Author and historian Professor Bridget Brereton wrote this open letter to the Government regarding the decision to reintroduce VAT on books…
I want to support the views of Gerard Besson, Marina Salandy-Brown, Reginald Dumas and Debbie Jacob, who have all used the print or electronic media to express concern about the decision to impose VAT (value added tax) on books, with very limited exceptions.
When I read about this strange decision, I was both surprised and disappointed. After all, there’s a reason why books have been zero-rated ever since VAT was first introduced to Trinidad and Tobago, many years and several governments ago.
Everyone agrees that we don’t read nearly enough, from children in school to students in the universities to the general population. At The University of the West Indies (The UWI), we’ve noticed for years now that our students’ reading skills, and willingness to tackle books as opposed to a few paragraphs on the net, have declined significantly.
And how often do we find homes, otherwise well-appointed and lavishly furnished, without any books except perhaps a Bible/Gita/Qur’an?
Why then make books even more expensive than they are already? VAT will be applied to all “literary books”—this means novels of all kinds, modern and classics; volumes of short stories, plays and poetry; non-fiction books (biographies and autobiographies, works on social and natural sciences and history, books about art and music).
Recently, a sort of literary renaissance has taken place in T&T and the Caribbean, with more local or regional authors publishing novels, short stories and poetry, and winning big awards, too, as well as interesting non-fiction books of all kinds. Do we want to reduce their market by making their books more costly?
I really wonder if this decision has been well thought out. I can’t imagine the revenue gains will be large. But a message will certainly be sent out: that this Government is not interested in encouraging the population, from school kids to senior citizens, to read, buy, collect and share books.
Wonder what former prime minster Eric Williams would have thought—that great reader, writer, scholar and collector of books who founded the People’s National Movement (PNM) exactly 60 years ago?