KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 4 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak was quick to mock Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng over the latter’s admission that the initial sales tax imposed on some basic seafood items was a blunder.
The former prime minister said Lim had openly suggested that the government was careless when it categorised items like crabs, mussels, cockles, salted fish and shrimps as luxury food eligible for taxation.
Najib, a former finance minister, then said he was shocked by his successor’s statement and concerned by the move since the food items were also considered staples by lower income group.
“I am shocked by his reply,” Najib said in Facebook posting published late last night.
“He explained that he was confused by the classification of the wet foods, therefore he just ‘hantam’ (he said it, not me) and slapped everything with a 10 per cent sales tax.
“Because he had ‘cincai hantam saja’ the poor will have to pay the 10 per cent sales tax for these food items,” he added.
“Cincai hantam” is a Malay and Chinese colloquialism for doing something without careful consideration.
Najib’s posting was accompanied by a video clip of Lim’s press conference last night.
Replying to queries about the matter, the minister admitted that he classified some of the seafood items Najib mentioned as luxury along with others like lobsters because he assumed they fell under the same category.
“I tell you (sic) do you know what is Norway lobster, rock lobster, lobster crab? You don’t know so when I saw this I thought they were all luxury items so I ‘hantam’ put 10 per cent SST on them,” Lim said.
The seafood items in question have been exempted from the sales tax for now and possibly removed from the list in the future, Lim added.
Food items top the list of over 5,000 items exempted from the SST, which took effect on September 1.
Despite the exemption, there are widespread complaints that raw or basic food have been slapped with sales tax.
Najib has urged the government to finetune the tax system and punish businesses that exploit the tax to raise prices.
Ending his post, the former prime minister then said he hoped Lim did not make the same blunder about the previous administration’s RM1 trillion debt or allegations that funds collected from the goods and services tax are missing.
“We hope that when he suddenly said the debt was RM1 trillion or that the RM35 billion from LHDN/GST was ‘robbed’ was not just ‘hantam’,” Najib wrote.