Updated: Nov 11
The heart of an economy comes from consumption, it is the force that moves money from one person to another, so of course the government will want a piece of that juicy pie! This comes in the form of consumption taxes, an indirect tax levied on the goods/services when they are bought/used.
Right now it takes the form of Sales and Service Tax (SST) in Malaysia, but back in the days of 2015-2018, there was another consumption tax that took over SST, called Goods and Services Tax (GST), also known as Value Added Tax (VAT) in other countries.
But what was GST? Why was it abolished? Was it really deserving of such a fate? That is the topic of this article, a history lesson and evaluation of GST, the tax that was abolished faster than it was introduced.
The workings of GST
Before we could discuss the history of and evaluate GST in Malaysia, we must 1st understand how it all functions.
VAT (a.k.a. GST) is a consumption tax levied on the transaction price of goods and services. The system involves almost every merchant in the country and is ultimately borne by the final consumer. This is facilitated through the recording of GST on inputs (input taxes) and GST on outputs (output taxes), where only the difference of which is required to be paid by or even received by merchants at every taxable period, effectively only collecting the value added by the merchant from
GST in Malaysia adapts this framework identically, where each merchant collects GST on the value they added on behalf of Royal Malaysian Customs (RMC), and the cost of GST is passed down to the end consumer.
The implications of GST
Now that we understand the workings of GST, you might be wondering, why the hassle? The recording is quite fancy, requiring merchants to ensure that input and output taxes are accounted for (in the form of tax invoices), and the net effect is much the same, making consumers bear the tax, be it through GST’s system, or by merchants passing along the cost to its customers. Well, a few benefits arise:
GST’s system of collection gives an incentive for proper accounting of GST paid by merchants as doing so meant they were not subject to GST in any way, thereby improving the accuracy of consumption tax collection. This allows the government to collect more tax revenue with the same tax rate.
End consumers are also not cheated in this system. Although they bear this tax in full, this also means leads to better transparency. They are always shown in the receipt of any purchase the GST rate which they paid, transparently informing them the amount that the government has just taken from them. This avoids situation of double taxing in most cases.
However, the GST’s scope is limited by its administration. Merchants have to register as a taxable person with RMC to participate in the system, and while most items are considered taxable supply, some items are exempt from GST. Merchants that only perform exempt supply cannot register, and some small merchants that find the accounting too bothersome can choose to not register (size determined by taxable turnover). These unregistered merchants are treated similar to end consumers, and may pass the cost of GST to its customers instead of bearing them.
Overall, the efficiency of tax collection afforded by GST is its strongest advantage, and is the main reason for advocating for GST’s implementation. It is also transparent to consumers and leaves most merchants unaffected financially (at least directly), but the additionally work required to record and submit GST may cost merchants more anyway.
Next time, we will touch on the history of GST in Malaysia, how it compares to SST, and the possibility of it returning in the future, so stay tuned!
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