alexa High taxes on paper and VAT have made books luxury items - Daily Nation

High taxes on paper and VAT have made books luxury items

Friday January 1 2016

Children reading.  PHOTO | FILE

Children reading. PHOTO | FILE  

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I recently walked into a printing press excitedly with two book titles in my briefcase. I wanted the two books printed. The first title was the most talked about, After 4.30. The second one was titled Successful Composition Writing, which I wrote for young people in schools.

The printer picked up his calculator in order to give me the costing. After a while, he came up with his reasonable figure, crying: “This is how much each title will cost your publishing house as per the units you mentioned.”

“That’s not bad,” I gladly responded.

However, he jumped to tell me: “Professor, that’s not the final figure. The government is on our necks. It is demanding that VAT must be added to the figure.”

He pushed up the figure before me and told me: “That’s what your publishing house must pay us for the job.”

Nevertheless, I placed the order for the printing. But later, when I sat down to calculate and the sale price per unit of each book, I knew I had to put pass on the VAT to the consumer of the book.


Then, as if adding insult into an injury, I had to consider the fact that the government requires that bookshops also add VAT on each sold book. In other words, the first VAT to the book was done by the printer. The second VAT is put on by the bookseller — hence double VAT.

In other words, when you are buying a book, including school books, you are paying to the government not only double VAT, but the custom duty imposed on imported paper for printing those books.

In terms of educating the masses through reading, in terms of developing the reading culture of the nation, the government tax is destructive.

Both After 4.30 and Successful Composition Writing books are now out and in market; but they are sold at a price that, being made in a developing nation, is unacceptable. Obviously, the books will be out of the reach of the poor. It is not the publisher who is over-pricing books. It is the government dictating those prices and subscribing to promoting underdevelopment.

In developed countries, reading material is exempted from taxes. How come our government can afford to throw out the baby with the bathwater?

In a recent interview by Dr Thom Odhiambo on renowned author Nurdin Farrah, speaking about the Al-Shabaab and Somalis, Farrah proverbially dismissed the Al-Shabaab saying, “This is a small fraction of dogs suffering from rabies.”

We can import that metaphor to say that the Kenyan administration has dogs suffering from a kind of rabies called development unconsciousness.

One elderly criminologist with a deep knowledge of the tools employed by rogue governments on its opponents told me: “If you are difficult, the government has three methods for catching you.

Knowing that land is invaluable to everybody in this part of the world, the government will buy your silence by bribing you with a piece of land. The second method is by trapping you with an irresistible woman armed with the arsenal of overpowering you. The third method is by blackmailing you and sending you to prison.”

Nobody has been hit harder by the cost of education materials than school children. In the old golden government times, books were exempted from VAT. The government used to supply books to schools. The quality of education was high and the reading

culture had a future. Then one day, the government went rogue in the name of giving free education by adopting cost-sharing. The government withdrew the school book scheme partially and advised parents to share the burden by buying books for their

children. There was no consideration that many parents could not really afford to buy those books. This devalued the quality of education. The ‘haves’ opted to send their children to private schools.


It didn’t take long before the rogue government went after the poor readers by deciding to tax paper and adding the VATs mentioned above.

As of today, the government is playing the dirty game of trying to buy citizens’ trust by promising to supply schools not only with books but with computers, yet the government would put more value to education by withdrawing taxes from reading material.

The added VAT to reading materials is destroying the publishing industry, too. The beneficiaries will be foreign publishers. Woe unto writers. Those who are trying to be writers should come to terms with how difficult it is to succeed when they take their manuscripts to publishers.

Publishers are sending manuscripts back to authors with rejection notes. It is becoming too expensive for a publisher to put a book on the market.

General readership has been thrown to the backyard in favour of school books purely for commercial reasons. Publishers work with bank money that demands high interests.

Our government has made books luxury items, but with grave consequences. Visit bookshops and see how rarely book buyers walk in. There was a time you could drop in at Text Book Centre in Nairobi at any time of the year and find crowds of book buyers. Not any more.

If only the looted money at NYS had been spent on buying books… If only custom duty on paper and VAT was removed to make books affordable to citizens … Or if only the money being spend on luxurious travel by the government officials had been channelled towards helping publishers… If only the funds supporting the bloated number of MPs…

Where is the foresight of the government?