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Monday, March 15, 2010

Anti-GST rally off, PM rapped for unsteady hand

Wong Choon Mei   
KUALA LUMPUR, Mac 15: Even as Pakatan Rakyat leaders celebrated the delayed tabling of an unpopular Goods and Services Tax Bill, they warned Prime Minister Najib Razak to stop going for quick economic fixes that were untenable and would only further the perception that Malaysia was a flip-flop country.
“The GST should not have been proposed in the first place, not when the overall economy is weak and the people feeling the pinch all round,” PAS central committee member Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad told Harakahdaily.

“But the Finance Minister refused to listen to us and pushed through the first reading of the Bill in December. Now he says he wants public feedback before proceeding but what we hear is that he is doing this for political reasons, not economic.”

Protes rally off, Sarawak polls eyed

Indeed, there is red-hot speculation that Najib – who is also the Finance Minister – called off the second reading of the Bill only because snap elections were due in Sarawak soon, perhaps before July.

Meanwhile, pressure group Protes has canceled a mammoth Anti-GST demonstration planned for Monday. However, the NGO warned Malaysians that it was still too early to let their guard down.

“We have won a major victory for the people but it is still too early to declare our Anti-GST campaign a complete success. For now, as a responsible movement to champion the people's rights, Protest will cancel Monday's rally," Protes organizer Dr Hatta Ramli told Harakahdaily.

"But if later, the government tries to bring back GST - say when the Sarawak elections are over, when the people are still not ready for it or still cannot afford it - then Protes will launch another full-scale nationwide rally.”

On Saturday, the Finance Ministry surprised everyone by announcing that it would defer tabling the GST Bill for second reading when Parliament reconvened next week. The official reason given was that it wanted time to seek public feedback before proceeding.

"This is a nonsensical excuse. Public feedback should have been sought even before the first tabling. We really cannot keep managing the economy this way," Dr Dzulkefly said.

"For the past five decades, it has all been about how the Umno-BN government can benefit and what benefits them rather than the people.”

Shifting the burden to the people

In the past month, Najib has postponed electricity price hikes and ended plans to raise subsidized petrol prices, part of his ministry’s plan to cut the budget deficit, which is expected to hit at a 20-year high of 7.4 percent of gross domestic product.

Earlier this week, Najib also shied away from rolling out a New Economic Model for the country. He will now only introduce the plan for public scrutiny on March 30, while shifting the detailing to June.

“What Malaysia needs urgently are painful reforms, a complete economic overhaul. We need to be competitive by getting rid of incompetency, corruption and cronyism. We need long-term strategies to attract FDI, to stir up the domestic economy and raise the people’s income," said Dr Dzulkefly.

“Not roll out the red carpet for inflation at a time when the people are still vulnerable to lay-offs and pay-cuts. We know the fiscal deficit is at an all-time due to chronic mismanagement. We know Najib and his administration are badly in need of funds. But you simply cannot tax the people like this.”


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