Media Statement by Tony Pua, DAP National Publicity Secretary and Member of Parliament for Petaling Jaya Utara on Tuesday, 22 October 2013 in Kuala Lumpur
The Minister in Prime Minister's Department, Datuk Seri Idris Jala has issued a statement yesterday to strongly support the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST ) as a panacea to the persistent deficit and increasing debt which Malaysia suffers today.
The Association of Chinese Chambers of Commerce has also issued a statement of support on the condition that the income tax rates in the country is concurrently lowered. This condition will sit well with Datuk Idris Jala as he stated that "...if we don’t widen the tax base, there is absolutely no room to cut income taxes further."
Of all the rationale provided by those in support of the immediate implementation of the GST, this must be the most unacceptable one because it means that the Government government will be effectively reducing the tax on the workers who earn enough to pay tax today, while correspondingly increasing the taxes paid by those who don't earn enough to pay taxes.
Under such policies, the poor would be hit by a double whammy in tax burden. Firstly, the poorer income groups be forced to bear the burden of the reduced income tax of the higher income groups. On top of that, they will be hit by a regressive tax regime which taxes the poor proportionately more than the rich.
For example a person who earns RM1,000 will be spending practically the full amount of his monthly earnings without any savings. This expenditure will be taxed at an assumed 5% GST. A person earning RM20,000 per month on the other hand, may spend RM12,000 of his income while saving or investing the balance. He will pay 5% on his RM12,000 expenditure, which works out to RM600. For the RM600 paid, the wealthier person is effectively paying only 3% tax on his income. Hence the natural impact of the GST is proportionately higher on the poor than on the rich.
This is diametrically opposite of the current progressive income tax structure which raises the percentage of taxes payable at higher income brackets.
Hence if the Government were to impose the GST, as an excuse to lower income tax rates, then it is effectively abdicating from its obligations and role of social justice and wealth redistribution. Instead, the GST and reduced income tax rate will only worsen the already worrisome income inequality in the country.
Instead of Datuk Idris Jala arguing that "we need to broaden the tax base" because only approximately 15% of the working population pay tax today, the Government should be asking why are the balance of the 85% not earning enough to pay taxes after decades of so-called rapid growth and economic development?
We must remember that it is not because these 85% do not want to pay tax, but because they don't earn enough to qualify to do so. It should be noted that the income tax brackets have not been modified for nearly 2 decades and the question is why are the overwhelming majority of Malaysian workers still earning suppressed wages at less than RM2,500 to RM3,000 per month?
While we agree with Datuk Idris Jala that there are indeed those fail to declare their true income, which results in tax evasion, surely the number of such persons are tiny relative to the 85% who don't qualify to pay taxes today. Why should the failure of the authorities to enforce tax on these evaders justify the Government's decision to tax all these Malaysians who are struggling to make ends meet with income less than RM2500?
In addition, it should be argued that decades of strong and rapid economic growth boasted by the BN administration should have enrich the Government with annual surpluses and record savings. Instead, despite the chest-thumping over the Government's ability to manage the economy, we now find ourselves in persistent deficit while the Federal Government debt has ballooned to RM546 billion, without taking into account another RM150 billion of known contingent liabilities.
Hence the cure to the countries financial malaise lies not in taxing the people more, especially taxing those who barely earn enough to meet the rising cost of living. The panacea lies in the Government's political will to cut wastage, patronage, extravagance and corruption in its expenditure.
Due to the fact that we are fortunately blessed with oil and gas revenues, as well as an enviable economic growth record over the past decades, the Government actually have enough funds in its coffers. What it has however failed to do, is to ensure that these funds are properly utlised and invested. Hence until this Government learns and proves to the people that it knows how to manage the rakyat's hard-earned monies in an honest, professional and efficient manner, it will have no right to raise more taxes from the people, especially from the middle-income and the poor.