VAT on education…AFC escapes voting against APNUThe Alliance For Change (AFC) arm of the coalition Government has been freed from its political dilemma after Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland, disallowed the Opposition motion on the removal of the Value Added Tax (VAT) on private education.Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton ScotlandPressure was mounted on the minority party to support the motion in light of several of its public pronouncements in solidarity with stakeholders who have been vigorously calling for the removal of the education tax.The motion was submitted to the Clerk of the National Assembly by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) on April 27, and was expected to come up for debate at the upcoming sitting on Monday.Letter informing PPP that the motion against VAT on private education was disallowedThe motion, which was to be moved by former Education Minister Priya Manickchand, stated that impact of the onerous budgetary measures has caused great consternation and anxiety for parents and students, and the future of students’ rights to access education of their choice, inclusive of private education, as provided for in the Constitution.DisallowedHowever, just a few days before the motion was scheduled for debate, the House Speaker decided that it cannot be proceeded with in the National Assembly.In a letter dated May 4, Dr Scotland instructed that the motion, if allowed, would be in contravention of Standing Order No 26(e), which states that for a motion to be admissible, it shall not revive discussion of a matter which has been discussed in the same session.Former Education Minister Priya Manickchand“I wish to reminded you that the revocation of Order No 18 of 2016 and the reinstatement of Schedules 1 and 11 which existed prior to Order No. 18 were discussed by the National Assembly at its Sitting on 30th January, 2017, during the consideration of Ms Gail Teixeira’s motion which was published on Notice Paper No. 82 of 2017 dated 15th January, 2017. That motion was defeated,” the letter outlined.As such, the Speaker determined that the motion, which was already published on Notice Paper No. 95 of 2017, can no longer be proceeded with in the National Assembly.CondemnationDirector of Nations University, Dr Brian O’Toole – a very vocal player in the movement against the education tax – has expressed disappointment at the decision to not allow a debate on the issue in the National Assembly.The educator, in a statement to the media on Friday, pondered if it’s too much to ask for a national debate on the issue.“Is it impossible to have a simple list printed in the newspaper with a yes or no by the name of each of the MPs re whether or not they, as an individual, support the 14 per cent? While we are waiting for the debate in Parliament to eventually take place, is it possible to have a TV debate on the matter to help inform the public on the key issues?” he asked.Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira, during a recent press conference at Freedom House, also criticised the Speaker’s “interference” and “willy-nilly” operations regarding the motion.SupportAFC was expected to be put to the test when the motion was tabled to repeal the 14 per cent tax, given its solidarity with stakeholders who have for weeks been calling on Government to remove the education tax.Cabinet recently ruled that the VAT on private education will remain for the rest of the year, but will be reviewed for the 2018 National Budget.But the AFC signalled its intention to challenge Government’s collective decision and push for an earlier review.AFC Leader and Cabinet member Raphael Trotman said his party understands the struggles of parents and students, and pledged a commitment to address their concerns.In fact, a delegation representing the hundreds of disgruntled stakeholders recently met with AFC General Secretary Marlon Williams. According to the delegation in a statement, Williams expressed his support for their struggle and urged them not to become daunted or despondent in the face of the obstacles being placed in their way.Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, leader of Government’s business in the National Assembly, had also sympathised with parents and students by reflecting on his own struggles in pursuing an education.However, Opposition forces have argued that the AFC, as part of the coalition administration, was part and parcel in the decision to initially impose the tax and subsequently vote for it to stay.