V A T: A much closer look!

Who has any idea what’s written on that billboard anyway?

Even as Minister for Tourism Lorne Theophilus was brushing aside people’s natural anxiety, during a TV interview this week over the implementation of VAT here on October 1, a member of his “caring and compassionate” government as he put it appeared just as restless as some of us on the matter.

Well, at least when asked about VAT on computers! Minister of Education Robert Lewis appeared dumbfounded and as nervous as cat in a restaurant of their best allies when asked to comment on the matter.

Was Robert Lewis as lost as many of us were and will continue to be over the next few weeks and months as to what is exempt, what is zero rated and what will go up?

So I really did not feel that bad when a local supermarket charged me VAT based on my total bill, which included 15 percent on chicken, which of course is supposed to be exempt! A visit to the VAT office on Wednesday helped me clear the air on that and thankfully I got a refund from the supermarket and now I am little wiser and a few dollars richer, which no doubt will go back to VAT this weekend!

I also asked on behalf of the minister whether computers attracted the 15 percent VAT. A very cooperative officer Baron Deterville confirmed that indeed they do, so too do bread and medication. While ladies will pay more for sanitary napkins and products of the sort, condoms which the AIDS office have in abundance to give away, do not attract VAT.

However, members of the public from all walks of life continue to express concern this week that the “caring and compassionate” government spoken about would impose VAT on prescription drugs and computers even while promising to advance the education system through ICT into the technological age.

Here are a few bites from the Saint Lucia Labour Party’s manifesto, taken from the sections “Youth Development” and Human and Social Development, on things they will do:

* Revising the secondary school curriculum and the methods of teaching to ensure that our education system meets the needs of a 21st Century economy and is attractive to the children of this digital era.

* Ensuring subjects like… Information Technology… feature more prominently in the education curriculum.

* Expanding the availability of training for young people in the use of ICTs so that they are better prepared for work in a technology-driven world.

* We will establish fully equipped computer labs in all primary schools on the island with broadband access to the Internet, and ensure that every classroom in every primary school has access to a computer with internet access.

* Make greater use of technology and other innovative teaching methods.

* Provide every secondary school student, upon entering fourth form, with a laptop computer.

Juxtapose these with a 15 percent imposition of VAT on computers and the reasoning is as mind boggling as why the VAT implementation office would place billboards with information high up on the Blue Coral building. Maybe it’s a sign of the times that soon many things including information will indeed be unattainable in this country. Haven’t we learnt anything from the massive En Rouge Campaign?

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