Thursday 26 November, 2020

No removal of taxes on electronic learning devices - Fayval Williams

Fayval Williams (File photo)

Fayval Williams (File photo)

Citing financial reasons, Minister of Education, Youth and Information, Fayval Williams, has indicated that the Government will not be entertaining calls for the removal of taxes on tablets and other electronic learning devices.

A number of leading private sector organisations, including the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), the Jamaica Manufacturers’ and Exporters’ Association (JMEA), as well as the business process outsourcing sector and the Jamaica Teachers' Association JTA), have called on the Government to remove the duties and taxes on devices such as tablets, laptops and smart phones for a period of two years.

The groups and organisations said hundreds of thousands of children nationally are without a device that would allow them t o continue their education online, a position that the groups argue is untenable.

But while speaking to the media following the handing-over of tablets to students in Manchester on Friday, Williams argued that the removal of taxes from those electronic devices would not be a viable financial option.

"So let me say that from a tax planning and tax policy perspective, to take duties wholesale off a product or sector is not the preferred way that the minister of finance or the prime minister have articulated that they would like to go," she stated.

Finance Minister, Dr Nigel Clarke

Instead, Williams said the Government has opted to target the education sector by providing electronic devices to students who are in need of them.

"So for instance, there is a need in the education sector for devices, but instead of removing the duties so everybody can get a benefit who may not need that benefit, what are we doing? We are targeting the education sector and we are giving the students who need the benefit," she explained.

"We are handing them the tablets, we gonna be handing... our PATH students the laptops, (and) we are taking other steps to give $20,000 towards the purchase (of electronic devices).

"So we are being very targeted, rather than being broad-based and essentially giving all kinds of people who don't need the benefit. So that's how we go forward with that," Williams stated.

Last week the education ministry announced that it was moving to provide approximately 36,000 needy Jamaican students with a $20,000 subsidy in the form of an e-voucher towards the purchase of an electronic device under the ‘Own Your Own Device Incentive Programme’. The monetary value of the overall initiative is in the region of $720 million.

The beneficiaries of the programme are students in primary and secondary schools across the island who are not part of the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).

Thousands of students under the PATH, a welfare programme, are already being provided with an electronic device to ensure they do not fall behind in their lessons due to the closure of schools as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But while Williams disclosed that the Government will not be removing taxes from electronic learning devices for students, another section of the education sector last week called for a concession to be granted to them for the purchase of such devices.

In an interview with Loop News, President the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), Jasford Gabriel, expressed the view that the Government should provide some form of concession for teachers for them to acquire electronic devices in light of the fact that they have been forced to conduct classes online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Education Ministry is yet to publicly respond to that call.

Government distributed tablets to some educators across the island earlier this year.

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