Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Revenue increase in Malaysia 2018

Dave Ananth is a senior lawyer, a former Magistrate and advocate in Malaysia before taking up a position with the Inland Revenue Department in New Zealand as a Prosecutor. He now practises as a Tax Barrister, based in Auckland. He is an expert in taxation and tax policy. He also writes extensively on direct and indirect tax issues in Malaysia and New Zealand.  He is a consultant for Wolters Kluwer Malaysia. He can be reached at davetaxnz@gmail.com.





Taxes are the backbone of any government. It is important for a country to develop a stable tax policy that can withstand pressure and deliver revenue, especially during times of global uncertainty.

Malaysia has successfully diversified its economy from one that was initially agriculture and commodity-based, to now include robust manufacturing and services sectors. However, her economy is still reliant on agriculture and commodity-based industries. For example, Malaysia exported RM158.72 billion (17% of total exports) worth of mining and agriculture goods in 2017.[1] Reliance on such industries are inherently risky as commodity prices can be uncertain, due to external factors such as currency fluctuation, political and global demand.


Therefore, the focus should be on strengthening revenue collection and broadening revenue base without disrupting the lives of local residents and containing inflation.

With the removal of GST, the government stands to lose about RM44 billion per year, based on 2017 figures. The government estimates that with the implementation of SST, it stands to earn about RM4 billion[2] in 2018, and RM30 billion[3] in a calendar year.

The Finance Ministry has announced that federal government debt has exceeded RM1 trillion. It has identified RM10 billion of expenditure cuts, which includes downsizing, delaying or cancelling expensive projects and non-urgent spending. These measures will no doubt help, however, they are short-term. What the government needs to look at is creating tax policies that remain competitive and promote sustainable revenue increase.  

The focus of Malaysia’s revenue policies should be on identifying approaches to increase revenue by leveraging on existing opportunities rather than relying on products such as timber, oil and gas which are subject to market conditions.

Below are several options that the government may consider to increase its revenue collection.

Luxury tax

Luxury tax is a tax imposed on products or services that are deemed to be non-essential. Generally, it is a transactional tax, imposed on the consumer who purchases or uses the good or service. Luxury tax is usually associated with products enjoyed by the ultra-wealthy such as private jet plans, expensive jewelry and cars like Ferraris, Rolls Royce, etc. The administration of this tax could be placed under the Royal Malaysian Customs Department (RMCD). The RMCD shall determine the type of products that are considered “luxury” for tax purposes. However, the list of such products need to be reviewed over time, especially if Malaysia moves towards becoming a high-income nation.

Regulating charity services

The Registry of Societies Malaysia (ROS) is responsible for monitoring all societies in Malaysia, which includes non-profit organisations and charities. However, although most of the established charities operate in accordance with the law [especially if they are approved organisations under s 44(6) of the Income Tax Act 1967], there are small-scale, independent charities that operate with minimal supervision. As such, there may be a lack of control and transparency on how some charities are run, especially when it comes to fundraising.

A Charities Commission could be set up as a monitoring body under the ROS to govern the activities of charities in Malaysia. Its roles could include:

1. Regulating financing and fundraising activities of charities.
2. Ensuring that charities provide truthful information on their activities and expenditure.
3. Monitoring charities to ensure that there are no tax abuses.

The Charities Commission should work closely with the ROS and Inland Revenue Board (IRB) to ensure that there are no tax fraud/abuse of financing for personal gain. Their activities will assist in promoting public trust and confidence in the charitable sector domestically and internationally as it will bring about good governance and transparency among charitable organisations.[4]

Compulsory tax number for ALL

Rather than imposing new direct taxes, the Government could focus on enforcing tax compliance among the existing income-earning population in Malaysia.

To do so, the government could consider imposing a requirement where residents and non-residents who open bank accounts in Malaysia must register with the IRB and obtain an income tax number. Having an income tax number would enlarge the pool of potential taxpayers under the IRB’s purview. This should make it easier for the IRB to monitor taxpayers’ activities and determine if they would be liable to tax.

This allows the establishment of a stronger paper trail as there will be communications between the IRB and the banks via Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM). Apart from that, banks are required to report any suspicious transactions to BNM which should allow IRB to act quickly on any possible tax evasion cases.
 
Increase timber premium and/or mining royalty

The government can take advantage of the low value of the ringgit. As it has made Malaysian goods cheaper overseas, this could possibly lead to an increase in foreign demand for such goods. Currently, state governments impose timber premium and/or mining royalties. In 2017, Sarawak increased its hill timber premium from RM0.80 to RM50 per metric meter of logs harvested.[5] As such, other state governments can consider increasing its timber premium and/or mining royalties.

Tax on “worldwide income” for individual residents

Income tax in Malaysia is imposed on income accruing in or derived from Malaysia except for residents engaged in banking, air and shipping enterprises, which are taxed on a worldwide basis.

Malaysia could consider shifting to the worldwide taxation system to increase its revenue, where individual taxpayers are taxable on their worldwide income regardless of where the income is derived. For example, Malaysians who are working or doing business abroad, but with families staying in Malaysia, should be liable for tax in Malaysia.

New Zealand is an example of country that taxes its individual residents on their global income.

Taxing foreign workers

As a rule, there is no tax for those with income less than RM5,000 per month. However, this privilege is also enjoyed by all foreign workers who fulfill the tax residency rules.

As they also benefit from the use of Malaysian facilities (e.g., public amenities), foreign workers who earn above RM2,000 or RM3,000 should be subject to Malaysian taxes. Subject to a comprehensive study, a flat rate tax of, say 2% to 5%, could be imposed on these individuals.

Tax on money transfer using non-banking facilities (eg Western Union)

In Malaysia, there are no taxes imposed on remittances overseas. Tax is only imposed on the fee charged by the remittance company. However, with GST abolished in Malaysia, no tax will be imposed on remittance transactions. At time of writing, it is unclear whether service tax under the SST regime will be imposed on such services.

The government can consider imposing a tax of RM5 for remittance below RM1,000 and RM10 for remittance above RM1,000, per transaction. By doing so, the government could gain some revenue from the outflow of money.

There is an estimated 1.7 million legal foreign workers in Malaysia as of 30 June 2017.[6] By merely taxing the legal foreign workers would yield a revenue of at least RM8 million, i.e. 1.7 million x RM5 = RM8.5 million. By imposing a tax on the money transfer, this could possibly act as a catalyst to the legalisation of illegal foreign workers.

The implementation of revenue policies must be strategic and aligned to the government’s fiscal development plans. The abovementioned methods will bring in additional revenue, however, there are other factors to consider – compatibility with the Malaysian taxation policy and socio-economic issues, etc. – before any implementation is done.




[1] Anon., 2017. Components of Malaysia's Exports 2017. [Online]
Available at: http://www.matrade.gov.my/en/28-malaysian-exporters/trade-statistics/3793-components-of-malaysias-exports-2017
[Accessed 11 June 2018].
[2] Amarthalingam, S., 2018. RM21b GST revenue loss to be plugged. [Online]
Available at: http://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/rm21b-gst-revenue-loss-be-plugged
[Accessed 11 June 2018].
[3] Hassan, H., 2018. Malaysia keeps deficit goal despite GST removal. [Online]
Available at: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/malaysia-keeps-deficit-goal-despite-gst-removal
[Accessed 11 June 2018].
[4] For further reading on the governance of charities, please see “Not all charities are honourable and honest”.
[5] T.W., R., 2017. Sarawak to raise tax on hill timber by more than 6,000%. [Online]
Available at: http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2017/05/09/sarawak-to-raise-tax-on-hill-timber-by-more-than-6000/
[Accessed 14 June 2018].
[6] Nasa, A., 2017. More than 1.7 million foreign workers in Malaysia; majority from Indonesia. [Online]
Available at: https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2017/07/261418/more-17-million-foreign-workers-malaysia-majority-indonesia
[Accessed 14 June 2018].

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