Malaysians have never experienced an April Fools Day like this before, observes Rakyat Jelata.
We were truly made fools of this April Fools Day, with the implementation of GST.
Federal authorities played hard sell, even into D-Day, with local television newscasters proclaiming the virtues of GST, parroting statements by government ministers that GST was “for the benefit of the people”.
Journalists from local government-controlled television media trawled hypermarkets and supermarkets to interview consumers, apparently at random, on how they felt about GST, now the tax was implemented.
Interviewees tried, with utmost courtesy, to swallow their unease and say something positive, although some couldn’t help admitting that they were uncomfortable with the uncertainty and expectation of higher living costs.
The grand announcement that Malaysia is now among the GST-implementing countries is cold comfort to most people, especially- middle and low-income earners with families to feed, clothe, shelter and educate.
Added to this, government officials and price monitoring enforcement officers came out in force to show their solidarity over the implementation of this goods and services tax. They came up with promises of constant monitoring and crackdowns on ‘profiteering’ to keep people ‘safe’ from being exploited by unscrupulous traders.
Hypermarket chains like Mydin, Tesco, Giant, and the 1Malaysia outlets set up by the government pledged to keep their goods affordable to consumers. It was easy for them to advertise their ‘consideration’ for the consumer, whilst smaller retailers who have served neighbourhood communities in urban areas are closing their businesses, unable to cope with the demands of GST.
This trend could drive more small businesses into the ground by forcing consumers to find better bargains at large hypermarket chains which can afford to offer lower-priced goods due to far larger turnovers than the small sundry shop and bulk discounts.
The Prime Minister came out to view his government’s handiwork and show the Rakyat he could shop at the hypermarket (with his bodyguards clearly surrounding him). So much for being one of the Rakyat, who have nobody to guard them against unscrupulous exploitation by the higher-ups and the powers that be.
With all this shebang on April Fools Day, a report in theSun on 2 April that the government departments had received more than 3,000 complaint calls by 3.00pm, of which 800 were about GST, came as no surprise.
To counter allegations from opposition politicians and non-government organisations that many were ill prepared for the forced implementation of GST, government officials went all out to emphasise that they had worked ‘hard’ for two years to get the show on the road.
The GST is supposedly a more transparent tax system to ‘benefit the people’. Yet, many people remain ill-informed and ignorant about how it will benefit them. The fear of rising living costs prompted many to run out on 30-31 March to buy as much as they could afford at non-GST prices so that they delay the impact of GST on their household spending.
In this chaos, the government was directing people to the Customs website to view the lists of exempted or zero-rated goods and services. But these lists are only accessible to those who are computer literate and have access to the internet. What happens to the elderly or the poor who have never been near a computer and are computer illiterate? Are they not catered for?
This was the first cruel joke played on the Rakyat on April Fools Day 2015. It will no doubt be etched in our memories as time goes by and as the effects of GST begin to show on our economic health.
Gagging dissenting voices
The preparations for April Fools Day had been underway for more than a month before the pranksters pulled the covers off their GST masterpiece. The whole situation seems surreal; like an episode of Batman in Gottham City where the ‘Joker’ is on the loose. But the Rakyat are still waiting for their hero to turn up to save the day!
Federal authorities hauled in and charged 100 persons (may be more by now) under the draconian Sedition Act and other equally draconian legislation in an attempt to gag dissenting opinion on social media. Online news providers Malaysiakini, The Edge, and The Malaysian Insider have been caught in the dragnet for reporting and commenting on recent events – apart from the KitaLawan protesters.
In a mind-boggling move, MP Nurul Izzah Anwar was charged with sedition for reading out the address by the Opposition Leader, her father Anwar Ibrahim, in Parliament. Worse, having a guffaw at the government’s expense is taboo, with the arrest of Zunar, our world renowned political cartoonist – all because of a ‘tweet’ he made and for his satirically funny art.
The chaos created is predictable and imaginable as the powers that be show intolerance for the exercise of basic human, constitutional, and democratic rights. There is nothing much to laugh about, as a ‘sandiwara’ is played out by those in authority while security enforcement run around in circles trying to maintain a stranglehold on netizens’ right to free expression.
The Joker is still on the rampage as the Rakyat hope and pray for an end to this nightmare. But it promises to be a long night for Malaysia.
The second cruel joke is not yet over; who knows how long these practical jokers will continue to taunt the Rakyat.
The most cruel April Fools joke of all
The twisted and repulsive sense of humour culminated in the stripping of the parliamentary membership of the Leader of the Opposition, Anwar Ibrahim. It looks as if the Election Commission is playing a cat-and-mouse game with the Rakyat to the tune of the ruling party. It has deprived the Rakyat of an elected Member of Parliament who speaks for them.
To do this is, to render the electorate who voted for him voiceless adds insult to injury. After the imprisonment of their elected representative, thus obstructing him from carrying out his duty to the Rakyat, further taxpayers’ money is wasted in holding a by-election in Permatang Pauh.
The reason for the hurried imposition of GST now becomes clearer – to fund the cruel jokes and political games of the ruling party, among other things.
These are the circumstances surrounding the darkest April Fools Day for Malaysia – one that will go down in history.
Rakyat Jelata is the pseudonym of a contributor to our Thinking Allowed section.