MPS call for no VAT on sanitary pads

2016-09-18 06:00
Parliament. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Parliament. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Johannesburg - Female MPs from across the political spectrum united this week to send a strong message to Treasury to remove VAT from the cost of sanitary towels, saying it was overdue and a basic human right.

MPs were incensed when Treasury officials told them that VAT exemption was not an option, and would erode the tax base and thereby reduce the ability of the VAT system to generate the necessary tax revenue.

Treasury officials, who were briefing Parliament’s joint multiparty women’s caucus on Wednesday on the proposal for a VAT exemption on sanitary towels and gender-based budgeting, asked MPs to look at options that were more likely to achieve their objectives than the VAT exemption.

MPs would not hear any of it. One after the other lashed out at Treasury, asserting that sanitary towels were a basic need that all women – rich and poor – should have access to.

The ANC’s Rosina Semenya said: “It’s not a choice; women are forced to use sanitary towels. Remove this tax from sanitary towels for all.”

ANC MP Nkhensani Kubayi said that after the outcry from women and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), she expected Treasury to propose a solution to the matter.

“We are not going to leave this issue to NGOs and fold our arms as government.”

Kubayi also cited studies that showed that millions of girls missed school because they could not afford to buy sanitary items during their menstrual cycles.

“I say it is not a luxury; it’s a need,” she said.

The Inkatha Freedom Party’s Liezl van der Merwe, who has raised this issue on many platforms in Parliament, reminded Treasury that in his state of the nation address in 2011, President Jacob Zuma promised provision of free services related to sanitary towels for the indigent.

“Why it is that, five years on, the Treasury has not yielded the call of the president?” she asked.

“If the department of health can successfully roll out free condoms, even flavoured ones; ones that are not noisy, ones that are funky and fun; why are schoolgirls being denied their constitutional right to education because they cannot access sanitary towels?” she asked.

But it was senior ANC MP Thoko Didiza who emphasised human dignity as a principle that government had to fulfil.

“What we are saying is that there are examples in which, as government, we made deliberate decisions that address that principle,” said Didiza.

“In 1994, I don’t think it was a mistake that president Nelson Mandela made a pronouncement that pregnant women can go to a public hospital without any fees,” she said.

Didiza said when it came to a woman’s health and rights, doing away with VAT on sanitary pads would be a progressive step by government.

“The argument I am hearing from Treasury is that this is one instrument in which you are able to collect more tax; but we are dealing with issues of dignity,” she said.

Didiza argued that women in sectors such as farming went through horrid experiences during menstruation.

Ismail Momoniat, head of the tax and financial sector policy division at Treasury, told MPs that because tax had an important redistribution function, the state would be undermining its objectives by lowering the tax on sanitary pads.

He said the lowering of tax would mean the rich got a bigger benefit than poor people because rich people paid more taxes in monetary terms.

Momoniat said the solution would be a more targeted expenditure, where a budget would be made available either through the department of health or possibly through the departments of education to make sanitary pads freely available at schools, universities and other learning institutions.

Yanga Mputa, the director of Treasury’s tax policy unit, warned MPs that acceding to their demand would create a precedent for interest groups to lobby Treasury for preferential treatment.

“They will come and say ‘you did this for sanitary towels, what about books and what about this’,” he said.

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Read more on:    parliamant  |  treasury  |  nkhensani kubayi  |  rosina semenya  |  vat  |  sanitary pads

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