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MGG: The government revokes the ten-sen tax per litre on diesel
By M.G.G. Pillai

16/11/2001 3:36 pm Fri

Parliament has not passed the budget, but the ten-sen more tax per litre of diesel forced prices up so suddenly that the government scurries for cover. The finance ministry yesterday revoked it. It is unconstitutional, since a tax Parliament discusses in the budget should only be withdrawn in that House. But the government is caught with its pants down. Cabinet ministers, from the Prime Minister down, said it should not lead to high prices. In fact, they forbade it. King Canute could not turn the waves back, but in Bolehland, even the most ineffective cabinet ministers believes that is his birthright. Malaysian businessmen, on the other hand, deem it their birthright to defy any tax they deem wrong.

That is what happened. Prices went up. Taxis won't come to pick you up unless you agree to pay more. Once this was only of taxis at railway stations and airports; today it is at every hotel. A British professor, a former Malaysian, here on a consultancy had to pay RM15 for three kilometres from his hotel. I must offer to pay more than the metered fare if I am in a hurry, or wait until one which agrees to accept the metered fare. The cabinet lives in rarified glass cages, see the world through their privileges, and decide what must, only to find it ignored. That it had to reverse it shows that it did not think through the tax before announcing it. It is also unconstitutional. As was the decision to exempt three sectors from it.

The ten-sen tax caused a dispute within the cabinet. The criticisms of it were wide and furious. The cabinet ignored it. But it also caused the cabinet to behave in public like Keadilan meetings in private. The domestic trade and consumer affairs minister, Tan Sri Muhiyuddin Yassin, insisted diesel prices would not be reduced at any cost. The entrepreneur development minister, Dato' Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, retorted that the cabinet had exempted three groups from it -- transport, fishing, and the government bodies. Tan Sri Muhiyuddin retorted that the cabinet had only agreed it should be reviewed. Now the finance ministry removes it.

The Budget is presented to Parliament. The tax came into force after it was. It is not passed yet. How could the finance ministry, on its own bat, rescind the tax? A supplementary bill must first be presented to amend it. The government reasons that since it is for the good, it is all right. It is not. But Parliament insists it wants to be no more than a convenient rubber stamp, so this illegality will be accepted. I asked an opposition MP about it this morning, and he was all for it. But we have a long history of electing numbskulls to Parliament and the government's neglect of it other than as a rubber stamp. This arrogance comes from its total control of it from the start, in 1955. The government is not as strong as the opposition not as weak. The National Front stays out of the firing line it cannot.

It is from this political weakness that the National Front fumbles. It will succumb to pressure. It is a sign of its own impotency. But it remains in power because it has the numbers on its side, and the power that comes fromn long incumbency: Malaysia has known no government but that controlled by UMNO. The Malay ground is divided between an UMNO, which shifted its political focus from a secular to an Islamic state, and a PAS, with its on a theocratic one. Because the political fight is so narrowed, the multiracial society goes down the drain. The stark lines between the Malay with his Islamic agenda and the non-Malay marginalises the former, who control the market place. And shows his anger by disregarding the advise they would at least agree to consider. The government is rudderless, and prone to hit fiscal and financial rocks and not know it until too late. That is why it had to scrap the ten-sen per litre tax on diesel. And the law to do it. The danger is far from over.

M.G.G. Pillai