PSM: Pointless to harp on 1MDB, Opposition must have clear policies

The government should also impose a higher corporate tax on large companies who hit a certain turnover threshold annually, he said, adding that this will also help filter out foreign companies that are only attracted by low business costs here and instead, bring in those who are serious about investing and can contribute.

Ida Lim, Malay Mail Online

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) called on voters to be more demanding of Opposition candidates in the next general elections instead of being satisfied with campaign speeches on controversies like 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

PSM’s secretary-general A. Sivarajan said voters should instead press election candidates for their position and policies to tackle issues such as healthcare, environment and land rights.

“But no, everybody is taking the easy way out. As long as the particular candidate who comes up on stage and gives a ceramah can talk very well on 1MDB, it is good enough. That is very wrong.

“Why should we vote for him? No. You should question what he stands for when we talk about privatisation of hospital care. You should ask him what he stands for when we talk about building highways through the jungle,” he told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview on PSM’s preparation and approach for the 14th general election.

Beyond just putting up election candidates whom PSM believes are principled and committed to fight for the people, Sivarajan said the political party wants to introduce voters to a new way of thinking and to steer the national conversation back to where it matters.

He noted that politicians currently are dictating the discourse by focusing voters’ attention on 1MDB, while a more mature electorate would instead keep asking and demand for positions on issues such as minimum wage, affordable housing and the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

“I think the rakyat should be more ready to move another step ahead, whereby we question not only the personalities in the politics, but the policies, what they stand for, what is their position in terms of economy and everything else,” he said.

For PSM, eradicating corruption in Malaysia is merely the first step that should be taken, with the most important factor still the policies that an election candidate can offer.

“The other thing I want to put forward is Malaysia cannot be saved by being only clean and a corrupt-free government, no, that is only one part of it.

‘‘We need a government which is very clear on how to overcome the neoliberal policies which we are facing now, what we are going to do about these extreme power of all these big corporations, landowners, developers who are pushing down all these policies down our throats?

“What are we going to do about developers who are grabbing people’s land? What are we going to do about inequality which is rising in the country? So it’s a big scope of things which people who are standing as candidates should talk about,” he said.

A week after the March 23 arrest of 79 anti-GST activists, PSM and other activists pressed the Customs Department to give full clarification on the tax, April 1, 2015. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng

Where will money come from without GST?

With the GST likely to pop up again in GE14 as voters continue to feel the pinch from rising living costs, Sivarajan said PSM has always been against the broad-based consumption tax and will remain opposed to it.

“We think GST cannot be reformed, GST must be scrapped,” he said, arguing that some traders may have added on the GST rate to the prices of goods without removing the Sales and Services Tax (SST) rate that was supposed to be replaced by this tax.

He argued that GST was a “regressive” tax as it taxes virtually everyone and even the consumption of daily necessities, stressing that tax should only be imposed on luxury goods or goods purchased as a lifestyle choice.

“A person who goes to buy food in a normal place should not be taxed GST. If I can buy ‘teh tarik’ in a shop, I should not suffer GST; but if I choose to have the same ‘teh tarik’ in a hotel, then you tax me, because I made the choice to drink teh tarik there,” he said, suggesting that the government re-evaluate the tax system and come up with a reasonable tax rate on a list of luxury goods.

Since its implementation in April 2015, the government has collected GST revenue of RM27.01 billion for the 2015 period, RM41.2 billion in 2016 and is targeting a collection of up to RM42 billion this year.

To replace the lost revenue from the GST tax regime if it is scrapped, Sivarajan proposed the government tax speculation activities over property and listed company shares, as well as to tax the super-rich and “crony capitalists” whom he said had benefited from monopolies and government privileges.

The government should also impose a higher corporate tax on large companies who hit a certain turnover threshold annually, he said, adding that this will also help filter out foreign companies that are only attracted by low business costs here and instead, bring in those who are serious about investing and can contribute.

“I think the corporate tax must be increased because now the whole region — we are competing by lowering corporate tax to bring in foreign direct investment, so that is the wrong thing because there’s no way you can compete. It’s just a race to the bottom. Today you bring down the tax, tomorrow [another country] brings it down. At the end of the day, you will end up with your bank empty, so that is not the way to go,” he said.

PSM argues that the GST is not a progressive tax as daily necessities are also taxed. ― Picture by Choo Choy May

Hadi’s RUU355 Bill?

As for the other hot-button topic of PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang’s push for law amendments to enable harsher Shariah penalties, Sivarajan said PSM will question this move which it believes is not comprehensive.

“They talk about the amendments to the RUU355 Shariah law as empowering the Shariah courts. We feel otherwise.

“We feel this whole interpretation of empowering the Shariah courts is very narrow-minded, because you are only empowering the punishment part of it,” he said.

He pointed out that there were a lot of other areas under the Shariah court system that can be enhanced or reformed, such as the rights of Muslims when a divorce takes place and whether they receive post-divorce financial support.

“So we are not agreeable to this particular amendment which has been put up by the Marang MP because we find it is unnecessary now and it focuses on punishment and it is only used to create fear. So we think Islam is much more bigger. There are a lot of other things that can be improved,” he said, also highlighting how Hadi’s private member’s Bill has allegedly been blatantly used for political reasons and had made a “mockery” of the whole parliamentary process.

Hadi had tabled a private member’s Bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 in a bid to increase the Shariah courts’ current sentencing limits of three years’ jail, RM5,000 fine and six lashes to a new maximum of 30 years’ jail, RM100,000 fine and 100 lashes.