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When April First is no longer funny

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Mustafa K Anuar explains why April Fools’ Day is no laughing matter in Malaysia with the implementation of GST today.

It is common knowledge that the first day of April every year is usually billed as April Fools’ Day, when people play practical jokes and pranks on each other.

Hence, the jokes and their victims are collectively called “April fools”. In other words, people are generally light-hearted and hilarious on this day.

But recent events in Malaysia have rendered this very day humourless, if not unavoidably sad and frightening even.

On this supposedly funny day, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) will be implemented with much passion by the powers that be despite an outcry from the general public, especially those who’d be badly hit by the rising cost of many important goods. As it is, there have been depressing stories of small- and medium-size businesses having to close down under the weight of GST.

Retail shops have all along been facing stiff competition from the big players such as the supermarkets and hypermarkets. The former, who have been enduring a business slowdown, certainly do not need the GST to be the last nail hammered into their proverbial coffins.

And it ain’t funny too when International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed claimed with a straight face that the GST was needed to help pay for the salaries and pensions of civil servants. So they are the culprits who are primarily responsible for having bloated the government’s expenditure all this while, eh?

To be sure, many consumers are at their wit’s end (at the time of writing this piece) because they’re still confused as to which items would have their prices raised, and which would go down. As a result, you saw many people rushing to the supermarkets stuffing their trolleys as much as their already shrunk ringgit would allow.

This has even prompted former international trade and industry minister Rafidah Aziz to urge the government to issue a comprehensive list of tax-empted items and subsequently have it publicised via the mainstream newspapers.

Not only that. A group of people went to the Customs office in Kelana Jaya to protest against the GST – only to be charged with illegal assembly under the Peaceful Assembly Act. The action by this group of people is indicative of how seriously GST is being taken by the general public – which renders irrelevant the warning by Deputy Finance Minister Ahmad Mazlan that the GST is not an April Fools’ joke by the government,

April Fools’ Day in Malaysia also loses its lustre because other normal days have also their fair share of jokes and fun. For instance, recently Malaysia’s Deputy Education Minister P Kamalanathan made a claim that Malaysia’s English is far better than Singapore’s. We can only stretch our mortal imagination beyond which we become an obvious object of curiosity, if not absurdity.

This reminds me of an incident many years ago when a friend’s son came back from school, proudly showing a written remark in his book from his teacher: “Keep up the good jot!” This is certainly not a good job by a teacher of English language in primary school, whose lack of proficiency could be felt dismally by many school kids over the years. Try joining the dots, Mr Kamalanathan, to realise how unfunny all this is to many Malaysians especially the parents.

On a serious note, if language is a vital medium of communication, then it is incumbent upon government leaders to make sure students are given proper training in the English language (apart from teaching Bahasa Malaysia). For, we have seen in recent times that when the level of English proficiency between the speaker and his audience is uneven, he might even land himself in trouble with the powers that be.

And on this day when Pakatan Rakyat was formed after they managed to secure a handsome electoral success in the 12th general election in 2008, it is no laughing matter to many Malaysians who have pinned their hopes of a better Malaysia on them when they read the news quoting Pas president Abdul Hadi Awang as saying that he didn’t know where PR is headed. This presidential expression came to the fore as the relationship of the partners in the alliance has grown more acrimonious particularly after the hudud controversy.

Now don’t get me started with the issue of hudud. Events of late in Malaysia suggest that it could cost you an arm and a leg, politically and religiously, if you dare venture into these choppy waters. And consequently, you would not be able to even put a grin on your face, even on April First.

Source: themalaymailonline.com

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Dr Mustafa K Anuar, a longtime executive committee member and former honorary secretary of Aliran, is, co-editor of our newsletter. He obtained his PhD from City, University of London and is particularly interested in press freedom and freedom of expression issues. These days, he is a a senior journalist with an online media portal
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