GST adds burden to disabled people


Disabled people protesting against the imposition of GST on assistive devices and essential disposable items. — Photo courtesy of Vincent Ow

FOR months leading up to the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the government had assured the public that the cost of goods would be reduced. Contrary to that, as most of us have discovered, the cost of living has gone up barely four weeks into the introduction of the new tax regime.

The community of disabled people had an even ruder shock when we discovered assistive devices and all essential disposable items that we use on a daily basis are subjected to the 6% tax as well if purchased directly from shops or suppliers.

Previously, all such devices and items were exempted from sales tax and import duty.

The Royal Malaysian Customs Department GST Division Director Datuk Subromaniam Tholasy was reported to have advised disabled people to get their assistive devices and supplies from disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) registered with the Department of Social Welfare where an exemption can be granted by producing a certificate signed by the head of the respective organisations.

I asked several disabled friends and a parent with disabled child for their views on GST and its impact. These were their responses.

Disability rights activist Law King Kiew is a wheelchair user and Paralympian from Kampung Bintangor who is currently based in Kuala Lumpur. She participated in a gathering organised by six disabled people’s organisations recently urging the government to grant tax exemption on all assistive devices and supplies used by disabled people.

She began, “A friend who went to buy a wheelchair had to pay GST. Walking frames, catheters, urine bags and colostomy bags all are subject to the same tax.

“We were not given proper information on how to apply for exemption. Customs officers asked us to write to the GST Processing Centre in Kelana Jaya. There they asked us to write to the Ministry of Finance. They do not have a standard operating procedure.”

Vincent Ow who was also at the gathering uses a motorised wheelchair. He mentioned that the wheelchair operates on two batteries which have to be replaced periodically. They cost about RM1000. The addition of GST makes it even more unaffordable for him.

Fariz Abdul Rani, the director or a prosthetic and rehabilitation equipment supplier in Kota Kinabalu and also a wheelchair user shared with me his concerns. He regularly conducts Disability Equality Training workshops all over the country.

“Almost all equipment used by disabled people are not manufactured locally. We do not have a choice but to import them which is expensive. They also need to be customised for the specific needs of each user which increases the price further. In the end, disabled people will have to bear the extra burden imposed by GST.”

Fariz added that no DPOs in the country can afford to give these customised assistive devices to all their members because these organisations are dependent on donations and charity from the public.

As for disabled people, he lamented that we have no choice but to fork out the extra expenses as our mobility and independence are completely dependent on these devices.

Donald Law, a wheelchair user in Kuching, is especially concerned about disabled people in the low income and unemployed groups. Although he is not affected by the implementation of GST yet on assistive devices, he empathises with the plight those who are.

“Even though some of us are employed, our personal expenses are more than non-disabled people. The government should conduct a study on the number of disabled people who earn high income and how many are employed. Most of us have to ask for financial and other assistance and yet we are charged GST.”

Parents of children with disabilities are also affected by the tax. According to Norfazila Wati Abdul Wahab, whose son has cerebral palsy, the assistive devices for her child have to be replaced regularly as he grows. It was already costly and is made even costlier now. She opined that rehabilitation equipment, disposable diapers and special dietary formulas required by children like her son should be exempted from being taxed without the need for certificates signed by the heads of DPOs.

Personally, I feel that all these are very valid points the government has to take into consideration. On one part, DPOs are established to advocate for our rights and interests. Many are operating on shoestring budgets and run by a skeleton staff of volunteers. They should not be further burdened with the responsibility of giving out assistive devices and supplies needed by members which would require additional resources in fund raising and managing it.

On the other part, not all disabled people are members of DPOs. Not all disabled people are employed or qualify for welfare support from the government. Our expenses are already higher than average due to the assistive devices, disposable items and treatments that we need. To impose tax on these essential items in the face of rising cost of living is really pushing us to the brink.

In view of this matter, I seriously implore the representatives of disabled people in the government, namely the senator and members of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, to firmly state our case and the difficulties we are facing subsequent to the implementation of GST to the relevant authorities.

This is the time for them to stand up and speak out on this important issue without fear and favour, and make full use of their positions for the benefit of all disabled people.