The return of GST will hurt, not help Malaysians

·3-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

JUNE 15 — A lack of imagination is a governmental affliction in Malaysia.

Bringing back the GST seems all but certain as the finance minister has not been subtle with recent statements.

I still remember the first day of the GST implementation and having lunch at a favourite restaurant.

The apologetic look on the proprietor's face as she presented the bill, with the GST tagged on and how much more I was paying than previously, are things that stay with me years later.

From that day on the price increases were everywhere. Even prior to the implementation, one small trader attempted suicide and days later another one unfortunately succeeded.

Although our former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak crowed about how much GST added to the nation's coffers, he never addressed how much it cost.

Some small amounts of that money went to small, limited payments to a select proportion of society but GST triggered price rises across the board, with prices that went far beyond the GST percentage in hikes.

I still remember writing about how terrible the idea was when implemented in such a haphazard way, without considering the impact to the lowest rung of society.

It seems, however, that this government is so confident that it will win the upcoming election that it will bring back the very thing that contributed to Barisan Nasional's election loss.

Just like the last time, there are no plans to cushion the impact on the poor. Prices will rise along the supply chain with prices of raw materials going up, causing a compounded effect down the line.

Yet the average Malaysian salary has been stagnant since the 80s unless you count CEOs who are earning even up to 10 times the median CEO salary of that time period.

With global supply issues affecting not just foodstuff prices but everything (steel is up 20 per cent, for instance) else as well.

The simplest most obvious way to quickly realise some income is windfall tax as well as reexamining the tariffs on our highest earners.

Like in the rest of the world, the rich in Malaysia have prospered even as people lost their livelihoods and even lives during the pandemic.

It isn't even hyperbole — the rise in fortunes of the wealthy globally from the pandemic is well-documented.

Meanwhile an entry-level engineer earns under RM2,000 now — just like in the 80s.

In some places, salaries in the RM1,200-1,400 range are commonplace with some workers being laid off due to the RM1,500 minimum wage requirement.

Yet it is the lowest earners who are disposed of while even in large companies that have been in the red for years, they somehow still have money to pay exorbitant CEO salaries and director allowances.

Unless the government figures out a way of putting more money in people's pockets that doesn't involve either the EPF of bank moratoriums or paltry one-off cash payments, there is no way forward for the country.

We cannot continue to race to the bottom while our neighbours advance in living standards and economic achievement.

I just hope the government reconsiders before we again return to the time when ordinary Malaysians were so squeezed there was nothing to wring from them but their anger and resentment.

The GST is not a fix to our economic woes but an unfair means of extracting wealth from those who have next to nothing.

What will then become of our country once Malaysians have nothing left to lose? The answers to that question would be wise to ponder.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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