Private sector groups want 2-year tax relief on digital devices

Private sector groups want 2-year tax relief on digital devices

Saturday, October 24, 2020

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SOME of the country's major private sector groups yesterday jointly urged the Government to remove “all duties and taxes” on digital devices for at least two years.

The call came from the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), the Jamaica Manufacturers & Exporters Association (JMEA), the Business Process Outsourcing Industry of Jamaica (BPIAJ), the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), the Council of Voluntary and Social Services (CVSS), and the Micro, Small, and Medium-Sized (MSME) Alliance. They are seeking tax relief on imported “mobile and digital equipment, mobile phones, software, tablets, computers and related accessories, peripherals and other digital devices”. They have called for a removal of the common external tariff (CET) and a lowering of General Consumption Tax (GCT).

“Our call urgent response to the acceleration of the COVID-19 pandemic locally. The global pandemic has made Internet connectivity as critical to modern life as electricity and water,” they said in a release. “Without connectivity, in this time of COVID, schools across the island are being forced to reopen digitally without the means for their students to learn in that format. Digital devices have now become indispensable, and we need to address, with urgency, the inequality in connectivity. Those who can afford it will already have purchased the equipment they need for the new school year, if not long before, leaving the rest behind.”

They pointed to a similar move by Trinidad and Tobago two weeks ago, a decision they hailed as “a bold tangible step to achieve their digital agenda and diversify their economy, and specifically to assist with the devices needed for remote schooling”.

But here at home the Andrew Holness-led Administration has made it clear it believes a blanket reduction in taxes and duties offers no guarantee that those most in need of the reprieve will benefit. The Government has opted, instead, to purchase and distribute the equipment. Under the ongoing Tablets in Schools Programme, for example, more than 200 students in Portland received devices on Thursday. Another 714 students in the parish are set to benefit, according to a release from the JIS. The Government began the distribution of 40,000 tablets to students on Programme of Advancement through Health and Education (PATH) on October 2.

Yesterday, local business interests pointed to the need to act quickly, citing the Trinidadian arm of accounting giant PricewaterhouseCooper's response to the roll-out of the tax relief in that country.

“Pricewaterhouse Trinidad noted that while normally relief is better addressed outside the tax regime, in this instance 'immediate relief is critical in a time of crisis' and this measure 'alleviates the administrative and logistical burden of reaching all vulnerable ones in our society',” said the local private sector groups in a release.

They also noted that the pandemic has highlighted the gaps in efforts to make Jamaica a “digital economy”, one that is at the forefront of transforming Latin America and the Caribbean.

“[This] can only occur if all our stakeholders have access to the digital tools needed to become a knowledge-driven economy. The tax relief outlined will provide concrete help to numerous small entrepreneurs, who unlike most larger companies, may not have sufficient funds to buy the equipment they need to adapt to our new digital reality,” said the release.

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