The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is up and running, and consumers are now extra wary when they go to the cash register – for fear of being overcharged. But they can be rest assured that the authorities are keeping a close watch on profiteering.
WHEN Wan Hidany Wan Khair ordered a glass of root beer at the foodcourt at the Alamanda Shopping Centre in Putrajaya, he was charged RM2.95 for it.
It might seem a paltry sum but the 38-year-old asked for a receipt anyway. It was no wonder, as it was the second day that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) had come into force.
Wan Hidany wanted to check if the trader had charged him the 6% GST, if the trader had indeed registered with the Customs Department for GST and whether the receipt had the proper GST identification (ID).
“I saw that the drink was RM2.80 and the GST on it was 17 sen which came up to RM2.97. The receipt had the GST ID, so I was okay paying it,” he says.
Since Wednesday, Wan Hidany and his friends have been scrutinising their receipts to guard against those trying to seize the opportunity to cash in on the GST.
“My friend went to buy a sardine curry puff, and the makcik had raised the price by 20 sen. He asked her why the increase when she was not registered for GST. And she replied it was because there was GST on sardine so her cost had gone up!”
“GST doesn’t mean you can charge people as you like,” he says, adding that Customs and enforcement officers should move around in plainclothes to conduct checks.
Wan Hidany who owns a company which is registered for GST says he does not mind paying GST on the things he buys and the services he uses “but there must be the proper receipt.”
“There is a difference between being afraid of the GST and not being educated about it and being irritated by it but well-informed of it,” he adds.
He does not think the GST is going to impact too much on his spending.
“I might have to be a bit more discerning. I am not going to cut down on the amount of teh tarik I have but maybe I’ll go to cheaper places,” he says.
Two days before the GST came into being, Nik Danial Affiq Nik Ahmad Fakhri bought a Sony T2 Ultra mobile phone for RM1,000.
Two days later, he went back to the shop to check the price and saw the phone selling for RM1,060 so he was glad he bought it earlier.
Like Wan Hidany, 26-year-old Nik Danial too has started asking for receipts for everything and scrutinising to see if it has the GST ID and if he was correctly charged. Already he has found some small outlets which are not registered for GST taking advantage by charging extra.
“But there are some other places that we have gone to where they don’t charge GST and when we asked them why, they said they have yet to register. We are happy with those who are honest and we will go back to them,’’ he says.
Nik Danial believes in the objective of the GST to make Malaysia a high income nation.
“But I think the government should have implemented it in stages by starting out at 1% first and gradually increasing it to 2%, 3% and so on, so that we could have got used to it,” he says.
Eric, who works in a pharmacy in Bangsar, was busy changing the labels with the new GST pricing and rating on the items in the store.
“We have thousands of items. As for panadol, some are zero-rated which means there is no GST charged but there are some types of panadol which are 6% standard-rated, so the process is tedious. It is a bit of a headache to get it done,” he says.
Even with teething problems here and there, customers have not kicked up a fuss.
“They do look at the receipts to check the price and how much GST they paid but they have not complained because they know about the new tax and what it is about,” he says.
Like with any new system, there are anomalies here and there.
Fruit kiosk Fruitlicious started pricing its sliced fruits 20 sen more from April 1 “inclusive of the 6% GST”, while MBG Fruits, another popular fruit kiosk, has maintained its old prices.
Both are GST-registered but Fruitlicious has categorised sliced fruit as standard-rated, hence the 6% GST; while MBG categorised it as zero-rated which means no GST.
“Our boss briefed us that there is no GST on cut fruit. We only charge GST for fruit juices and for dried fruits,” says MBG Fruits employee Nor Laili Salim.
Over at the GST headquarters in Putrajaya, GST director Datuk Subromaniam Tholasy says the way the GST has taken off was “beyond expectations.”
“We were expecting a hoo-haa and chaos but that wasn’t the case. Everything was normal. It was a clean take-off with minimal glitches. It was great for the country,” he says.
He says 80% to 90% of traders they interviewed had complied with the GST requirements and knew how to bill customers using the GST system.
“And they didn’t have issues with customers,” he says, adding that only between 10% and 15% experienced system glitches, while others did not have their GST-compliant cash registers in place and had not changed their price tags.
“To have 80% to 90% compliance on the first day itself is fantastic. And the best part is that there was very little commotion and arguments with customers,” he says.
Subromaniam says, tongue-in-cheek, that some of the credit should also go to the “anti-GST” crusaders.
“They may have indirectly helped the government create awareness on the GST, so there is now greater awareness,” he says.
Subromaniam advises consumers to keep checking on traders. If they find any profiteering or those unregistered for GST charging the tax, they should complain online, telephone the call centres or visit the helpdesks that have been opened. Subromaniam says because they were new to the system, some businesses may have inadvertently got it wrong.
But these errors, he says, should be rectified in a matter of days.
“Whenever there is a complaint, our officers will go to the outlet and check. If there is an offence, a notice will be issued,’’ he says, adding that there will be another visit after three days to check if the errant trader had complied.
It is also noticeable how Malaysians have become more aware of their rights and are vocal in expressing their views through various means including the social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.
Now that the necessary laws are in place, it will be interesting to see how the people peruse “consumer power” to rein in errant traders and profiteers.
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