Are taxes taxing you?
SEPT 23 — So, the government is thinking of introducing the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Should I break out the champagne and cry for joy or run screaming with my hands waving wildly in the air?
And that’s what I asked my best friend who is a lawyer as we gulped down our coffee at the mamak.
“Will my beras wangi taste the same with additional taxes?” I wailed aloud, ready to throw a pity party.
And that’s when the best friend burst into maniacal laughter — the kind only the Joker from Batman can muster.
“What? What’s so funny?” I asked in bewilderment, looking to see if I had stained my already shabby T-shirt.
To this, she raised her eyebrow, stifled another laugh and murmured through fits of giggles, “You won’t be taxed for basic goods. And it’s NOT an additional tax, it’s replacing the Sales and Service Tax that you’re currently paying.”
“Huh?” was all I could manage.
Granted, I know next to nothing about taxes. I hardly look at the receipts when I pay for goods and don’t exactly calculate how much I spend on taxes. All I know is that the government is thinking of implementing GST and tax — any tax — mean money out of my purse which could otherwise go towards a new dress — specifically, the Karen Millen dress I saw at Bukit Bintang the other day.
As Esther continued to look smug over my obvious ignorance of taxes, I slammed the table with my palm and exclaimed with as much authority as I could, “Regardless of what the details are, we shouldn’t be paying any taxes! Why should we pay taxes?! It’s my own hard-earned money!”
At this point, she rolled her eyes at my indignation. “I suppose you’d rather go to school under a tree,” she said. “Where do you think the government gets the money to build schools?”
Hmm… I hadn’t thought about that. Doesn’t the government sell IOUs like the US? If they did, how did they repay the loan? Collecting toll? Oh, wait — that’s how they finance highways. What about smaller streets? Did the government have side businesses? After all, the private sector is driven by trade. How exactly is the public sector financed?
“Er… taxes?” I replied.
“Exactly. Your income tax contributes toward nation building. The government runs development programmes that are financed by the tax we pay.” Esther explained gently.
I considered this for a moment. True — there’s been a lot of nation building programmes that I’ve benefited from such as low cost housing and government schools.
I do consider it to be my government’s responsibility to reduce crime by increasing the number of police on patrol, enhance trade by ensuring there are ports and infrastructure for trade and provide medical relief through government hospitals. Yet, I have never considered where the money was coming from.
Frankly, I assumed sale of our petroleum would be sufficient to cover the costs, but the more I think about it, the more I realise that nation building is going to cost a lot more than what our exports can cover.
Consider this, I’ve been eyeing a new dress from Karen Millen as a birthday present to myself (hey, a girl only turns 30 once!). However, it’s going to cost me more than my allocated budget for preening. Obviously, how much I make determines what I can spend. Or I could slash my movies budget so I can buy the Karen Millen dress.
Thinking linearly, last year, our government allocated RM232.8 billion for government plans, RM33.2 billion on continued subsidies, incentives and assistance and RM15b illion operating expenditure and RM1.8 billion development expenditure for hospitals among others.
In contrast, according to the CIA website, our oil export value is at US$21 billion (RM 63billion). Phew! That’s a huge difference between what our country makes and spends.
“Okay, so our government needs some form of income to spend the way they have to,” I finally relented.
Esther nodded. “It’s a good thing that their income comes from us.”
I sat up straight. “Why?”
Esther looked me straight in the eye. “Because that means the rakyat have the power to determine how much money our government has to spend on development programmes. The more people contribute towards their taxes rather than evading it, the more privileges we get to enjoy from the government.
“The Sales and Service Tax is inefficient in contributing to the nation’s coffers and its charges are repetitive and there are hidden costs involved. With the GST, tax is more transparent and equitable.
“With the GST, the government has a better bet on giving out subsidies, building new roads and stimulus packages to the economy. You do want that new road that will be a short cut from your home to the office, don’t you?”
I nodded slowly. Then, the thought of my favourite beras wangi crept into my mind again. “But what about less affluent people like me who can’t afford too much tax?”
Esther agreed. “Yes, there are a lot of basic needs that are not affected by this tax. For instance, you can still take your trusty LRT to Masjid Jamek where you eat your thosai because public transport is not charged GST.”
I breathed a sigh of relief and probed further about which areas I can avoid paying taxes as I don’t earn a lot. From Esther, I learned that medical services are not charged GST. That’s great news as my mum suffers from high blood pressure – no, not due to my antics but due to old age!
Furthermore, basic goods such as rice, sugar and flour are exempted from GST. Exemptions extend to properties for agricultural purposes as well.
I don’t know about you, but the way I see it, the lower income group will not be burdened by this tax.
“Okay… I guess I can still have my beras wangi then. And I think if I want to keep enjoying the benefits I get from the billions of ringgit in economic stimulus and such, then paying an extra RM1 on goods costing RM10 shouldn’t be too taxing.” I thought aloud.
Esther smiled, “Wow, you really haven’t been reading the papers. The sales and service tax is at 10 per cent and 6 per cent respectively. Dengar khabar the government will introduce the GST at a rate of 4 per cent. So you’ll only pay 40 sen on goods costing RM10.”
I smiled in glee. Suddenly, I frowned as a new thought dawned on me. “If the rate is low, would the government make enough income?”
Esther shrugged. “The government won’t burden the rakyat. It’s within our power to determine how much money the government earns from taxes for development programmes.”
I thought about this long and hard. To think I, as a part of the rakyat, can have such a powerful hold over a government’s budget. Just imagine... without my contributions, the country will not be as modern as it is now. Where would the towering pride of the Twin Towers be without my meal at McDonalds? Where would children study for free if not for my trip to Starbucks? And how would we Facebook without cheap electricity from the government powering our computers and Internet?
At this last thought, I made up my mind.
I am going to do something about my upcoming 30th birthday; I am going to buy that Karen Millen dress – tax and all.
Is this indulgent?
No. I simply recognise the power that I, a mere rakyat, have on the things I take for granted. It is the power of determining how far my beloved country goes with my helping hand.
And as they say, with great power comes great responsibilities.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.