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Malaysia seeks to quash tax gossip ahead of election

Malaysia seeks to quash tax gossip ahead of election

HO CHI MINH: Ignore the fake news on WhatsApp that tax officials have a collection quota, the Inland Revenue Board of Malaysia (Lembaga Hasil Dalam Negeri in Malay or LHDN in short) said, rejecting hearsay perceived as a pre-election ploy to depict the government as corrupt. The tax agency said a message on WhatsApp, the country’s most popular chat app, had “gone viral,” calling auditors “aggressive” to meet a target of 6 million ringgit (US$1.4 million) per officer.

“IRBM denies that it has set such a target for its audit officers,” the Inland Revenue Board of Malaysia said in a statement Sept 8. “IRBM also takes seriously the allegation that its officers behave in an unprofessional manner during an audit, due to the target set.” The political opposition deploys gossip, especially tapping into taxpayers’ anxiety, to loosen the UMNO ruling party’s grip on power, said governance expert James Chin, director of the Asia Institute Tasmania. “This sort of rumour has been going around Malaysia for quite a while,” he told Bloomberg BNA on Sept 12. “And the reason it goes around and around is the general election is coming.”

Chin cited other rumours meant to “scare” voters — among these a myth that tax authorities will raise the goods and services tax, or the belief that they are auditing a prominent businessman, because of his ties to an opposition leader. The innuendo feeds a campaign narrative that the government milks taxpayers and steals public money through government-owned sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB. The rationale, as he described it, goes: “If you pay tax, you’re supporting corruption.” Malaysia’s Freedom on the Net score worsened in the past five years, with pro-democracy non-government organisation Freedom House reporting the government has investigated critics for online speech, reneged on its pledge not to block websites, and considered registering social media users.