16% standard rate of VAT applied to books—which is hefty by international and African standards.
At a press conference in Nairobi on 15 August (pictured above), KPA Chairman David Waweru (left) urged Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich to push for an amendment of the VAT Act 2013 when the Parliamentary Finance, Planning and Trade Committee discusses the bill.
He said the law as it currently stands is driving down educational performance in the state school system, while private school pupils were enjoying increasing success due to proper access to books.
He said: ‘The bill seems to favour the middle and upper classes. Why is VAT not charged on parking fees — an elitist thing — while books that are needed by a majority of Kenyans are taxed?’
KPA treasurer and Oxford University Press (Kenya) General Manager John Mwazemba said: ‘Affordable learning is a right that every Kenyan child should be accorded, as per the goals of [national development policy] Vision 2030.’
Also addressing the media was IPA Director of Communications and Freedom to Publish, Ben Steward, who said: ‘Books are a special kind of commodity and should be treated as such. The fact that many countries already apply reduced rates of VAT to physical books is a clear acknowledgement of the strategic importance of books. Countries that have not already done so should take the next step and zero rate books.’
The following day, the KPA leadership and Steward gave various interviews to Keynan national media, including leading TV station NTV. That report can be seen here:
The IPA is monitoring developments in Kenya and will continue to apply all possible pressure to ensure lawmakers in Kenya and elsewhere understand the proven benefits of zero-rating VAT on books.