Four Rail Projects
Under the new government, new policies were put in place while others have been changed. To reduce Malaysia’s debt, the Pakatan Harapan government announced its decision to scrap, postpone or scale down several rail projects.
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysia could not afford these projects due to the country’s RM1tril national debt inherited from the previous Barisan Nasional government.
The High-Speed Rail, said to cut travelling time between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore by 90 minutes, was cancelled. The project cost had ballooned from an initial estimate of RM72bil to RM110bil, according to Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng.
The East Coast Rail Link project, spanning from Port Klang to Gombak and onwards to Kuantan and Pengkalan Kubor, was suspended due to its escalating cost.
The project started off with an initial estimate of less than RM30bil. After the inclusion of phases one and two, a northern extension, track upgrade and other factors, the final amount came up to a staggering RM81bil.
The Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit line 3 (or Circle Line) project, reportedly costing between RM40bil and RM45bil, was also scrapped.
Meanwhile, the Light Rail Transit 3 (LRT3) was scaled down with a revised plan and budget. This included extending the timeline to 2024, and reducing the order from six-car trains to three-car trains.
The 36km-long track linking Bandar Utama to Klang, which serves as an extension of the Kelana Jaya LRT link, from RM31bil, is now to be completed at RM16.6bil.
New Old Taxes
The Sales Tax And Service Tax (SST) was reintroduced in September, replacing the previous Goods And Services Tax (GST). The abolition of GST and replacement with SST was part of Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto in GE14.
Under the SST system, the provision of services would be taxed at 6% and the sale of certain goods at 10%. Restaurants and cafes making less than RM1.5mil annually were exempt from charging SST.
Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng in the Budget 2019 announced that a new soda tax would be implemented from April 1 next year in an effort to promote a healthier lifestyle and address the increasing rate of obesity and diabetes cases among Malaysians.
In addition, Real Property Gains Tax (RPGT) was increased from 5% to 10% for companies and foreigners, and from 0% to 5% for individuals for disposal of properties or shares property-holding companies held beyond five years.
A 4% stamp duty would be imposed on the transfer of properties valued above RM1mil.
Pay Back Time For Loan
Politicians from both sides of the divide have called for a National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) loan repayment scheme review.
Pakatan Harapan, in its general election manifesto, had promised to defer repayment of PTPTN loans for borrowers earning RM4,000 a month and below, but it found the level of debt was too high to fulfil its promise.
PTPTN chairman Wan Saiful Wan Jan had announced that borrowers would have their salaries deducted every month to repay their study loans. The scheme would only apply to those earning above RM2,000, with a deduction between 2% and 15%, depending on the salary bracket.
Employers who help settle their employees’ National Higher Education Fund Corporation loans are to receive a tax exemption from Jan 1, 2019 onwards. This scheme, however, has been suspended until further notice.
No More Death Penalty
In October, the cabinet decided to abolish the death penalty, in line with Pakatan. The move affects 32 offences punishable with death penalty under eight laws.
When making the announcement, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Liew Vui Keong said there would be a moratorium on all executions, pending the abolition of the death penalty, and that the related bill would be tabled in parliament.
Weed For Medicinal Purposes
South Korea became the first East Asian country to legalise medical marijuana. In November, Thailand’s legislature officially proposed legal amendments to allow licensed medical use of marijuana, not including recreational use drug.
Meanwhile, Malaysia is in talks to legalise marijuana for medical use, with the cabinet having informal talks on amending the relevant laws. The move is in reaction to public outrage over the death penalty handed to Muhammad Lukman, who was sentenced for possessing, processing and distributing medical marijuana (cannabis oil).
Countries that have legalised the medical use of cannabis so far are Australia, Chile, Colombia, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Sri Lanka and Britain.
On the other hand, Canada has legalised and will regulate the sale and recreational use of marijuana as of October 2018. The Cannabis Act fulfilled a promise made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his 2015 election campaign. Canada is the second country after Uruguay to legalise the drug.
Setting The Standards
Minimum wage will be raised to RM1,100 nationwide, starting January 2019. The previous minimum wage rate was set at RM1,000 per month for peninsular Malaysia and RM920 for Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan.
Meanwhile, the government announced that minimum age for buying alcoholic drinks is now 21, in line with the legal drinking age. The change in legal drinking age to 21 from 18 was following an amendment to the Food Regulation Act 1985, gazetted in May 2017.
New Smoke-Free Zones
The Health Ministry has said that open-air eateries would be turned into non-smoking zones from December 2018.
The current Control Of Tobacco Product (Amendment) Regulations 2017 prohibits smoking in areas such as hospitals, public toilets, lifts, government premises and parks. Those caught smoking at prohibited areas can be fined RM10,000 or jailed for not more than two years.
In efforts to reduce plastic waste in the environment, the government announced the Roadmap Towards Zero Single-Use Plastics 2018-2030 in October.
Under the plan, there will be no more drinking straws and plastic carrier bags by 2030, with local councils imposing a “pollution charge” and a “no straw by default” policy. These measures will be introduced from next year until 2021 as part of phase one of the road map.
A pollution charge would be imposed on plastic carrier bags via the local councils for hypermarkets, big retailers, chain stores and restaurants. Phase two of the plan, which will take place between 2022 and 2025, will see more widespread use of biodegradable bags.
Cheaper Way To Travel
The government launched a new unlimited travel pass for rail and bus commuters in December. The My100 monthly travel pass can be purchased using the MyKad, MyKid or MyTentera, and covers all forms of RapidKL rail and road transport including MRT, LRT, Monorail, BRT, RapidKL buses and MRT feeder buses.
There is also a My50 monthly pass priced at RM50, valid for RapidKL buses and MRT feeder buses. The unlimited travel pass pilot project is confined to the Klang Valley as it has all modes of public transport.
In addition, the government announced a targeted fuel subsidy mechanism under Budget 2019. Motorists driving cars with engine capacities 1,500cc and below, and riding motorcycles 125cc and below, get to enjoy RON95 petrol at a lower price.
Eligible cars can receive the subsidy of up to 100 litres per month, while motorcycles are eligible for 40 litres per month.