Monday, July 03, 2023

A B C D E F G .. now I need the GST 🎵

Eight years ago, DAP launched this song to instigate the public to hate GST and the then ruling government BN. 

After the disaster to the national fiscal policy in 2018 following Lim Guan Eng's single handed abolishment of GST for the higher rate and difficult to collect SST, the PH-led multicoalition Unity Government have to face to the fact that Najib's introduction of GST was the needed initiative to reform the tax structure of Malaysia. 

Five years down the road, the situation has not reached acute level but debt reached RM1.5 trillion, global economic condition challenging, inflation from the post pandemic effect and Russia Ukraine war, and government spending needed to stimulate the economy. 

Anwar will need to make that difficult decision and it means a lost of face. An extract of Edge weekly interview with IRB CEO, Dato Nizam Sairi explains the need for GST below:      

There are 4.5 million individual taxpayers in Malaysia, higher than the 2.5 million at end-2017, according to MoF data. However, Mohd Nizom acknowledges that the number is still low. The 4.5 million taxpayers are just slightly more than one quarter of the country’s labour force of 16 million, versus a total population of 33 million, the ministry’s data shows.

Mohd Nizom attributes the relatively small community paying personal income tax to the country’s high tax threshold, even though Malaysia’s income tax rates are relatively high compared with other countries in the region.

“Our highest [income tax] rate is 29%, so the rate is high. But in terms of threshold, I think this country is among the most generous [in the region]. [Even if you earn a salary of] RM3,200 a month, you are not required to pay income tax. Plus, there isn’t any consumption tax,” he says.

“If you have a family, there are deductions, so the threshold would be higher. Probably for the single breadwinner in a household with a monthly income of RM5,000 is still not subject to tax.”

Of the total personal income tax collected, 85% is contributed by the T20 (top 20% income group), who earn more than RM10,000 in monthly income, says Mohd Nizom, who sees this as an unsustainable trend. He understands the grouses of the high-income group as they feel they are being penalised for working hard to earn more. “That’s why the government has to think of other ways of raising revenue, rather than just targeting the T20,” he adds.

Mohd Nizom’s answer to the question of tax reform is the Goods and Services Tax. He describes GST as a low hanging fruit for tax reform. The consumption tax will effectively help widen the tax net and it is a fairer tax in his view. In addition, he believes Malaysians are more receptive to it now.

“I think [the government is] convinced that it needs the tax [GST]. Everyone in the country is [convinced]. Even the ones that took it away. Not only for revenue, but from an equitable perspective,” he says.

GST was implemented at 6% in April 2015 during Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration in the former premier’s bid to raise more revenue amid a rising national debt and falling oil prices. The consumption tax was abolished in 2018 by the Pakatan Harapan administration after various controversies in handling the GST refunds were brought to light following the downfall of the previous government.

Additionally, Mohd Nizom says the government should relook its existing tax incentives for multinational corporations (MNCs) amid the growing adoption of a minimum effective tax rate of 15% globally under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting initiative.

Read further on tax reform in Thick as a Brick here

The need is there and urgently required, but the timing is less than perfect. 

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