A Tax on Books is Outright Madness

The new gas tax added in the latest Jamaican national budget is bad but when you tax reading material including text books this has to come from a government that has gone mad and is intent on helping the poor to get poorer. Christopher Kennedy, president of the Customs Brokers Association calls it “a retrograde step”. At the same time legislating illiteracy above the present 25 per cent is idiotic economics and politics.

No well thinking person in Jamaica should ever contemplate putting a tax on reading material/books. I call on Mr O Bruce Golding prime minister of all Jamaica, the Minister of Finance Audley Shaw and Mr Andrew Holness Minister of Education to immediately give and support instructions to remove the General Consumption Tax from books/reading material as this is a bad idea. Our present government like a People’s National Party government when faced with a similar dilemma listened to reason from the then Jamaica Labour Party in opposition along with other interest groups and rolled it back to exempt status.

The book industry in Jamaica needs a stimulus package to encourage the manufacturing of books locally. Currently most of our literary material is not printed in Jamaica even when the content is of Jamaican origin. Books are printed in China, Singapore, Korea, India Thailand, United States, Canada, Australia, Great Britain and Trinidad. The book industry should be made a tax exempt industry from raw material to final product under a Book Industry Incentives Act. We are talking about export earnings, import substitution and the creation of jobs. Karl Samuda, Minister of industry, Investment and Commerce let me hear you on this one: “Read Jamaican build Jamaica .”

Most books get to the consumers through the more than 2,000 bookshops island wide which are responsible for the movement of books through the corners and crevices of Jamaica. This industry employs at least 50,000 persons directly and indirectly. A GCT on books is not only a threat to education and national development but a threat to the livelihood of many by forcing out the majority of small entrepreneurs by putting financing out of their reach and leaving the under half a dozen large operators to monopolize the business.

It can be reasonably concluded that a tax on books is outright madness, and as Franklin McGibbon, chairman of the Book Industry Association of Jamaica points out, it would present an administrative nightmare at all levels. A book tax is definitely not in the interest of a nation where reading should be encouraged at all levels not only in churches but in homes, on the corners, on the buses, at the beach etc. Taxation should not be used as a hindrance but as a tool for encouraging growth, development and building a nation, or, are we building a hut?

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Apparently, the CLOSING OF THE JAMAICAN MIND is the rationale for the literacy tax on the part of the current administration. A tax on books will only add to DUMBING DOWN of the society. A society that/which is already plagued and exhibiting considerable levels of illiteracy among its denizens.

The government needs to revisit and seriously reconsider the removal of taxes from books and in so doing, this will take some of the financial pressures and burden off various groups within the society regarding the purchasing of sundry types of books.

If the government is interested in recouping such losses from the tax(es) on books, surely, a sin tax in the form of alcohol and cigarettes would/could be applicable. Remarkably, the government has not instituted a sin tax, but a literacy tax, one wonders why. Indeed, explanations should be forthcoming on the part of the government, as to why a literacy tax on books, but no sin taxes on alcohol or cigarettes.

Interestingly, a sin tax will even save the government funds re health costs of such consumers in the medium to long term as a consequence of the price elasticity of demand. Quite frankly, the government needs to rescind the book tax instantaneously. It does not require a rocket scientist to figure out that the government is grossly wrong regarding taxes on books, specifically, in light of the literacy conditions which obtains in Jamaica, today. The government should be OPENING UP THE JAMAICAN MIND as opposed to the inverse of CLOSING THE JAMAICAN MIND via the imposition of taxes on books. Nuff respect!!

Toby  Griffins

The Govt. had better think twice about closing some small rural schools. The same government did, for economic reasons before and that is a part of the history of education. Is this government living up to its past reputation of not caring about educating the masses? I warn the powers that be, closing schools will come back to haunt you when you least expect it to. You put no thought into taxing books now read history and put some thought into closing schools.

Oliver Hunter

I disagree with a tax on books for personal reasons as I am a buyer of books. However I do not necessarily agree with the sentiment that it will further reduce literacy levels.

People who are illiterate are so mainly because of inadequate exposure to educational opportunities not because of books being expensive. As a matter of fact I am of the view that the finance minister is extremely optimistic about getting increased revenue from the sale of books.

Jamaicans are not in general a literary society. Any author dependent on the Jamaican market for a living would starve to death no matter the brilliance of the book. Look at the readership estimates of the island’s newspapers proportionate to the population and I think the figures will prove my point.

The real controversy is the defining of what is educational and what is not. This provides a lot of opportunity for the imposing of personal biases on public policy.

Richard G. Williams

The Golding government is not taxing textbooks. As issued by the Office of the Prime Minister on Friday, May 1, 2009, the direct JIS quote is, “he said books required for educational purposes will not attract taxes. But he said there were some grey areas as there may be some books that are educational but may not be prescribed by tertiary institutions or on the Ministry of Education’s list. Mr. Golding said efforts would be made by government to shelter those from the GCT. People who wish to read leisure/pleasure magazines every month, must pay some GCT as it would be unfair to ask poor people to bear these taxes, Mr. Golding said.”

I do have concern for GCT being applied to purchases of computers only by or through academic institutions. I understand PM Golding’s argument that “Computers can be a learning tool but the majority of the computers being brought into the island are not being used for learning.” However, computer literacy in this high-tech, Information Age is a must for Jamaica to compete not only with advanced countries, but with Third World nations (such as Belize that dropped taxes and import duties in the 1980s) that see its dual benefits of learning and technological growth (e.g., the use of G.I.S. mapping and statistical programs in enhancing farming and improving public health).

There is already a “sin” tax on alcohol and cigarettes via GCT, excise, trade tariffs, and customs duties. I have confidence in our tax policy makers that they have carefully studied that area and recognized that there is little or no elasticity without invoking a greater social cost via the illegal or underground trade, which will lead to greater gun running and substitution via increased use and/or trade in controlled substances such as ganja or other more lethal narcotics such as the resurging LSD. I also believe they are aware of the failure of the US to ban alcohol that influenced cross border trading and the rise of the mafia as well as the use of Caribbean islands as trans-shipment points; and, the covert use of secret services to punish nations that heavily restrict vices such as casinos.

Dennis Stephens

I really am still amazed that Bruce and his lot lack imagination and are so short-sighted. Maybe there is some truth in the belief that the average IQ in Parliament is significantly less than 100. This is possibly the proof, and I am willing to bet that very few, on both sides of the aisle, regularly read anything.

Richard G. Williams

It looks like the Golding administration saw its shadow (Sister P in black?). Instead of a differentiated tax for various tobacco and alcohol products ranged from 16% to 30%, they set a grouped, median, 25% Special Consumption Tax (SCT). They also contradicted their earlier justification for not “increasing” taxes on these products, most of which are produced in Jamaica, unless this SCT does not apply to local products.

I hope this SCT is an additional “sin” tax, but from what I have read, it appears to be a consolidated tax. If so, their retreat will lead to a severe revenue shortfall. Stalin would have told them to dig their own graves if they planned to retreat. Since they choose not to rollback the fuel-transportation taxes, which impacts the cost of food and basic goods, the incidence of the new taxes is squarely upon the poor and middle class (j-uppies).

A historic one-term government is now conceivable… Sister P and Dr. O, get ready to rumbleeeeee…


Tell me what those two did for the poor in the 18 years? Only love them?

Richard G. Williams

Griffins – It is best for you to directly ask Sister P and Dr. O that question. Who do you think did anything for the poor over the last 18 years? Are you involved in or contribute to community organizations and churches that directly help the poor such as Food for the Poor and Salvation Army? Do you buy or give food and/or clothing to a poor person? Have you ever taken a homeless person off the street and paid for a stay in a hotel?

Successive Jamaican government policies and programs from independence have been designed to lessen the burden of the poor and improve their status. Most Jamaicans often overlook or take for granted public education, which during Sister P’s service under “Joshua” was extended down to the basic schools and daycare (to support single parents) and upward to free college education for those who could not afford to study abroad. You must remember that education is a privilege and not a right in.

Another area is Health and Nutrition: again under “Joshua” via Sister P’s service, just about every community had access to a free health clinic which provided the necessary medical treatment and nutritional support for pregnant and lactating women. Some of Jamaica’s middle class took that nutritional support (soya and bulgur products, as well as priced supported basic food items) to feed their dogs while poor people starved, suffered, and struggled to survive. Children attending our public schools received government prepared meals as it was acknowledged that “yu ca larn pan ungry belli.”

This should help answer your question but this should not be taken as my endorsing any political party or icon, as the other parties and icons also made poignant contributions to alleviate poverty in Jamaica and throughout the Third World during their tenure in office. Jamaicans take too much for granted do to insular thinking. It helps to visit or study (in) other countries and participate in service organization in order to see reality. The point you missed is that the JLP has now shown weakness that will lead to the strengthening of Sister P and the rise of Dr. O as the PNP’s key figures for the next government.

Oliver Hunter

The idea that the giving of free soy and bulgar shows care for the poor is at best condescending, at worst despicable.
And by the way I remember paying at the health clinic during “Joshua’s” leadership. Also there is a huge difference between access to a school building and the provision of education – the former does not necessarily lead to the other.

The best way to help the poor is to assist in elevating them from poverty. Bulgar and a conveyor belt school system does not contribute to this effort. The upliftment of the Jamaican people and creation of a just and orderly society has never been high on any administration’s agenda since independence.

To believe otherwise is to have a very low expectation of government.

Richard G. Williams

Oliver – You have proven my case that Jamaicans often “overlook and take for granted” ongoing efforts by our governments to provide a variety of programs to relive the burden on the poor and to make sure that all our children have an equal opportunity to get a basic education. This perspective is coming from a non-PNP person who does not support Sister P, but one who recognizes and applauds her and their collective efforts to improve the status of Jamaica and other Third World (e.g., ACP) nations.

When the Israelites were miraculously freed from slavery and released from bondage in Egypt, they bickered, bitched, and moaned that they had to make an effort to get to the Promised Land. On their journey they cried out for the unhealthy, waste and scraps of food the Egyptians used to throw at them. The Lord provided them with a rich source of protein (quail) and fortified bread (manna), but they continued to be ungrateful, such that many choked and died while they grumbled and complained.

Eventually, that generation that refused to acknowledge God’s provisions, power, and mercy, ended up walking in circles and died before they reached the Promised Land. You have chosen to highlight a few misunderstood areas while rejecting the overall efforts made by successive governments just at those Israelites rejected the Almighty’s protection and provisions for his favored people, extended to us, his adopted.

Soy and bulgur products have risen to become the primary alternatives to wheat and barley products throughout the world. They can be easily grown in the tropical and equatorial regions (e.g., ACP and Southern hemisphere), and we got them free for the poor and anyone who wished to shift from dependence on the traditional, high cost, imported wheat and barley products. Throughout the advanced/highly developed world, varieties of soy and bulgur products can now be found on supermarket shelves as premium, health enhancing/improving products.

We could choose to get enriched soy and bulgur products for free or pay for something else, but many were too rigid in thought and resistant to change to see the benefits?

Medical care and approved medicines were free in those health centers. There were some cases when a few misguided clinics charged a service fee but that was stopped when the PNP government was notified – it was the JLP government that imposed a service charge and an education cess. I spent lots of time helping in rural, urban, and inner-city clinics across the island, as my mother was a Senior Public Health Nurse.

As for schools, you need only look some 90 or so miles away to respect our national achievements and goal of having everyone “standing from an equal gate.” Many young and poor nations like ours have a high level of illiteracy, but ours, during the seventies, was better than the United State’s. We are blessed that our fore parents emphasized education as a means to evolve for slavery and servitude to strive towards developing a progressive and productive nation (“Wi likkle bu wi tallawah”).

Many of our peer nations do not have enough classrooms (much less schools) to protect, serve, and educate their children. We are fortunate to have had centuries of education for the children of freed slaves such as Wolmers with over 280 years of such. When teachers were given the opportunity to earn a bachelors degree, tuition free, to enhance their classroom skills, yet many left education to sell insurance, work in banks, or migrate; who then is responsible for your so-called “conveyor belt” school system?

When successive government expanded access to primary and secondary education (through UNESCO funding and Cuban built schools via barter trade) to accommodate the rapidly growing population, some fathered by JA men who put the Panther on their big toe and sought virgins to cure their STDs, who then is responsible for not sending their children to school and having them be idle during their formative years?

Our governments have provided the means to teach a man to fish, rather than to just give them fish (or “bred”) when they are hungry. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot force them to drink. We have to “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery” that we have imposed upon ourselves. We need to stop thinking critically (i.e., finding fault and blaming others) but instead do critical thinking (i.e., careful evaluation and problem solving); and work collectively and cooperatively utilizing our God given gifts while recognizing our fore parents and elders who laid the foundations.


Have a great weekend.

Oliver Hunter

Richard Williams – I will ignore the soy, manna and quail gibberish.

Re – Health Clinics.
Here is a challenge – visit one of them, get attended to and still go to work for even half a day. When you have accomplished that task then you can boast about our wonderful health care.

Re – Education
You seem to presume that school buildings represent the nucleus of the educational system. Therefore as long as there are x number of schools, even if they turn out mostly illiterates it doesnt matter, our system is still first class.

These matters are not best addressed by whitewash and silly biblical analogies.

Joshua Spencer

The tax placed on recreational books by the current administration is another worrying move. It is indeed a wrong move. Recreational books, like the so-called non-recreational books, or text books, do have positive impacts on our children on nation as a whole. In younger children and adolescents, they usually embark upon reading recreationally before going on to heavy non-fiction materials. It is from these recreational reading exposures that most individuals develop a love for reading and to read more academically based materials.

A document, entitled “Reading for Pleasure: A Research Overview” by Clark, Christina and Rumbold, Kate, National Literacy Trust, Novemmber 2006, had this to say:

“… Although reading for pleasure has not been a research priority,studies are accumulating that emphasise the importance of reading for pleasure for both educational and personal development.” The paper continues, “For example, research with children has shown that reading for pleasure is positively linked with the following literacy-related benefits:

reading attainment and writing ability (OECD 2000)for reading that is done both in school and out of school (Krashen,1993; Anderson, et al 1988)
text comprehension and grammar(Cipielewski,& Stanovich,1992); Cox and Guthrie, 2001)
breadth of vocabulary (Angelos & McGriff, 2002), even after other relevant abilities such as IQ or text-coding skills are controlled for (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998)
positive reading attitudes (Guthrie and Aldermann, 1999)which are linked to achievement in reading (McKenna & Kear), 1990)
greater self-selfconfidence as a reader (Guthrie and Alvermann, 1999)
pleasure reading in later life (Aarnoutse & Leeuwe, 1999)
In light of the above studies and many others that have proven that reading; recreational and non-recreational, are essential for literacy among other positive factors, the current Jamaican administration should rollback its tax on these educational materials.

Richard G. Williams

Oliver it is obvious that your mind is not open to new facts and that you do not respect other’s experience and knowledge. As per health clinics, I not only helped in various clinics across JA but I even slept in one in Manchoniel over summer holidays. I have also helped at urban clinics such as Tivoli and Trench Town, and rural clinics such as Alexandria and Bito. You may have had a bad experience at one of hundreds of health centers/clinics, but one bad apple does not spoil the whole bunch.

I have spent whole days at hospitals and many a half-day at private doctors in the US, so your experience is the worldwide healthcare norm. In some cases in the US, you will not be seen that day if there are many trauma/emergency cases that “bump” you. I will not hesitate to commend our fine Nurses who, despite threats to their life, body, and family, they professionally took care of those who made those threats, many of who were at death’s door and could have been terminated by just ignoring them.

Instead of complaining, bitching, and moaning, you need to get out of your shell and comparatively observe how health care is delivered in poor versus advanced countries, and especially how governments of poor countries develop strategies to successfully manage the health of their people with limited funding and few highly trained persons. You should do this if you wish to learn about Public Healthcare Policy in JA. But I bet you will only have a flippant comment that ignores facts and reality.

Oliver Hunter

Mr. Williams, from your description of Jamaica’s Health care system, I suspect we do not live in the same country (Jamaica). You can set me straight on that one.

You are of the view that successive governments have done exceedingly well in the areas of health and education. I am of the view that they have done an average job in health and an atrocious job in education. It’s not that I do not trust the knowledge of others but given the choice between the statement of others and facts as experienced through my five senses, I would obviously have a bias to mine.

Let’s agree to disagree.

Richard G. Williams

Oliver –You have misrepresented my comments claiming that I said that our governments have done exceedingly well when nothing of that sort was said. You strayed away from Tobi’s question of what was done for the poor in 18 years, and you demonstrate great anger against Jamaica, which really is FEAR. The main issue is that you cannot counter the facts and hard evidence that “successive” Jamaican governments have instituted many policies and programs to help the poor and educate our people.

None of my comments said that they did a consistent or good job. When you read my previous comments and my own articles do, you will find we may be in agreement with the quality of our educational and health system. However, I will always defend Jamaica’s efforts, encourage improvements, and acknowledge our successes that some Jamaicans conveniently forget then spread misleading negative news abroad.

As a researcher and teacher of public policy, one person’s five-sense is not sufficient for induction or deduction or to assess cause and effect. You need evidence and good documentation to understand why our system was created, how it operates, identify the problems, develop solutions, use appropriate techniques to choose the optimal solutions, prioritize implementation in respect to need and funding levels, conduct periodic reviews, then make appropriate changes.

This approach combines the scientific method with the continuous improvement model. My comments will never follow a “blog” mentality but will seek truth, bring facts, and different perspectives as well as new information. I encourage you to do the same if you really want Jamaica and its people to succeed in the 21st Century and beyond. We must also increase our tolerance of different perspective and respect each other’s views.


Tell me Richard and Oliver do you teach? I know Richard asked if I am involved in community work. Are you? For you might have never heard of me, but neither have I EVER heard of Richard Williams and Oliver Hunter. I do not call radio talk shows because if I open my mouth the entire Jamaica will know who I am. I spoke to an attendant in a supermarket last week, and a young lady turned around and said, ‘I know that voice’.

I ASKED HER A QUESTION AND SHE GAVE A REPLY. The next thing she did was to give me a hug and she said, ‘What you did left an impression on me and I was only a little girl then. I asked what she is doing now and I encouraged her to be the best in her field of endeavour. I will not call Mark or Kadene, for I have touched lives across the length and breath of Jamaica and globally.

Do not worry about me, ask yourself if you have changed one thing in a positive way in this country. I know what I have done, what I am doing and those who recognize my work know it too. Most important is that God knows. You have a great day.

Richard G. Williams

Tobi – I am sorry that you were hurt by certain comments. You are also included among those I commend/applaud who have and continue to contribute towards the development and growth of Jamaica.

I do teach (a gift from childhood; from K-12 to university level) and do community work (up to my eyeballs). I too have had my former students, some which I may vaguely remember, stop and thank me. Fortunately, I do not have to again encourage them.

I too do not seek the limelight for myself but will highlight Jamaica’s positives and negatives, with balance, as I try to encourage positive, sustained change. Nevertheless, thanks again for your contributions.


Richard you cannot hurt me, Where do you teach? In Jamaica? But my dear Richard the young lady I spoke about was never a student of mine, so please do not assume for you know what assumptions make of me and you? If you have never heard that one work it out. Keep writing. Exposing the crap can only make things better. Have a good evening.

Richard G. Williams

Toby – It’s the blog mentality again! To be understood clearly you need to write precisely; that’s why Oliver and you buck up. Exposing the truth is more important than only exposing crap as he/she who delves in crap will be surrounded by crap. I too can say I have never heard of a Toby Griffins despite travelling across the length and breath of Jamaica. It is unfortunate that you did not receive my blind compliment to you.

Oliver Hunter

Mr. Griffins – to answer your question – No I do not teach (I’m not bright enough). And I am just a lowly citizen living in the rural parts of the country, trying to make ends meet. Therefore it is extremely unlikely that you would have heard of me. I agree with you about exposing crap – pretending it’s not there does not help anybody.


Good morning my friends, Richard and Oliver, do not let old Toby get under your skin, I a as harmless as a dove. I just love how you both keep the dialogue going. It will be a rainbow day when we three can drink a pint blokes. Looking forward to that day.

Oliver Hunter

Now there is a “pint” we can agree on. Cheers fellows!


Good thing we can share and compliment each other. The struggle is tough, but we can laugh in spite of the situation.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
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