CALLS for the authorities to remove import taxes from tablets and computers are falling on deaf ears, according to information gathered from a reliable source close to policy development in the Government.
The source said that companies and individuals who are concerned about access to tablets and computers used for online classes under COVID-19 conditions should, instead, make donations to charitable organisations such as Food For the Poor.
Food For the Poor and other such entities which operate on a non-profit basis and which are registered with the Department of Co-operatives and Friendly Societies (DCFS), import equipment and other goods duty-free. However, local business leaders are still calling on the Government to increase access to the learning tools by doing away with the import duties. Sources at the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce last week reiterated their call for a 24-month time period in which duties should be lifted from tablets and computers.
They cited an earlier release from the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) Limited, the Business Process Outsourcing Industry of Jamaica (BPIAJ), Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), the Council of Voluntary Social Services (CVSS), and MSME Alliance which urged the Government to “remove all duties and taxes on mobile and digital equipment, mobile phones, software, tablets, computers and related accessories, peripherals and other digital devices” for a period of at least 24 months.
A release sent to the Jamaica Observer stated that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has executed a similar measure. The call, they said, is an urgent response to the acceleration of the novel coronavirus pandemic locally.
“The pandemic has made Internet connectivity as critical to modern life as electricity and water. Without connectivity, in this time of COVID-19, schools across the island are being forced to reopen digitally without the means for their students to learn in that format,” it was stated.
The JCC spokesperson advised that the Government’s position of not acceding to the request has not changed.
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The policy advisor meanwhile told the Business Observer, “I have no problem with helping the poor, but it must be done through the right channels.” The person added, were the Government to remove taxes charged on the import and purchase of computers and tablets, those who would mostly benefit would be “Jamaicans who could afford to pay the tax, not the poor”. He stated that individuals who and companies which want to see more tablets and computers in the hands of students should make donations to registered charitable organisations, which would then be able to import the equipment without charge.
The policy analyst also said that calls for reduction in freight rates, in the context of COVID-19, were unlikely to succeed for the same reasons.
The Charities Act implemented by the Charities Authority and the Registrar of Charities, which took effect on December 24, 2013, provides benefits through companies registered with the Department of Co-operatives and Friendly Societies (DCFS).
There are over 1000 such companies in Jamaica, including Food For the Poor, Bread Basket Ministries, the Salvation Army and more.
Benefits to organisations registered under the Charities Act include no import duties, no general consumption tax (GCT), only 50 per cent of the applicable customs administration fee (CAF), and no stamp duty or additional stamp duty (ASD).
On the connected issue of making data access free for the poor, the Jamaica Observer reached out to the Ministry of Education but there had been no response up to press time. It has been reported that many students who could have been given a tablet, or who have been given one, are unable to attend online classes because their parents do not have Internet service or cannot afford to purchase data to use the units. They therefore remain out of classes.
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