FACT CHECK: Additional 15% tax introduced on women’s sanitary napkins?

Missing Context Social

Women make up more than 50% of Sri Lanka’s population. Several women’s organizations have repeatedly said that women endure various issues due to inadequate hygiene during menstruation. This is due to both financial difficulties and misunderstandings related to menstruation. In fact, this issue became a hot topic during the last presidential election too.

Meanwhile, a number of posts have been circulating on social media and mainstream media during last week of November stating that an additional 15% tax on sanitary napkins was introduced in the 2021 budget proposal. Our investigation revealed that these misleading posts were prompted by the new budget proposal to change the existing 30% import tax to 15% import tax and 15% CESS respectively. 

SOCIAL MEDIA REPORTS:

A Facebook account named Amanda Abeysooriya posted: “15% tax on sanitary napkins # Budget2021”.

Many other shared similar posts as well, as seen below.

FacebookArchived Link
FacebookArchived Link
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Fact Check 

Tax composition Women’s Sanitary Napkins Prior to the 2021 Budget Proposals

According to a report submitted by EconomyNext in March 2018, the following taxes were levied on women’s sanitary napkins imported under HS code 96190010 before September 2018: General Duty or Import Tax (30%) + VAT (15%) + PAL (7.5%) + NBT (2%) and CESS (30% or Rs.300 / kg). However, government back then had removed the 30% (CESS) tax from sanitary napkins in September 2018 after considering the concerns raised by many concerned parties. Mangala Samaraweera, who was Minister of Finance back then also, pointed this out on one of his tweets recently.

In a May 2020 article, Ada Derana Biz explained how taxes on sanitary napkins have changed over the past few years. Advocata Institute, which had initially proposed the removal of the 30% CESS tax back in 2018, had made below recommendations to further reduce the applicable taxes.

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AdaDerana Biz | Archived

Current Context after 2021 budget proposals:

In this context, we looked at the new budget proposal suggestion on the tax component of women’s sanitary napkins by taking into consideration the views from number of parties.

State Minister – Ajith Nivard Cabraal:

We consulted the media secretary of State Minister of Money & Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, who stated that the claims on new budget proposal suggesting a new 15% tax on women’s sanitary napkins, is totally misleading. 

He also explained that under the government’s tax reforms on sanitary napkins, the current import tax of 30% would be reduced to 15%, but to protect local sanitary napkin manufacturers, the reduced 15% import tax has been imposed as a 15% CESS tax.

We also noted that, in reply to the questions raised in the parliament about the new tax component affecting women’s sanitary napkins, State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal stated that the 2021 Budget Proposal has not imposed a new tax of 15% on women’s sanitary napkins, as seen here in this Hiru News report. Cabraal also released a Tweet in this regard

Opposition MP Harsha de Silva

Participating in a live discussion program on November 24th, Dr. Harsha de Silva, Member of Parliament for Samagi Jana Balawega also stated that the talks of new tax being imposed by government is misleading. He added that government has reduced the current 30% import tax to 15% while at the same time adding a new tax component of 15% CESS. He also suggested that the tax on women’s sanitary napkins should be further reduced for the betterment of women. His statement is given below (from the 59th minute) 

State Minister Shehan Samarasinghe

State Minister Shehan Samarasinghe who participated in the discussion also confirmed that a new tax has not been added and there will be no change in the price of sanitary napkins. We noticed a post on the official Facebook page of Minister Shehan Samarasinghe with the same explanation as seen below.

“We wish to inform taxation on sanitary towels have not been increased. Pre budget a 30% “Custom Import Duty” (CID) was charged. Post budget CID is reduced to 15% and a CESS of 15 % is introduced. Therefore, taxation remains the same. Further we are compelled retain CID as a measure to ensure protection of local producers. As such the government has not taken any measures which results an price increase of sanitary towels..”

Facebook Archived Link

Advocata Institute 

However, the Colombo-based think tank, Advocata Institute tweeted that there would be a slight increase of 1.6% in total taxation when the two tax components of 15% each (15% import tax and the 15% CESS tax) are calculated instead of the existing 30% import tax

Tweet | Archived

We inquired further from the Advocata Institute regarding the implications of this new tax proposal. Official from the institute clarified that the imposition of the CESS tax would largely eliminate the possibility of importers of sanitary napkins to compete with local manufactures. He also stated that Advocata Institute is of the view that CESS as well as other taxes for women’s sanitary napkins should be removed.

However looking at the current market prices of women’s sanitary napkins (before the proposed tax implementation has taken effect) still there is a significant difference in prices of local brands and the exported brands.

Views from a Tax Expert:

We also got the views of a tax expert on the new tax suggestions and learnt that the aim of the changes to the taxation of sanitary napkins would most likely be to encourage local producers. He also explained that it could be done as a measure to control the import of sanitary napkins as well.

Ministry of Trade

We made a further inquiry from the Media Secretary of the Ministry of Trade. Here we found out that except for one major exported brand local manufacturers make up of more than 90% of the market share of women’s sanitary napkins in Sri Lanka.

During a recent meeting with the Minister of Trade Bandula Gunawardena, local sanitary napkin manufacturers had assured that there would be no change in the prices of local brands, as the CESS 15% would not have any significant bearing on local production.

News.lk | Archived

Local Manufacturers:

We also contacted MD of Hemas Consumer Affairs, one of the leading local manufacturers of sanitary napkins in Sri Lanka, to inquire about the views of local manufacturers. Through him, we were able to confirm that at present, more than 90% of the market for women’s sanitary napkins in Sri Lanka are local brands and they are not affected in any way through this proposed change in taxation.

We also noticed a recent article published on 9th December by Aneetha Warusavitarana titled “Taxes on Essential Products: bringing the debate back to where it matters” which shed light on point such as protectionist tariffs, tariffs on raw materials which could affect local manufacturers etc. She had requested to revisit the tax reforms in prioritizing the requirements of women, and suggested the removal of the taxes imposed on the final good as well as on the inputs into the production of these goods.

Ada Derana Biz | Archived

Conclusion 

Our investigation reveals that the 2021 budget proposal had suggested changing the existing 30% import tax to 15% import tax and 15% CESS respectively applicable to women’s sanitary napkins. Advocate Institute has pointed out that there would be a slight increase of 1.6% in total tax calculation because of the proposed system. However, local manufacturers who make up more than 90% of market share, assure that prices of locally manufactured brands would remain the same, as these proposed tax changes would not affect them.

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Title:Additional 15% tax introduced on women’s sanitary napkins?

Fact Check By: Shanaya Seneviratne 

Result: Missing Context

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