Letter to Ministry of Health, Malaysia – COVID-19: Make Data Available for Data Analyst Community

This letter was sent to key figures in the Malaysian government as well as Ministry of Health, Malaysia on 28 March 2020.

During a recent press statement by the Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, our Director-General of Ministry of Health, one journalist asked a question on how we are doing in terms of fatality rates compared to other countries. Dr. Noor Hisham then instantly did a quick calculation during the Q&A session and answered (with figures) on how we fare compared to the overall world fatality rate of COVID-19. Intrigued, I tried to look for more data about COVID-19 cases in Malaysia for further processing and analysis. This includes finding information about the distribution of clusters, close contacts, burden on each of the COVID-19 admission/treatment hospitals. However, I was surprised by how little the data that the authorities are sharing with the public. While the regular social media posts on infographics and data summary by the authorities is something commendable, there are opportunities for improvement in terms of data sharing with the public about the COVID-19 pandemic in Malaysia.

There are many benefits of being more transparent with the COVID-19 information. We are well-aware about the manpower shortage at the Ministry of Health, even before COVID-19 pandemic started to cause panic throughout multiple locations in the world. When the government is not making its data transparent enough, it may not shed a light on some issues due to limited (and skewed) interpretation of data. For example, we did not see the magnitude of urban poverty problem in Malaysia until a 2018 UNICEF report highlighted the extent of urban poverty in certain neighbourhood areas in Kuala Lumpur. Mapping our national poverty measurements with the general population may give some insights on national poverty but more localised issues can potentially be brought up if we enable the data access to a greater pool of talents.

The pandemic is new and in many parts of the world, the governments as well as the academicians are working round the clock to understand its nature and pattern. Availability of data is certainly something that everyone is looking for at this moment. In this challenging period, we look forward to reaping the tremendous benefits of having a greater data transparency. While the ministry may have enough expertise to analyse the existing data, Malaysia can reap further benefits by publishing more information in a format that is more accessible for data engineers and data scientists.

Other countries such as South Korea, United States and even China is making their data more transparent for public consumption. This allows for easier data analysis by different entities inside and outside of the government. As a result, the discussion sessions between the government departments and other important stakeholders will be more productive because the data was made readily available and easily accessible. Educational institutions, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and even the general public will be able to work together with the government to fight the pandemic and close any loophole that may jeopardise the effort.

As a citizen of Malaysia, I would like to humbly request for the Malaysian Ministry of Health to publish the data about the spread of COVID-19 without personally identifiable information and any other information that can be detrimental towards public order. One of the channels is through the government-owned portal, Data Terbuka Sektor Awam (www.data.gov.my). I believe that if we can have enough manpower to produce statements debunking fake news, we also should have enough manpower to make the existing data available to the public. This shall open more learning opportunities for our community to analyse the data and give valuable inputs to the government as necessary.

GST vs SST: What You Need to Know

GST vs SST is an argument commonly heard among Malaysians, especially during the initial roll-out phase of GST in 2014-2015. GST vs SST became one of the hottest debate topics among the politicians from the government as well as the opposition.

Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a form of multi-layer tax introduced by the Malaysian Government in 2014. It was first announced during Budget 2014. It came into effect on 1 April 2015. GST works by taxing each level of production and consumption. It may look like a lot of revenue to the government but the businesses are able to claim most of the tax incurred to them by Input Tax claim.

However, Barisan Nasional, the ruling government at that time lost (for the first time) to their opponent, Pakatan Harapan in a historic Malaysian General Election on 9 May 2018. Since the politicians at Pakatan Harapan have been actively campaigning against GST, they have to abolish GST and replace it with SST.

Sales and Service Tax aka SST is a taxation system practised by the Malaysian government since the 1970s. Sales Tax is usually imposed during production and is commonly set at 10% while Service Tax is charged at 6% to the consumers.

SST is subjected to transfer pricing. Transfer pricing happens when two or more companies do transactions with each other as separate entities but in reality, they are related to each other. For example, if I have a toothpaste company under the brand name Dennis, perhaps I will produce my toothpaste with a company named Dennis Manufacturing Sdn Bhd and distributing it with a company named Dennis Distribution Sdn Bhd (more info about transfer pricing here)

We can infer that the GST is a more superior tax system because it is more transparent and the government can trace the pricing from the production until consumption level.

GST vs SST: Reverting back to SST helps to reduce the cost of living?

Well, there are many perspectives on this issue. Let’s look at the possible explanations as outlined below:

  1. It will help to reduce inflation. Naturally, the cost of goods will continue to rise over the years. By reverting back to SST, the operational costs of small retailers can be reduced since they no longer need to process tax to retail customers. Due to the operational cost reduction, we can see the lower price being displayed at the stores. Even the Finance Minister himself has said that abolishing GST produces positive impact when Malaysia reportedly has a 1.5% inflation rate, one of the lowest in the world. Keep in mind that the low inflation rate comes right after the abolition of GST, which means less revenue to the government.
  2. It does not change the price of goods. This is true in some cases. For example, we can see how some parking operators commented on how much is the GST cost they have been absorbing. When SST is implemented, the fees charged to the end consumer is still the same. In the services sector, most consumers will not notice the difference as the rate for GST is also 6%. However, for businesses requiring services, it means they are no longer able to claim Input Tax under the new SST system.
  3. It brings up the price of some items. Under the SST regime, some items may cost higher. On 28 February 2019, The Star reported that SST has increased the cost of doing business by 10%. This is based on the findings of FMM-MIER Business Conditions Survey.

While the effect of the SST can vary among the people, the government can definitely feel the pinch from the loss of revenue. It is not within the tune of millions of ringgit. Instead, we are talking about at least RM 20 billion is lost from the potential GST revenue (RM 40 billion with GST vs RM 20 billion with SST). This is evident when the government has expanded the scope of SST in early 2019, resulting in several services are now taxable. If SST aims to reduce the burden of the people, why the government decided to expand the scope after many months of SST implementation?

GST is not a perfect system. Since its inception days in 2015, regular citizens have already been complaining about the increase of price in consumer goods while business owners are voicing out their dissatisfaction with the way the government is handling Input Tax claim.

The best solution for the current Pakatan government is that they should just admit that GST is a better taxation system and pledge to improve it further, rather than feeding their ego by blatantly ignoring the benefits of GST.

If you are interested to know more about economy-related events, visit our Events page for more information.

Sources

  1. Know The Difference Between GST and SST – LITE (lite.my)
  2. GST abolition helped contain inflation, says Lim – The Star, 5 Oct 2019
  3. SST: Not much difference for service sector – NST, 31 August 2018

Youth Economic Forum 2018: Special Address by YB Syed Saddiq

On 27 October 2018, Syed Saddiq, the Minister of Youth and Sports of Malaysia has delivered a special address at the Youth Economic Forum (YEF) 2018 which was held at Securities Commission of Malaysia in Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur on that day. At the end of his speech, he has answered some questions from the participants of the forum.

Question: Do you think that the government should prioritize between fulfilling the promises made in the manifesto or making unpopular decisions for the sake of our economic sustainability?

His answer is recorded in the video below:

In addition to the video above, we have summarized the following points:

Self-sustained Democratic System: The government needs to create a democratic system that is self-sustainable that even if in the future if the government changes, the abuse of power can be minimized or completely taken out. The people would still be empowered.

Academic Freedom: He mentioned how the current government is taking steps to abolish AUKU to ensure greater freedom of speech among the students. Talks are in place to ensure that academic freedom is practised among the students and those who are studying abroad will not be harassed anymore.

Institutional Reforms: Each ministry has their own list of reforms, at the same time we must follow the due process. Anti-Fake News Act, AUKU and the moratorium on the death penalty are among the items that are currently being discussed at the parliament.

Youths Under 30: Some of the NGOs which are receiving substantial fund from the government have people in their leadership boards up to 40 years old. In 1970s, we did consider the youths are those below 30 years but somehow the previous leaders change the definition to include those below 40 years old as well. Now, the government is redefining it as below 30 again with an amendment scheduled to be tabled in 2019.

Voting Age: The government is taking the necessary steps to lower the minimum voting age to 18.

Returning the Power to the People: In essence, the new government aspires to give more power to the people. Returning the power to the media is part of it so that the people will be free to express themselves. It will take some time but it must be done because we owe a duty to the electorates.

Reflection and Notes

He likes to take questions from the audiences. Similar behavior can also be observed with the previous Youth and Sports Minister, YB Khairy Jamaluddin (KJ). IN YEF 2018, participants are allowed to ask questions using Slido platform, which makes use of their own smartphones. Participants will have the opportunity to write their questions using their own smartphone and the questions will be displayed on the huge screen. However, YB Syed Saddiq did not seem to be fully aware of this. Maybe he prefers to take direct questions from the audiences instead.

On October 16th 2018, YB Dr. Maszlee Malik, the Malaysian Education Minister has said the amendment to AUKU will be tabled in December 2018 (source: NST).

Promise 17: Ensure transparency and robustness of our election system – In page 48, the Buku Harapan 2018 (English version) says the Pakatan Harapan Government will lower the voting age limit to 18 years. Besides, they also will enable automatic registration of voters based on details at the National Registration Department (NRD).

In essence, while he did not address the question directly, he emphasized the importance of fulfilling the promises made in the manifesto. He has also outlined the steps being taken by the current government to fulfil the promises made in the manifesto. In regards to economic affairs, most probably he did not touch much of it as it is not directly in his portfolio as the Minister of Youth and Sports.