Too good to be true? Think twice


 

HAVE you ever grabbed an offer without any hesitation, simply because the price is too cheap to resist?

Many of us have this experience especially during sales or promotional campaigns. We tend to spend more at the end or buy things which we are uncertain of their quality when the deal seems too good to say no.

It may be harmless if the amount involved is insignificant. However, when we apply the same approach to big ticket items, it can cause vast implications.

Recently, I heard a case which reinforces this belief.

A friend shared that a property project which was selling for RM300,000 a few years ago is now stuck. Although the whole project was sold out, the developer has problem delivering the units on time.

The developer is calling all purchasers to renegotiate the liquidated and ascertained damages (LAD), a compensation for late delivery.

One of the homeowners said he is owed RM50,000 of LAD, which means the project is 1½ years late. When we chatted, we found that he purchased the unit solely due to its cheap pricing without doing much research in the first place.

The incident is a real-life example of paying too low for an item which can leave us as losers, especially when it involves huge sum of investment, such as property.

To many, buying a house maybe a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a decision made can make or break the happiness of a family.

A good decision ensures a roof over the head and a great living environment, while an imprudent move may incur long-term financial woes if the house is left uncompleted.

Nowadays, it is common to see people do research when they plan to buy a phone, household item, or other smaller ticket items.

Looking at the amount involved and implication of buying a house, we should apply the same discretion if not more.

It is always important for house buyers to study the background of a developer and project, consult experienced homeowners regarding the good and bad of a project before committing.

I have seen many people buy a house merely based on price consideration.

In fact, there are more to be deliberated when we commit for a roof over our heads. The location, project type, reputation of a developer, the workmanship, the future maintenance of the property etc, are all important factors for a good decision as they would affect the future value of a project.

Beware when a discount or a rebate sounds too good to be true, it may be just too good to be true and never materialised. If the collection or revenue of a housing project is not sufficient to fund the building cost, the developer may not be able to complete the project or deliver the house as per promised terms. At the end of the day, the “price” paid by homeowners would be far more expensive.

In general, the same principle applies elsewhere. It is a known fact that when we pay a premium for a quality product from a reliable producer, we have a peace of mind that the product could last longer and end up saving us money. Some lucky ones will end up gaining much more.

For instance, when we purchase a car, we should consider its resale value as some cars hold up well, while others collapse after a short period. Other determining factors include the specifications of the car, the after sales service, and the availability of spare parts.

Quality products always come with a higher price tag due to the research, effort, materials and services involved.

In addition to buying a house or big ticket items, other incidents that can tantamount to losing huge sums are like money games, get-rich-quick scheme, or the purchase of stolen cars or houses with caveats.

When an offer or a rebate sounds dodgy, the “good deal” can be a scam.

Years of experience tells me that when what is too good to be true, we should think twice. I always remind myself with a quote from John Ruskin (1819-1900) who was an art critic, an artist, an architect and a philosopher. “It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.

“The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”

Food for thought by Alan Tong

Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He was the world president of FIABCI International for 2005/2006 and awarded the Property Man of the Year 2010 at FIABCI Malaysia Property Award. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.

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Malaysia must retool education, skills to adapt to knowledge economy


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia needs to reinvent its education system to adapt to the knowledge economy, which has led to a sharp reduction in unskilled jobs and spike in demand for data analysts.

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng, Distinguished Fellow of Asia Global Institute, University of Hong Kong, said Malaysia needs to retool its education and skills, and experiment across the spectrum, in positioning itself in the new economy.

“Formal education is outdated because of the speed of new knowledge. Companies do not spend on ‘on the job’ training, because of cost cuts and staff turnover,” he said during his presentation at the NCCIM Economic Forum 2017 yesterday.

Between 2007 and 2015, the loss of unskilled jobs was 55% relative to other jobs while demand for data analysts over the last five years has increased 372%.

In the global supply chain, old economy companies are quickly losing their edge as digitisation moves faster than physical goods while unskilled jobs will be quickly replaced by robotics due to the fast adoption of artificial intelligence (AI).

“Moving up the global value chain is about moving up knowledge intensity. If you don’t get smarter you won’t get the business.

“We are already plugged into the global value chain. We are very successful in that area but we cannot stay where we are. Remaining still is no longer an option. We need to move from tasks to value added growth to high value added production. In order to do that, we need to learn to learn.”

Sheng said the Malaysian economy is doing well but faces many challenges, including subdued energy prices, growing trade protectionism, geopolitical tensions and is still very reliant on foreign labour.

“Are we ready for the new economy? The way trade is growing is phenomenal but the new economy’s challenges are great and very complicated politically because technology is great for us as it gives us whatever we want but at the cost of our jobs,” he said.

When education fails to keep pace with technology, the result is inequality, populism and major political upheaval.

“What the new economy tells us is that robotics or AI (artificial intelligence) calls for Education 4.0, which means that we have to learn for life,” he said.

Sheng noted that Malaysia has successfully moved quietly into education services, medical tourism, higher quality foods, all through upgrading skills, branding and marketing.

“But formal education has become bureaucratised, whereas we are not spending enough on upgrading our labour force, prefering to hire imported labour,” he said.

Although Malaysia cannot compete in terms of scale and speed, especially against giants such as China, it can compete in terms of scope with strength in diversity, soft skills and adaptability.

“We are winners … but have we got the mindset?” Sheng questioned.

He said Malaysia must upgrade its physical technology through research and development, harness its unique social technology and digitise its business model in order to create wealth.

While the government can help, he added, true success comes from community self-help irrespective of race or creed, and retired baby boomers who have wealth of experience must mentor the youth to start thinking about the new economy.

Eva Yeong, sunbiz@thesundaily.com
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MALAYSIA should leverage on social technology, which is its true strength, … Tan Sri Andrew Sheng, who is a distinguished fellow at Asia Global Institute, … the new economy as it involves lifelong learning to adapt, innovate and create. … To enhance the skills of the civil service, he pointed out Singapore’s …

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Bitcoin must not in your retirement financial planning portfolio


Bitcoin investments have undeniably become a trend among savvy investors in search of the golden goose, but one financial planner is against the use of it as part of the financial planning portfolio for retirement.

Max Growth Wealth Education Sdn Bhd managing director Nicholas Chu said one should not use bitcoin as part of the retirement portfolio and the public must be well aware of the risk in bitcoin trading before getting in.

“It is not asset-backed, it is very unsecure. It is, basically, you want to participate in the future changes. It’s not a proper financial planning way. It is just an experimental thing that you want to go through in this era, but it is not a proper investment product,” he told SunBiz.

“I definitely don’t agree if they use this for their financial planning. But for those who are able to try new ventures, they can go ahead provided they have extra money. If this doesn’t affect their existing financial planning, then I’ll leave it to them. We need to tell them the pros and cons of this investment. It’s up to the clients to do the final decision,” he said.

Chu cautioned on the uncertainties of bitcoin trading, which is driven by market forces.
“It is beyond anybody’s control, all the participants contribute to the bitcoin value. From that, I can say that there are a lot of uncertainties in the future,” he said.

Nonetheless, with the setting up of a few bitcoin exchanges, Chu noted that there will be demand and supply with tradeable markets available.

Bitcoin was the best-performing currency in 2015 and 2016, with a rise of 35.8% and 126.2% respectively.

Year to date, bitcoin prices have leaped more than three times. It stood at US$2,840 (RM12,140) as at 5pm last Friday.

Bitcoins are by the far the most popular cryptocurrency, which exists almost wholly in the digital realm and has no asset backing it. Bitcoin generation, known as mining, while open to anyone with a “mining application” on their computer, needs a great deal of computing power to solve complex algorithms which are later verified with the entire bitcoin network.

Colbert Low, founder of bitcoinmalaysia.com, said the recent spike in bitcoin prices could be partly due to the legalisation of bitcoin by the Japanese government.

He is unsure if the sharp rise in bitcoin prices will create a price bubble, but stressed that one cannot judge its price movement based on the “old economic theory”.

“This is a new economy based on a different model. It’s very hard to say,” Low opined, noting that there has been a growing number of retail outlets that accept bitcoin.

He foresees the usage of bitcoin propagating, especially in different types of payment methods.

However, Low opined that there will not be any “big movement” in the local market if the regulators do not regulate bitcoin.

“Our new Bank Negara governor is forward thinking and he is very much into fintech, technology and innovation. So there would definitely be improvement,” Low said.

The positive development of blockchain will be a catalyst for the growth of bitcoin, he added.

“Blockchain is a real thing that will change the way the IP system is architectured. We need to go down to a deeper level to see how blockchain can change the current problem and solve it.

“There are a lot of projects right now, over 500 companies are looking at this (blockchain) right now. Even IBM, HP and Microsoft are looking at it.”

Blockchain refers to distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, secure from tampering and revision. Bitcoin is just an application or software that runs on blockchain technology.

“If you look at blockchain technology, government agencies like the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are looking at it. This is the best way to secure your data,” Low said, noting that the usage of bitcoin will help reduce operating cost.

Currently, there are about 16 million bitcoins in the market and the number is capped at 21 million.

Bank Negara has said that it does not regulate the cryptocurrency and advised the public to be cautious of the risks associated with the usage of such digital currency.

Source: By Lee Weng Khuen sunbiz@thesundaily.com

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Never-ending money games – from fixed return to split schemes


The allure of money game schemes (or money games) seems not to have diminished despite the collapse of many recently.

Instead, there has been a switch in investors’ focus from fixed-return games to split games, which are deemed “more sustainable”.

Fixed-return schemes generally refer to those that give a consistent percentage of return every month or week. However, most of them have collapsed lately.

Investors’ attention is now centred on split games, even though this means they have to wait for a longer period in order to get back their capital.

Mcoin, which is undertaken through MBI International Sdn Bhd and MFace International Sdn Bhd, is an example of a split game based on units of which the value keeps increasing and then split after a certain time.

However, with the raid of MBI’s flagship mall – M Mall in Penang – by the regulators recently, its days look to be numbered, and the sustainability of such schemes is now a big question.

Another prominent split game – Mama Captain, which has a similar business model to that of Mcoin – has also been red-flagged by Bank Negara last Thursday under the Financial Consumer Alert List. An additional 14 companies have been added to the list, bringing the total number of unapproved and unlicensed companies/schemes to 334 as at June 29.

Besides the local ones, there are several foreign schemes in the market, which investors expect to have more staying power than the fixed-return schemes. Two such schemes from China – Smart Traders Ltd and Centennial Coin of Prosperity – have been in operation in Malaysia since last year. However, it is understood that they have stopped distributing returns to their investors.

This, however, appears not to have deterred those who are lured by the promise of fast money. This is evidenced by the huge crowd seen at an event organised by a split game company a few weeks ago in Shah Alam. It was estimated that over 2,000 participants were present and most of them were Chinese investors.

A number of booths were set up at the venue, and investors were able to redeem a variety of stuff, including vouchers, health products, apparels and many more.

An investor whom SunBiz spoke to at the event said he is unfazed by the collapse of money games and is optimistic about the prospects of the split game that he is involved in.

The investor said he has been in the scheme for more than nine months and now it has started to bear fruit.

“Generally, it takes about two months to split once and we can start generating money after it splits for four times. Now I start to get money from the scheme. While you’ve to wait for some time before getting any return, I think it is still worth to join,” he opined.

It is understood that the scheme has tied up with a few product operators to increase its attractiveness.

Another investor, Alan Mu, said he was amazed by the event. “The gala dinner is so grand and there are so many products that I can redeem by participating in this scheme,” he said.

Another scheme that has caught the market’s attention is SV International (SVI), a company that Yong Tai Bhd has denied having links to. Yong Tai alleged that SVI circulated photos taken during a signing ceremony on SVI’s website as well as the social media, for which there was no official agreement entered into between the two parties thereafter.

Yong Tai also refuted speculation that SVI has a stake in its Impression City and Impression Melaka projects.

By Lee Weng Khuen sunbiz@thesundaily.com

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Dollar bulls face perilous start to second half of 2017


Losing streak: The greenback finished the first half of 2017 on a four-month losing streak – the longest such stretch since 2011. – AFP

https://www.bloomberg.com/api/embed/iframe?id=386fc1f7-12e9-49ed-b7d6-f4a868fc9d5c

After the worst start to a year for the greenback since 2006, the end of the first half couldn’t come quick enough for the dwindling ranks of dollar bulls. Yet if history is any guide, it could soon get even worse.

A week that’s certain to get off to a slow start with U.S. markets closed Tuesday will culminate with Friday’s jobs report. The release hasn’t been kind to those wagering on greenback strength. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index has slumped in the aftermath of nine of the past ten, despite above consensus reports as recently as February, March and May.

“The dollar has not been responding to positive data surprises, but continues to weaken substantially on negative news,” said Michael Cahill, a strategist at Goldman Sachs. “As long as that persists, the risks are skewed to the downside going into every data release.”

The greenback finished the first half on a four month losing streak — the longest such stretch since 2011 — wiping out its post-election gain. The currency’s 6.6 percent decline in the six months through June were the worst half for the dollar since the back end of 2010. Unraveling optimism around the Trump administration’s ability to boost fiscal growth has outweighed Fed policy or positive data, according to Alvise Marino, a strategist at Credit Suisse.

“What’s happening on the monetary policy front is not as important,” said Marino. “It’s more about the dollar remaining weighed down by the unwinding of financial expectations.”

The sudden hawkish tilt by global central banks hasn’t helped. The dollar weakened more than 2 percent against the euro, pound and Canadian loonie last week as officials signaled a bias toward tightening monetary policy.

Yet there are reasons for optimism, according to JPMorgan Chase analysts led by John Normand, who recommended staying long the greenback in a June 23 note. A cheap valuation relative to global interest rates, the market underpricing the likelihood of another Fed hike this year, and a still positive growth outlook make for a favorable backdrop to motivate dollar longs in an “overstretched” unwind, the analysts wrote.

Hedge funds and other speculators disagree. They turned bearish on the dollar for the first time since May 2016 last week. Wagers the greenback will decline outnumber bets it’ll strengthen by 30,037 contracts, Commodity Futures Trading Commission data released Friday show.

Source: Bloomberg

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The Asian financial crisis – 20 years later




East Asian Economies Remain Diverse

 

It is useful to reflect on whether lessons have been learnt and if the countries are vulnerable to new crises.

IT’S been 20 years since the Asian financial crisis struck in July 1997. Since then, there has been an even bigger global financial crisis, starting in 2008. Will there be another crisis?

The Asian crisis began when speculators brought down the Thai baht. Within months, the currencies of Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia were also affected. The East Asian Miracle turned into an Asian Financial Nightmare.

Despite the affected countries receiving only praise before the crisis, weaknesses had built up, including current account deficits, low foreign reserves and high external debt.

In particular, the countries had recently liberalised their financial system in line with international advice. This enabled local private companies to freely borrow from abroad, mainly in US dollars. Companies and banks in Korea, Indonesia and Thailand had in each country rapidly accumulated over a hundred billion dollars of external loans. This was the Achilles heel that led their countries to crisis.

These weaknesses made the countries ripe for speculators to bet against their currencies. When the governments used up their reserves in a vain attempt to stem the currency fall, three of the countries ran out of foreign exchange.

They went to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for bailout loans that carried draconian conditions that worsened their economic situation.

Malaysia was fortunate. It did not seek IMF loans. The foreign reserves had become dangerously low but were just about adequate. If the ringgit had fallen a bit further, the danger line would have been breached.

After a year of self-imposed austerity measures, Malaysia dramatically switched course and introduced a set of unorthodox policies.

These included pegging the ringgit to the dollar, selective capital controls to prevent short-term funds from exiting, lowering interest rates, increasing government spending and rescuing failing companies and banks.

This was the opposite of orthodoxy and the IMF policies. The global establishment predicted the sure collapse of the Malaysian economy.

But surprisingly, the economy recovered even faster and with fewer losses than the other countries. Today, the Malaysian measures are often cited as a successful anti-crisis strategy.

The IMF itself has changed a little. It now includes some capital controls as part of legitimate policy measures.

The Asian countries, vowing never to go to the IMF again, built up strong current account surpluses and foreign reserves to protect against bad years and keep off speculators. The economies recovered, but never back to the spectacular 7% to 10% pre-crisis growth rates.

Then in 2008, the global financial crisis erupted with the United States as its epicentre. The tip of the iceberg was the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the massive loans given out to non-credit-worthy house-buyers.

The underlying cause was the deregulation of US finance and the freedom with which financial institutions could devise all kinds of manipulative schemes and “financial products” to draw in unsuspecting customers. They made billions of dollars but the house of cards came tumbling down.

To fight the crisis, the US, under President Barack Obama, embarked first on expanding government spending and then on financial policies of near-zero interest rates and “quantitative easing”, with the Federal Reserve pumping trillions of dollars into the US banks.

It was hoped the cheap credit would get consumers and businesses to spend and lift the economy. But instead, a significant portion of the trillions went via investors into speculative activities, including abroad to emerging economies.

Europe, on the verge of recession, followed the US with near zero interest rates and large quantitative easing, with limited results.

The US-Europe financial crisis affected Asian countries in a limited way through declines in export growth and commodity prices. The large foreign reserves built up after the Asian crisis, plus the current account surplus situation, acted as buffers against external debt problems and kept speculators at bay.

Just as important, hundreds of billions of funds from the US and Europe poured into Asia yearly in search of higher yields. These massive capital inflows helped to boost Asian countries’ growth, but could cause their own problems.

First, they led to asset bubbles or rapid price increases of houses and the stock markets, and the bubbles may burst when they are over-ripe.

Second, many of the portfolio investors are short-term funds looking for quick profit, and they can be expected to leave when conditions change.

Third, the countries receiving capital inflows become vulnerable to financial volatility and economic instability.

If and when investors pull some or a lot of their money out, there may be price declines, inadequate replenishment of bonds, and a fall in the levels of currency and foreign reserves.

A few countries may face a new financial crisis.

A new vulnerability in many emerging economies is the rapid build-up of external debt in the form of bonds denominated in the local currency.

The Asian crisis two decades ago taught that over-borrowing in foreign currency can create difficulties in debt repayment should the local currency level fall.

To avoid this, many countries sold bonds denominated in the local currency to foreign investors.

However, if the bonds held by foreigners are large in value, the country will still be vulnerable to the effects of a withdrawal.

As an example, almost half of Malaysian government securities, denominated in ringgit, are held by foreigners.

Though the country does not face the risk of having to pay more in ringgit if there is a fall in the local currency, it may have other difficulties if foreigners withdraw their bonds.

What is the state of the world economy, what are the chances of a new financial crisis, and how would the Asian countries like Malaysia fare?

These are big and relevant questions to ponder 20 years after the start of the Asian crisis and nine years after the global crisis.

But we will have to consider them in another article.

By Martin Khor Global Trend

Martin Khor (director@southcentre.org) is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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What concerns Malaysians most ?


Supermarket shopping food

THE biggest concern among Malaysians, as we head towards the general election, is the cost of living. It’s as simple as that.

There have been plenty of political and religious side shows, but for many Malaysians, regardless of race, settling the many bills each month is what worries them the most.

Although Malaysia remains one of the cheapest countries to live in, its citizens have been spoilt for too long.

We are so used to having so many food items subsidised, including sugar, at one time, to the point that some of us have had difficulties adjusting ourselves.

Our neighbours still come to Malaysia to buy petrol, because ours is still cheaper than theirs.

But, as in any elections, politicians will always promise the heavens to get our votes. One of the promises, we have already heard, is the abolishment of the Goods and Services Tax.

No doubt that doing away with GST would appeal to voters, but seriously, even the opposition politicians calling for this are aware that it is a counter-productive move.

In the words of Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, a highly-respected retired government servant, “it is too much of a fairy tale.”

The danger, of course, is that populist electoral pledges are always appealing, even if they are not rational.

Malaysia cannot depend on just about two million tax payers to foot the bill in a country of over 30 million people. It is unfair and unsustainable.

Taxing consumption gives more stability to revenue because income tax is regarded as highly volatile, as it depends very much on the ups and downs of businesses, according to Mohd Sheriff. When the market is soft, revenue collection always sees a dip.

For the government, which has already been criticised for having such a huge civil service, without GST, it could even mean its workers may not get paid when there is a downturn in the economy.

In the case of Malaysia, we have lost a substantial amount of revenue following the drop in oil price.

So, when politicians make promises, claiming plugging leakages is sufficient to end GST, it is really far-fetched and irresponsible.

The Malaysian tax system needs to continue to be more consumption-oriented to make it recession-proof, and, more importantly, the tax net just has to be widened. The bottom line is that, it is grossly unfair for two million people to shoulder the burden.

The government has done the right thing by widening the tax base and narrowing the fiscal deficit. The move to implement GST, introduced in 2014, has been proven right.

GST is needed to provide a strong substitute as a tax consumption capable of off-setting revenue loss from personal and corporate tax.

Beginning next month, India will join nearly 160 countries, including Malaysia, in introducing GST. Like Malaysia, when GST was first introduced, plenty of loud grumblings and doubts have rolled out.

Unlike Malaysia’s flat 6% across the board, India is introducing a more complicated four-tier GST tax structure of 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%, with lower rates for essential items and highest for luxury and demerits goods that would also attract additional cess.

In Singapore, GST was introduced on April 1, 1994, at 3%. The rate was increased to 4% in 2003, then 5% in 2004. It was raised to 7% on July 1, 2007.

Some politicians came under fire recently for purportedly calling for the abolishment of GST, however, some others clarified that they had merely called for a reduction in the tax’s percentage.

Another top opposition politician has come out as the strongest opponent of GST, reportedly saying the claim that Malaysia needs GST is false.

Some other politicians have described GST as regressive, but have not come out with clear ideas on how it should be tackled.

Nonetheless, the ruling party should not make light of these electoral promises.

For many in the urban middle class, they feel the squeeze the most.

They have struggled against the rising cost of living, paying house and car loans, and earning deep levels of debt, as one report aptly put.

The middle class, consisting of over 40% of Malaysians, is also in the income tax bracket, it must be noted.

Last year, an economist was quoted saying that 2016 was a year of a shrinking urban middle class and a happy upper class.

Shankar Chelliah, an associate professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, said that the Malaysian middle class shrank in metropolitan centres across the country, and that most of its members would end the year almost 40% poorer than they were in 2015.

He said this would be due to the withdrawal of cooking oil and sugar subsidies, depreciation of the ringgit, decrease in foreign inflows and increase in outflows, among other factors.

For many in this middle class range who do not qualify for BR1M handouts, the government clearly has to come up with a range of programmes which can relieve them of these burdens.

It isn’t race or religious issues that will appeal to voters – they want to know how they can lead better lives, and if the opposition thinks contentious issues will translate into votes, they will be in for a surprise.

It is true that the heartland will continue to deliver the crucial votes, and the ruling party will benefit from this, but Malaysia has also become more urban and more connected.

At the end of the day, it is the bread and butter issues that matter most. Let’s hear some solid ideas and programmes which will reduce the burden of Malaysians.

By Wong Chun Wai On the beat, The Star

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

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