Ismail Momoniat, the head of Tax and Financial Sector Policy at the National Treasury, said Treasury was ready to support the departments of health and education to explore the possibility of providing relief by making additional funding available for the purchase and distribution of feminine hygiene and sanitary products free of charge at schools and clinics.
Momoniat said this when he briefed Parliament’s joint multi-party women’s caucus at the National Assembly on Wednesday.
The issue here if you want (sanitary pads) free, then the issue is not even VAT. If the issue is to make it cheaper, then in theory it makes it 14% cheaper.
“The solution would be on the expenditure side, to make budgeting funds available either through the department of health and the health budget and sometimes to departments like education to make sanitary pads freely available, certainly at schools, universities and so on.
“I think the issue is then how do you target other parts of the society,” he said.
This comes after the Women’s Parliament adopted a resolution in 2015 to explore the removal of Value Added Tax (VAT) on the purchase of sanitary products with government.
The basis of the argument was that unlike other items that consumers purchase, women and girls do not have a choice in their need for them.
Millions of women are dependent on sanitary products month after month, which as a result drains women’s finances.
With gender statistics still indicating that women generally earn less than men and constitute a large majority of the poor worldwide, imposing a tax on sanitary products has been seen as a form of discrimination.
On Wednesday, MPs told Momoniat and other National Treasury representatives that sanitary pads are not just a basic need for girls and women, but a necessity for health and hygiene reasons.
Some argued that women who work in farms and those in impoverished communities are the hardest hit by the cost of sanitary products, and that girls have stayed away from school when they menstruate due to being unable to afford sanitary products.
Momoniat said lowering some taxes, including VAT, may benefit the rich instead of benefiting the poor.
He also said imposing a VAT exemption on sanitary products may set a dangerous precedent and lead to more groups to lobby the National Treasury to remove VAT from other products, which would lead to the tax base being eroded.
VAT is the second most important source of revenue for the fiscus after personal income tax, Momoniat said, and that it is essential in generating the necessary tax revenues to fund government’s expenditure programmes.
“The National Treasury wants to be clear. We fully support what the objective is – to make them freely available.
“I used the example of that condoms seem to be available in many public places. In the same way, can we get all government institutions to provide them in public places available for free.
“So we are saying that it should be done through the expenditure side.”