Truths built on untruths


  • Living
  • Saturday, 10 May 2014

Malaysia is being stretched and strained as different sides are adamant that they cannot be wrong. 

I remember in the days before the Internet, we would tell wonderful tales at school of things “that were true”.

We either had to accept it or disagree vehemently and so we would argue over who the best member of the A-team was, or whether Prince was better than Michael Jackson.

Each one was passionate about their side of the argument; unfortunately, they could not all be right.

On a more serious level, I see something similar in the current conversations about GST and hudud. Many who are willing to put their reputations and careers on the line have come down firmly on one side of the debate or another.

Of the two, I feel that perhaps GST is easier to understand, given that the government has published mountains of documentation on their website http://gst.customs.gov.my/.

There is a lot of it. For example, the Goods and Services Tax Bill 2014 is 187 pages long. They also try to present what is in it in laymen’s terms, and have produced a 96-page General Guide.

I am quite sure none of this information was readily available when PAS Youth chief and Temerloh member of parliament Nasrudin Hassan said last year that (assuming a GST of seven percent), “the end consumers would pay GST at a 28 percent rate to cover the cost by manufacturers at seven percent, wholesalers at seven percent, retailers at seven percent and lastly another seven

percent for them”.

It’s understandable he got this wrong given the lack of information at the time, but what is galling is the confidence with which he asserted this “truth”. As I understand it, yes, GST is implemented at every stage of the supply chain, but the amount paid at each stage is only for the “value added” and not the whole amount.

But at least GST has details of how it will be implemented in copious detail. In comparison, understanding how hudud will be implemented in Kelantan is much tougher. True, some of it is codified in the Kelantan Syariah Criminal Code II Enactment of 1993, but there is still much misunderstanding about what exactly it entails.

One example was when Wanita Gerakan Chief Datuk Tan Lian Hoe claimed that rapists would get away with their crimes, since four witnesses would be required to prove it to the Syariah Court. “When a rape is taking place” she said, “who would call someone to witness it(?)”.

However, the truth is more complex than that. As reported in HarakahDaily, it is true witnesses are required for somebody to be prosecuted for rape under hudud. However, if there are insufficient (or no) witnesses, but there exists qarinah (circumstantial evidence) that supports the victim’s claim, then the accused will still be prosecuted under takzir law.

It would be nice, when politicians realise they have made a mistake, that they would come out and say, “I was wrong about that thing I was shouting about”. However, I think that would be expecting too much, especially considering how large the divide between opposing parties is at this point.

Even the check and balance that is meant to be provided by a strong opposition can fail when the polemic swings between the two extremes, with the truth claiming only a small ground in the middle.

What is missing in the landscape is a neutral party who at least acts as a reliable resource on the truth. In the United States, there is an organisation called factcheck.org which call themselves a “nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer advocate for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in US politics”. Find an organisation which can replace the word “US” with “Malaysian”, and I think we’ll go a long way.

But as long as we are splitting hairs over the wrong questions, we won’t make any progress. Of course, you could envisage scenarios where GST ballooning would be an issue (e.g. If rice itself is exempt from GST, but the transport, storage and packaging of it isn’t, then the cost of rice will still increase).

Or I could point out that if a woman cannot prove that she was raped even with circumstantial evidence, then she is at risk of being guilty of qazaf (i.e. of making false accusations), which itself is punishable by 80 lashes.

The problems with the debate right now is that it isn’t an informed debate, or even a debate to inform. It’s to demonstrate how deep each side has pounded its stake into the ground and I fear the country might already be at stretching point.

It all distracts from the bigger picture. For example, perhaps the real issue is whether we want a personal tax system where only 10 percent of the workforce contributes to? Or, how comfortable are we with Malaysians being treated differently in the eyes of the law depending on their religion?

Or perhaps the real prize at stake is Putrajaya, and neither side wants to blink because admitting failure is the first step down the road to defeat. But I am not comfortable at all being ruled by any group which believes it is always right – no matter what.

Our country is still like a teenager, and one thing that changes as it matures is to understand which arguments are just full of hot air and which really matter. Whether those involved in the current debates know that will determine how we grow up.

Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions. Speak to him at star2@thestar.com.my.

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Truths built on untruths

   

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