Glitches aside, GST is up and running in Malaysia

PETALING JAYA - As expected, there were glitches and hiccups on the first day as the Goods and Services Tax (GST) structure kicked off.

It ranged from items such as newspapers being charged 6 per cent tax when there should be none, telcos getting warnings for adding taxes to their prepaid phone top-ups, receipts being handwritten as outlets had not installed GST-compliant cash registers to some shops not charging any GST.

Consumers expecting the tax to be assessed separately after the itemised bill was totalled were surprised to find that the GST element had been included in the net selling price of every item.

What probably took the cake was a mamak restaurant chain that tweaked its prices twice in a day. It ended up with its final bill for the same order being cheaper than it was pre-GST.

"It will take at least six months for the billing system to settle because it is a new way of calculating the cost of producing food. This is the first time I'm seeing my ice supplier incorporating tax into his bill," said the owner.

At the other end of the scale were cases of consumers seeing their total bill way above the pre-GST price due to excessive service charge, one up to almost 30 per cent.

This became clear as receipts were broken down right to the amount that consumers were charged for their items purchased, service charge and the GST component. Bills have probably never been scrutinised as much as they were yesterday.

Even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak tweeted his grocery bill of RM38.67 from a Giant Hypermarket store.

He complimented the hypermarket for its clear and easy-to-understand receipt. "Bagus," he tweeted.

A normal receipt should have a breakdown of the price of individual items, the GST amount and a service charge if necessary for eateries. The service charge is also subject to a 6 per cent GST.

Several places were not ready for the new tax system and resorted to handwritten receipts. There were also outlets that waived GST charges because the cash registers were not installed.

One restaurant owner "rang the bell" for his lingering customers at 11.30pm on Monday to come pay their bill so they could have pre-GST prices.

The Customs Department was kept busy all day throughout the country conducting checks.

Its GST division director Datuk Subromaniam Tholasy said his department visited 480 companies to monitor their implementation of the GST as of 3pm yesterday and found that 80 per cent business owners had complied with the instructions.

"There have been some glitches of course, but the general feedback we got from business owners is that most consumers have no complaints about the GST. We can deduce that Malaysians are generally accepting of the GST," said Subromaniam, who led a joint operations with officers from the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry yesterday.

Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Alias Ahmad told reporters they received 418 complaints between 8am and 2pm yesterday from consumers.