The Chaguanas Chamber on VAT on books and computers

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The Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce views with real concern the decision by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to impose VAT on the price of books and computers. Whilst we have already made our comments on the negative impact of VAT on food items, we feel it is necessary to stress our concern about these significant items.

We certainly appreciate the need for belt tightening and cost cutting in a number of areas so that we can help our economy to get through the difficult economic times we are dealing with currently.

However, we cannot condone a measure that will impact negatively on the country’s literacy, inclusive of technological literacy.

The imposition of VAT on a wide variety of books, with limited exceptions, sends a message to the public that reading and literacy have a price and it is now a very high price which only the very wealthy will be able to afford. This cannot be the way forward in a society where low levels of literacy can be cited as contributing factors in crime, poverty and social mobility.

To return the VAT to computers and other similar-type equipment during an era when easy access to computer technology is a must in order to keep the country globally relevant and literate, is a giant step backwards for our people.

Time and again we have been told and shown that falling behind in the age of technology would be detrimental to any country’s growth and development. A computer or tablet is no longer a luxury item, it is fundamental to the literacy of our children and to keeping our workers, our private sector, our public service, and yes, our ministers, in touch with the people and the world and on top of their game.

Additionally, we are all more than aware that technology becomes obsolete very quickly and computers and their hardware and software have to be replaced and upgraded regularly. If the cost of technology becomes so prohibitive that we are left with outdated technology in this fast-paced 21st Century, then we can be guaranteed of being left behind at a time when we should be surging forward. Certainly, our capacity for diversification will be greatly affected by a rise in the cost of keeping up with the latest technology.

The Prime Minister, the Hon Dr Keith Rowley, went on record during his first speech to the country, after being declared winner of the 2015 election, stating that he intended to make interventions in the school curriculum to encourage pride in our country. But one of the ways we encourage pride in country is by reading about our history, about those who went before us and the great literature produced by our own writers like the Naipauls, Selvon, Lovelace. When we put that out of the reach of our children and the wider population, we do our country no service.

Trinidad and Tobago’s first Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams, spoke of the future of the country being in the schoolbags of our children. That schoolbag now must hold both books and a laptop. His statement spoke of an immense vision for our future as a people and we urge Dr Rowley not to lose sight of that vision.

Richie Sookhai

President, CCIC