Government to tax books, computers

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Above: Minister of Finance Colm Imbert, architect of the new tax schedule. Photo courtesy the Ministry of Finance.

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago has released its revisions to the Value Added Tax regime in order to meet shortfalls in revenue.

The PDF listing all of the items, primarily food, is downloadable from the Ministry of Finance.

Surprisingly, the Government has chosen, in a retrograde step, to add books, computers and computer peripherals to that list, ending an almost two decade long moratorium on those items, which also led directly to an explosion in, specifically computer use, placing this country in the lead for consumption of information on the Internet (though that consumption is primarily Facebook and YouTube).

The relevant listings come at the end, as items 22, 29 and 30, as follows…

Books namely literary works, reference books,directories,collections of letters or documents permanently bound in covers, loose-leaf books, manuals or instructions whether complete with their binder or not, amendments to loose-leaf books even if issued separately, school work books and other educational texts in question-and-answer format with spaces for insertion of answers, children’s picture and painting books, exercise books, other paper and paperboard of a kind used for writing, printing or other graphic purposes (Heading No.

along with…

The items contained in the First Schedule to the Customs Act under Tariff Heading No. 84.71, being automatic data processing machines and units thereof,magnetic or optical readers, machines for transcribing data onto data media in coded form and machines for processing such data, not elsewhere specified or included.

and finally…

Computer peripherals and mouse pads, not including audio compact discs of Tariff Subheading 8523.40.40 and digital versatile discs (DVD’s) of Subheadings 8523.40.60 and 8523.40.70.

Terminal equipment or other equipment to be installed or used for a public telecommunications network or telecommunications service or radio communications service and certified as such by the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago.

Taxing an established resource waiting to be properly exploited is a surprising step backward for a government aware that it has to diversify. The significant installed base of computers, tablets and smartphones in T&T need to be leveraged to another level, perhaps through a national campaign to encourage the learning of coding and other Internet based development tools.

It’s ill-considered and shortsighted to think that money harvested from book and computer purchases will somehow improve the country’s revenue earning prospects faster than encouraging those technology owners to press that computing power to interesting and productive use.

Only people who don’t understand the transformative power of technology move to restrict its use and acquisition through taxation.