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More VAT=Fewer Books

The quality of education in Kenya might soon be watered down as many children in public schools will go to class without the necessary books, following The Government’s decision to introduce Value Added Tax (VAT) on textbooks. It also proposes to impose 16 per cent VAT on exercise books as well.

The Value Added Tax Bill 2011 proposes to remove printed books from the VAT zero-rated goods category. This will likely raise the prices of textbooks by 50 per cent if proposals contained in the Draft Bill are approved since the VAT will have a cumulative effect along the book production and distribution chain.

As a way of protecting the frail education sector, the financial policies of many countries worldwide exclude printed books from taxation. In Kenya, paper used to print educational books is also imported duty-free.

The move comes at a bad time when Kenyans are battling with high inflation rates in order to meet even the basic needs. Experts have warned that the move is likely to lower the quality of education as textbooks will become too expensive, only to be afforded by a few parents.


As reported by Fredrick Obura of The Standard, According to the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA), the VAT Bill  would not only

Kenya Publishers Association Chairman, Mr. Lawrence Njagi.

introduce a 16 per cent VAT on books, it would also open another window subjecting imported printing materials to 25 per cent tax, which would render the industry non-competitive among peers in the East Africa region. “The impending law would increase the cost of publishing books in Kenya. Our industry imports 90 per cent of its raw materials, and is already battered by a depreciating shilling against major currencies,” said Kenya Publishers Association Chairman, Lawrence Njagi.

Mr Simon Sossion : Target Publications

Mr Simon Sossion : Target Publications

According to the managing director of Target Publications and vice-chairman of Kenya Publishers Association, Mr Simon Sossion, who expressed his views the Daily Nation, if passed into law without reinstating books under the zero-rating protection, the consequences of the 2001 VAT Bill will be trigger the erosion of the current Sh1,020 provided annually by the government to each primary school pupil for instructional materials by 90 per cent hence reducing it to a mere Sh102  which is hardly enough to buy a single textbook.

The frustrating lack of textbooks could trigger mass drop-out rates gravely injuring the country’s current 72 per cent transition rate from primary to secondary school and Kenya will suffer mass capital and book printing job flights to the region and abroad, especially India, the Far East and China.

Book piracy will become even more lucrative and a lot of businesses will go under with a devastating double impact: genuine investors will lose, and ultimately the government will lose revenue. This will seriously stifle the publishing industry.

The state has recently been blamed over woes facing the education sector. Just the other day students in private schools were sent back home when they reported to their respective schools after the August holidays, following a countrywide teachers strike. The teachers had given the government a deadline to employ more teachers, as public schools were faced with an acute shortage of teachers following an influx of students that came with the introduction of free primary education in 2003.


According to Kenya’s National Union of Teachers (KNUT), Kenya’s public schools are currently hit by a shortage of 80,000 teachers, which has resulted in a heavy workload for the available teachers. In one instance, a teacher had to cater for the needs of almost 120 pupils in a class, which is way above the official requirement of one teacher to 20 pupils.

The quality of education depends largely on the teacher-student ratio, if the ratio is wanting then quality is compromised and that is evident when national examinations results are released in December and February for both primary and secondary schools. Students in private schools are performing much better than their counterparts who are in public schools.

As reported by The Standard on Thursday September 6, teachers were threatening to paralyse learning again over delayed payment of their September salaries.

While the government’s efforts to boost the levels of education in the country have been acknowledged, it’s clear that it still needs to get its priorities right as Kenya is said to be one of the 26 countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are unlikely to achieve the education for all (EFA) target by 2015, according to Dr Beatrice Khamatui Njenga, Head Of Education Division at the Commission Of The African Union.

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October 2011
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