Monday, September 28, 2015

Zim gvt introduces import duty on books - Actions against Unesco Florence Agreement

You may be probably new to this topic, but a number of Zimbabwean Librarians got the information this September that the Zimbabwean government through Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) is charging import duty on books effective September 1, 2015.

Recently, the Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Prof Jonathan Moyo wrote to his counterpart Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa urging him to reverse the introduction of duty on books.  According to The Herald of 28 September 2015, Prof Moyo said the new import duty [on books] breached the provisions of the Unesco [Florence Agreement] Treaty of 1950 Article 1(a) and (b). By now a strong discussion in going on on Twitter under the harsh tag #importdutyonbooks .

From this statement, it appear as if the Minister of Finance and Economic Development is not aware of such an agreement which Zimbabwe signed in 1998. Under the Unesco Florence Agreement, signatory nations agree not to impose customs duties on certain educational, scientific, and cultural materials that are imported. The protocol is also known as the Nairobi Protocol. According to the protocol, “The major purpose of the Agreement and the Protocol, as their titles indicate, is to make it easier to import educational, scientific and cultural materials. They reduce tariff, tax, currency and trade obstacles to the international circulation of these materials, permitting organizations and individuals to obtain them from abroad with less difficulty and at less cost.”

From the various articles published covering the introduction of import duty on books, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, according to Stanely Mushava perceive the increase of tariffs on books would incentives the revival of the local book sector. The Minister further understands that the measure shall avail the local industry with an opportunity to invest into the requisite machinery, thereby reducing dependence on imports.” The Minister views are contrary to the interpretations of the Florence Agreement which advocates for free flow books, and cultural expressions which will promote ‘the free flow of ideas’.

The introduction of duty on books is an unfortunate event which has negative impact of libraries, schools, literacy initiatives, book donations, and book club. The libraries are heavily affected, especially University libraries, public libraries who depend on books published outside Zimbabwe which are course related and recommended course material for study. Already the library collection development activities are heavily affected by budget cuts. School libraries on the other hand, relying on donations would have to help import the books they receive from well-wishers. In the past school libraries received books donations to help build the library collections to improve reading and writing habits of students. Future donations are likely to face challenges to reach the intended beneficiaries and well-wishers are likely to pull out thereby escalating the book shortage.

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