The application of Jamaica’s General Consumption tax (GCT) to previously exempt books is causing ire among some who see the move as an attack on literacy in a country struggling to eliminate illiteracy with a less than lustrous education system.

“Hard to believe we have to take time to oppose a literary tax in this country,” wrote the organizer of an on-line protest against the imposition of the tax, Cookie Kinkead.

“If we could mobilise for saving Calabash, a three-day (literary) festival – we can get behind protesting this literacy tax,” she urged in her email seeking support for the letter writing campaign to finance minister Audley Shaw and Prime Minister Bruce Golding.

Following is the text of Kinkead’s message:

“You will have heard about the new literacy tax being imposed in Jamaica, where books, previously tax-exempt for good reason – as of Monday April 27, will now be taxed. This was attempted before in 2003 and due to swift citizen protest and strong lobbying, the attempt failed. They are now trying once more to impose a tax on books, in a country where our literacy rate is already woefully low.

“The revision issued today (April 28) is that religious materials and educational materials (as defined by the Commissioner of Inland Revenue) will be exempt. We have to make our leadership understand that the list of MOE (Ministry of Education) textbooks is too narrow a definition of “educational”. Every children’s book is educational – and reading of any book should be encouraged.

“It also presents a practical difficulty in how this would be implemented. No tax on religious and educational books…. is Mother Teresas biography a religious book? What about books by the Dalai Lama? Is a book on Caribbean politics educational? What about a great work of literature like say a copy of War and Peace? How long will it take to clear goods on the wharf as customs officers try to decipher which of the 1,000 different titles in a shipment should attract tax?

“You can make a difference today by copying the letter below into a personal e-mail. Feel free to edit and personalize it! You can send it to Audley Shaw and Bruce Golding at the following addresses: FitzAlbert_2@yahoo.com, info@cabinet.gov.jm, info@mof.gov.jm. Your voice will be heard, and it does make a difference.

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Prime Minister Golding and Minister Shaw:

As a concerned citizen, I am writing this letter to request that you and your colleagues act swiftly to repeal the tax on books. Protecting our ability to access books and affordable reading material is critical to our nation’s development.

I urge you to stand with us on this issue and keep all books affordable for the people of Jamaica. I am particularly concerned about the following:

1. That only the MOE list of approved textbooks or religious texts are exempted – This narrow definition, limited to MOE approved textbooks and books deemed religious by the Commissioner of Inland Revenue, is unacceptable. We believe that all books, especially children’s books, are of educational value.

2. That reading, books and education are not luxury items to be taxed for quick returns and short-term revenue gains. We demand that our government take a long-term view of this issue and its impact on the future of our nation.

3. That with the impact of recent devaluations, the price of books has already increased and this tax will put books beyond the reach of the average citizen..

We have the right to develop into a literate and educated society. Citizens must have access to diverse and affordable reading material. Reading of any and all types of material, must be strongly encouraged by our government.

I strongly urge you to act now to repeal this tax and allow all books and reading material to remain tax-exempt.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent request.

Sincerely,

………………………

(your name)