• Pakatan Harapan’s Alternative Budget: Responding to the critiques (Part 1)

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Serdang, on the 2nd of November 2017

    Pakatan Harapan’s Alternative Budget: Responding to the critiques (Part 1)

    I have been digesting the comments and commentaries made about the 2018 Budget announced last Friday by Prime Minister Najib and also the Pakatan Harapan Alternative Budget for 2018. I want to use this opportunity to address several critiques directed at the PH Budget starting with our proposal to abolish the GST.

    One of the major critiques levelled against the PH Alternative Budget is that we are not being responsible or realistic by advocating for getting rid of the GST. The following are the responses to some of these critiques:

    1) Critique: Companies have spent millions if not billions in implementing the GST system. Won’t all this money be wasted if we get rid of the GST?

    Response: We will not get rid of the GST system. All of the items which were not taxed during the SST regime will be ‘zerorised’ i.e. 0% GST tax rate. All of the items which were taxed at the point of production during the SST regime will have the same tax level at the point of production. We will use the existing GST system to collect the SST related taxes.

    2) Critique: Why not say you will ‘zerorise’ the GST rate rather as opposed to saying that you will get rid of it?

    Response: Most Malaysians don’t know the meaning of ‘zerorising’ the GST or the difference between goods which are zero-rated versus exempt. The effect on the consumer will be that they no longer have to pay the GST so this effectively means we are getting rid of it.

    3) Critique: Will there by a reduction in the price of goods and services if you get rid of the GST? Wasn’t the GST already priced in during the implementation phase in 2015 and 2016? Aren’t the price of goods and services ‘sticky’ downwards?

    Response: When we get rid of the GST, consumers will expect prices to go down. Even if retailers don’t decrease prices by 6%, there will be competition between retailers to offer at least some discounts in order to attract customers. Getting rid of the GST puts downward pressures on prices on the whole.

    Also, by collecting less taxes (by going back to the SST regime), we are directly and indirectly putting money back into the wallets of consumers and business and this will have a healthy multiplier effect on the economy.

    4) Critique: But the GST is not really that regressive because many items are tax-exempt and / or zero rated!

    Response: Firstly, the impression that many basic goods and services are not subject to the GST is not entirely accurate. For example, the government has said that banking services are exempt from the GST. But in reality, whenever you transfer money online to your friend or your employee, you have to pay the 6% GST on the cost of the financial transaction. If you are charged for withdrawing money from a MEPS ATM, you will have to pay the 6% GST on that charge. There are many such items whereby GST is charged on areas which many in the public thinks they do not have to pay GST on.

    Secondly, just because an item is exempt from GST does not mean that the price of that item will not increase post-GST. For example, even though residential property is GST exempt, this merely means that the developer cannot tack on a 6% GST charge on the final price of the property. The inputs i.e. the construction materials and the professional fees which goes into the building of that property is still subject to GST. This means that the cost of the GST will be implicitly included in the final property price.

    In cases where the cost of the GST cannot be passed on to the consumer because of price regulation, others have to bear the cost. For example, public transportation such as taxi fares are not subject to the GST. But the cost of maintaining the taxis and also the insurance policies for the taxis are subject to the GST. This means that either the taxi drivers have to bear the increase in these costs due to the GST (more likely) or their taxi companies need to absorb these costs (less likely).

    5) Critique: We are making it easier for people and companies to avoid tax by getting rid of GST

    Response: We will still be using the existing GST system to collect taxes that will be based on the SST regime. Hence, the same reporting system that was supposed to have increased tax transparency will still be in place.

    At the same time, having the GST is no guarantee that the amount of illicit financial flows out of the country (another form of tax avoidance) will be decreased. Malaysia was ranked as one of the top 5 countries in terms of illicit financial flows by the non-profit research organization, Global Financial Integrity (GFI).[1] Three of the other countries in the top 5 list namely Russia, Mexico and China had GST or value added taxes during the time period of the study. What is needed to decrease these illicit flows is a government which is committed to transparency and not dictated by self-interest especially when it comes to illicit financial flows of billions of RM in and out of personal bank accounts.

    One commentator has also said that having a GST will make it less likely that companies will evade tax by parking their profits in low tax countries.[2] Despite the fact that Ireland has a value added tax of 23%, its low corporate tax rate of 12.5% continues to attract many multinational companies to park their profits in this country. The European Union (EU) has been clamping down on these practices of getting income tax breaks from low corporate tax countries[3] but this is due to the EU having an institutional framework that has the force of law, rather than the presence of the GST. There is no such framework in ASEAN and I would be surprised to learn, for example. if the government would go after Malaysian companies which park their profits in Singapore because of its relative low corporate tax rate of 17%.

    6) Critique: GST broadens the tax base. If we get rid of the GST, we are narrowing the tax base

    Response: It is true that the GST broadens the tax base by taxing a larger number of people compared to the personal income tax. Only 15% to 20% of the working population earn enough to pay personal income taxes whereas everyone has to pay the GST through the goods and services consumed. But this is the very reason why the GST is regressive since it shifts the tax burden from those who are rich enough to pay income tax to the larger population, the majority of whom don’t earn enough to pay income tax.

    Even then, the argument that implementing the GST will broaden the tax base is not necessarily accurate in the context of Malaysia. Theoretically, implementing the GST and reducing the personal income tax rate should decrease the % of overall revenue collected via the personal income tax. Instead, the % of total revenue collected via the personal income tax has increased from 11.1% in 2014 (pre-GST) to a projected 13.4% of total revenue in 2018. This is in spite of the 2% reduction in the income tax rates among those who earn between RM20,000 to RM70,000. The total personal income tax collection is projected to increase from RM30.1 billion in 2017 to RM32.2 billion in 2018, an increase of 7%. While some of this increase could be due to increasing wages and bonuses in 2018, one cannot discount the possibility that the Internal Revenue Board (IRB) will pursue a more aggressive strategy in chasing after back taxes from individuals and have their tax officials ‘knock on more doors’ as reported in the Edge Financial Daily on the 30th of October, 2017 (See Figure 1 below).

    Figure 1: “Tax Officials to knock on more doors” The Edge Financial Daily, 30th of October 2017

    One commentator also said that having the GST will allow us to tax those who consume heavily especially in luxury items. The example he cited was that GST would enable more than RM6 million to be collected on the sale of a diamond ring costing more than RM100 million. Perhaps he has forgotten that if this diamond ring (and other such luxury items) was bought overseas, then Malaysia would not be able to collect the GST for this diamond ring.

    7) Critique: The GST is a very effective way of raising revenue for the government.

    Response: This is very reason why Pakatan Harapan is committing ourselves to getting rid of the GST. In times of economic hardship or if the government is forced to raise additional revenue for bailouts and massive infrastructure spending, the easiest way to increase this revenue is by raising the GST rather than cutting expenditure in other areas. Increasing the GST as a way to raise additional government revenue has adverse effects especially on the poor since they are the ones most susceptible to sudden price increases. Would anyone be surprised if the BN government is forced to increase the GST rate if they win GE14 and need to raise additional revenue to bailout 1MDB or to pay for the ECRL, for example?

    8) Critique: What about the more than 100 countries which have implemented GST?

    Response: The countries which have implemented some form of value added tax such as the GST can be divided into two categories, more or less. In the first category are the developed countries whereby most of the working population earn enough to pay income taxes. Shifting the tax burden from income tax payers to the consumer does not have significant adverse effects in these countries since their citizens, by and large, are rich enough to absorb the value added taxes.

    For many developing countries, their tax collection systems are too weak to collect significant amounts of revenue from personal income and corporate taxes. Hence, implementing the GST is a way for them to improve their tax collection system and also a necessary means of raising additional revenue.

    Malaysia is not rich enough to be categorized as a developed country especially in terms of the % of the population which earn enough to pay personal income taxes. But we are fortunate to have a relatively competent tax collection system under the Internal Revenue Board (IRB) and to a lesser extent, the Customs Department. Given this, Malaysia had the choice of postponing the implementation of the GST until we reach the status of a developed economy. The finances of the government were relatively intact prior to the implementation of the GST and there is no reason to think that under a new government, with a new mandate to decrease wasteful expenditure and corrupt practices, cannot survive without the GST.

    9) Critique: Most tax experts and economists agree that implementing the GST is a good thing. Are they all wrong?

    Response: Most of the tax experts work for auditing companies such as PwC and Ernst & Young. They stand to gain from the implementation of the GST in terms of increased business from tax advice and auditing services. It is unlikely that they would speak out against the implementation of a policy from which they stand to gain financially.

    Most economists follow the conventional theories regarding taxation some of which has been highlighted above. GST is a broad-based tax that is more efficient compared to other forms of taxation. But most economists don’t have much to say about the effects of corruption on government finances. There is less conventional economic theory on this except to say that corruption is bad for the economy and for government finances. But by how much? Have economists estimated how much we can save through the reduction of corruption and wastage in the government? Not to my knowledge, at least not in the case of Malaysia.

    It is also worth noting that tax experts and economists are most likely to be in the upper 20% of the income bracket and thus, are not likely to feel the brunt of the implementation of the GST in the same way as someone in the B40 income bracket.

    10) Critique: We cannot afford to get rid of the GST as the financial gap is too big to cover.

    Response: We have shown in the PH budget that we can cut wastage and corruption by as much as RM20 billion which is almost enough to fill the financial gap of RM25 billon as a result of getting rid of the GST and reverting to the SST tax rates.

    But since this is an important topic, I will dedicate an entire statement to explain this in greater detail.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    [1] http://www.gfintegrity.org/issues/data-by-country/

    [2] https://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/400124

    [3] https://www.cnbc.com/2016/08/30/european-union-orders-ireland-to-recover-up-to-14-billion-in-back-taxes-from-apple.html

  • 浅谈“助推”理论和马来西亚的政策制定



    本周早前,理查德·泰勒(Richard Thaler) 因对行为经济学领域的贡献而获得诺贝尔经济学奖。他在其著作《助推》提出了如何以激励措施来改变人们的行为,例如提高个人的储蓄率或追求更健康的生活方式。

    在2010年,英国内阁成立了“助推单位”,进而将作为经济学领域冷门科目的行为经济学推向协助公共政策制定的主流。同时,畅销书“助推:改善追求健康,财富和幸福的决定”的共同作者,泰勒教授也在2009年至2012年期间在美国白宫被奥巴马委任为政策制定者的监管, 美国总统随后更在2015年通过行政命令来正式成立“助推单位”。




    我们又要如何在自己的家园实施这种“助推”的思维模式呢? 为了回答这个问题,我们必须首先了解若要在马来西亚实施这些举措的方式所将面临的潜在障碍。


    其次,任何要在政府里落实新“观念”之前,掌权的政治家都必须先基本了解这个“观念”。例如,马来西亚的大多数政治家和资深公务员都通过接触著作的作者和被外来顾问推销,而熟悉何谓是“蓝海战略” 的营销理论(无论好或坏的方面)。相比之下,我们马来西亚政治家或资深公务员都对行为经济学的概念和其对人民利益的贡献不熟悉。



    尽管如此,我也认为要在马来西亚落实类似的“助推”实验并非不可能的事情。 而,为了提高可行性,我们必须使用经过深思熟虑的研究计划,用非常有限和精心挑选的样本来进行试点项目。另外,我们也得向政策制定者和政治家保证,这些社会实验不会困扰他们,及其潜在的利益是可观的。





  • The ‘nudge’ theory and policy-making in Malaysia

    (This article can also be read at the Penang Institute in KL Column in the Malaysian Insight, 15th October 2017)

    EARLIER this week, Professor Richard Thaler was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics for his contribution to the field of behavioural economics. He is probably most well-known for his “Nudge” theories on providing incentives to change people’s behaviours on a number of dimensions, such as one’s propensity to save money or to switch to a healthier lifestyle.

    In 2010, the transition of behavioural economics from a marginal topic in the discipline to mainstream public policy making was formalised with the establishment of a Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) or better known as the “Nudge Unit” within the Cabinet Office in the United Kingdom government. Around the same time, Thaler’s co-author for the best-seller “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness”, Professor Cass Sunstein, worked as a regulatory ‘czar’ in Obama’s White House from 2009 to 2012 and a “Nudge Unit” was formally established in Obama’s White House in 2015 via executive order.

    Some examples of the UK’s Nudge unit achievements include using various telephone messages to encourage greater participation in organ donation drives and personalised messages to increase the percentage of those who pay their government fines on time.

    Such “nudge units” are fashionable among politicians and policy makers, because the positive results arising from such initiatives are usually measurable and yield benefits which far surpass the low-cost implementation methods.

    How likely will such “nudge” ideas find their way to our shores? To answer this question, we must first understand the potential obstacles that lie in the way of implementing such initiatives in Malaysia.

    Firstly, we have scarcely any local experts in the field of behavioural economics in our public and private universities. Whereas places like the UK, the US and Australia have established economists working in this field and full-fledged research centres dedicated to the testing and implementation of ‘nudge’ initiatives, we would be hard pressed to find even one well-trained and experienced Malaysian behavioural economist.

    Secondly, for any ‘idea’ to take root in a government, the politicians in charge must have some basic level of understanding of that ‘idea’. For example, most politicians and senior civil servants in Malaysia are familiar with the “Blue Ocean Strategy” (for better or for worse) through exposure to the authors of the book and various consultants who have formulated ways to weave this marketing theory into our government machinery. By contrast, few of our Malaysian politicians or senior civil servants are familiar with the concepts underlying behavioural economics and how these ‘nudge units’ can potentially work for the benefit of the population.

    Thirdly, many of the initiatives undertaken by these ‘nudge units’ use randomised control trials (RCTs) to evaluate the effectiveness of various ‘tweaks’ in order to find the method with the highest returns. This kind of experimentation, although commonplace in clinical trials, could be terrifying for our civil servants and the wider population. Imagine telling a civil servant to issue different variations of a speeding fine or ‘saman’ notice to registered car owners as a test, to see which would result in the most fines being paid. He or she would find it difficult, to say the least, as it goes against the typical government procedure of standardising such documents. Additionally, car owners may doubt the authenticity of their fines, if they compare their own letter to that of others and find that the wording is different.

    Furthermore, such experimentation may require a ‘control group’ to benchmark the performance of tested subjects. If incentives are given out to the test group, but withheld from the ‘control group, the ministry or government department in question may very well be criticised for unfairly ‘rewarding’ one group and ‘punishing’ the other.

    This being said, I do not think that it is impossible for such ‘nudge’ experiments to be tried out in Malaysia. However, for it to be feasible, the pilot project will need to be conducted using a very limited and carefully selected sample size, using a research design that is well-thought out. Policy makers and politicians also need to be assured that these social experiments won’t come back to haunt them and that the potential benefits could be significant.

    It would be very useful, for example, to identify communities which are especially prone to diabetes and provide incentives for such families to decrease their sugar intake via cash payments or the provision of healthy replacements in lieu of sugar.

    The Ministry of Consumer Affairs can also work with supermarkets and hypermarkets to display healthier foods in more prominent locations and make them more visually appealing. This would be a far more effective strategy to deal with health problems associated with high sugar intake, instead of merely raising sugar prices across the board. Such ‘nudges’ to reduce diabetes rates could well result in a much healthier population and lower health care costs for the government.

    * Dr Ong Kian Ming is the Member of Parliament for Serdang, Selangor and is also the General Manager of Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Duke University, an MPhil in Economics from the University of Cambridge and a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics.

  • 收入不断提高和贫富悬殊日益减少,显示槟城经济健康强劲的基本面



    马来西亚统计局最近发布了许多槟城人都能身同感受的数据。槟城的经济增长十分强劲,失业率非常低,工资全面地上涨及贫富悬殊现象日益减少。 通过全面的经济数据评估,槟城可说是马来西亚各州内几乎在所有关键经济指标上表现最好的州属之一。


    列表1: 2016年各州的人均国内生产总值(以最新价格和马币计算)


    列表2: 2014年至2016年各州的GDP实质成长


    列表3: : 2016年各州的失业率


    列表4: 2016年各州平均家庭收入和中值



    同时,槟城的基尼系数(作为贫富悬殊的衡量标准)从2014年的0.364跌至2016年的0.356,跌幅共0.008,变化位居国内的第5高。(参阅图表6)再来,我们也要注意,在2014年至2016年期间,国内有5个 州属,包括沙巴,森美兰,马六甲,吉打和柔佛的基尼系数正日益提(意思即贫富悬殊现象正在恶化)。(参阅图表1)(注释:基尼系数越高,贫富悬殊越恶化)





    [1] All of the statistics quoted in this statement is from the Department of Statistics, Malaysia (DOSM)

  • Ekonomi Pulau Pinang sihat dan kukuh dengan adanya peningkatan pendapatan serta penurunan ketidaksamaan

    Kenyataan Media oleh Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Ketua Penang Institute di Kuala Lumpur merangkap Ahli Parlimen Serdang pada 13 Oktober 2017

    Ekonomi Pulau Pinang sihat dan kukuh dengan adanya peningkatan pendapatan serta penurunan ketidaksamaan[1]

    Data yang dikeluarkan oleh Jabatan Perangkaan Malaysia pada baru-baru ini menunjukkan sebuah realiti yang sudah pun diketahui oleh rakyat Pulau Pinang. Ekonomi Pulau Pinang sedang kuat berkembang dan mengalami kadar pengangguran yang rendah, peningkatan pendapatan secara keseluruhannya, dan juga penurunan ketidaksamaan. Kajian menyeluruh terhadap data ekonomi Pulau Pinang mendapati bahawa negeri tersebut merupakan antara negeri berprestasi tinggi dalam hampir semua indikator ekonomi yang penting.  

    KDNK Per Kapita bagi Pulau Pinang pada 2016 (harga semasa) adalah RM 47,322, iaitu kedua tertinggi selepas Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur dan lebih tinggi daripada Selangor (RM 44,616), Melaka (RM 41,363) dan Johor (RM 31,952). (Lihat Rajah 1 di bawah)

    Rajah 1: KDNK Per Kapita mengikut negeri pada 2016 (harga semasa) (Ringgit Malaysia)

    Pertumbuhan KDNK sebenar Pulau Pinang adalah 5.6% pada 2016, 5.5% pada 2015 dan 8% pada 2014 (Lihat Rajah 2). Pertumbuhan KDNK sebenar ini meletakkan negeri tersebut di tangga kedua pada 2014, kelima pada 2015 dan ketiga pada 2016. Pulau Pinang dan Selangor merupakan dua negeri yang berada dalam kedudukan lima teratas dari segi pertumbuhan KDNK sebenar dari 2014 hingga 2016.

    Rajah 2: Pertumbuhan KDNK sebenar mengikut negeri, 2014 hingga 2016

    Kadar pengangguran Pulau Pinang adalah 2.1% pada 2016 dan merupakan yang kedua terendah dalam negara selepas Melaka (0.9%) (Lihat Rajah 3). Ini menunjukkan bahawa walaupun terdapat sebilangan kilang yang telah menutup operasi baru-baru ini, pasaran pekerjaan di Pulau Pinang masih berdaya saing berikutan kemasukan pelaburan baru dan nilai tambah tinggi.

    Rajah 3: Kadar pengangguran (%) mengikut negeri pada 2016

    Bagi tahun 2016, pendapatan isi rumah Median dan Min bagi Pulau Pinang adalah RM 5,409 dan RM 6,771 yang memberikannya kedudukan tangga kelima di belakang KL, Selangor, Johor dan Melaka (lihat Rajah 4).

    Rajah 4: Min dan Median bagi pendapatan isi rumah mengikut negeri, 2016

    Jika kita mengkaji pendapatan isi rumah per kapita, iaitu pendapatan isi rumah dibahagikan dengan bilangan anggota dalam setiap rumahtangga, didapati bahawa Pulau Pinang berada pada kedudukan ketiga dengan angka median dan min per kapita bagi pendapatan isi rumah RM 1,595 dan RM 2,402 masing-masing (di belakang Selangor dan KL) (Lihat Rajah 5).

    Rajah 5: Min dan Median pendapatan per kapita isi rumah mengikut negeri, 2016 (RM)

    Pada masa yang sama, Pulau Pinang telah mengalami kejatuhan pekali Gini (ukuran ketidaksamaan pendapatan) yang kelima terbesar iaitu sebanyak 0.008, dari 0.364 (2014) ke 0.356 (2016) (Lihat Rajah 6 di bawah). Terdapat 5 buah negeri lain di mana pekali Gini mereka, yakni tahap ketidaksamaan di negeri-negeri tersebut, telah bertambah buruk dari 2014 hingga 2016, iaitu Sabah, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, Kedah dan Johor (Lihat Jadual 1 di bawah). (Pekali Gini yang lebih tinggi menandakan tahap ketidaksamaan yang lebih tinggi.)

    Rajah 6: Pekali Gini 2014 hingga 2016 mengikut negeri

    Jadual 1: Pekali Gini dan perubahan dalam Pekali Gini pada 2014 hingga 2016

    Ringkasnya, dalam hampir kesemua laporan data ekonomi di atas, Pulau Pinang menduduki tangga ketiga teratas dan paling buruk adalah di tangga kelima. Asas ekonomi Pulau Pinang sememangnya adalah kukuh, mampan dan saksama.

    [1] Kesemua statistik yang dirujuk dalam kenyataan media ini adalah dari Jabatan Perangkaan Statistik Malaysia (DOSM)

Page 3 of 17512345...102030...Last »