Is the government's comms approach driving confusion over GST ruling?

With the impending Good and Services Tax (GST) ruling to kick off in April, Malaysian authorities are fending off much backlash from the public.

As Malaysians brace themselves for the changes, which will cost consumers in terms of higher prices and chaos for businesses, what has come under fire is the government’s communications around the matter. While the ruling is fairly complex, a lack of clarity in official communications is fueling further dissent, say industry experts.

Just this Monday, a protest was organised by Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) on Monday outside the Customs Department office in Kelana Jaya, Petaling Jaya to put pressure on authorities for answers. This was in response to 106 questions that the protestors and activists had submitted to Kuala Lumpur acting Customs director Abd Gani Othman via email earlier.

Meanwhile, the official GST site has a feedback channel for the public to submit concerns, and this also has come under fire for a lack of responsiveness.

One report on the Malaysian Insider quotes market analyst Sam Wong as saying: "The supposed penalties and complaint channels are no assurances, because we question how efficient will the Customs officers be in actually responding to our complaints and conducting checks on businesses." The publication also reported having submitted a claim on 18 March on the site, with no answer currently.

Communications experts remark that so far, the authorities’ communication approach seems to be causing more confusion than clarity.

Gogulan Dorairajoo, chief executive officer, Rantau PR commented on the government’s approach, saying that while efforts have been made to educate the public, the information provided usually raises more questions than answers.

Dorairajoo said that it is clear that much confusion persists. “An example would be the recent viral post that GST will be imposed on bank withdrawals, which drew so many different points-of-view. One would think that with all the 'education' provided, a basic service like an ATM withdrawal would be quite easily understood, but that clearly was not the case.”

He cites examples of consumer facing sites which he believes have done a better job in driving awareness such as

He added that he believed the Government should look at using social media as a key communications platform and as an aggregator for some solution sites and even educational portals, to arm both retailers and consumers with enough information. “I also hope that they have a ready communications team to manage the onslaught of complaints and queries come 1st April,” said Dorairajoo.

Raymond Siva, managing director, Edelman also suggested that the government could have pushed more content for clarity’s sake on social media.

“These days, anyone can be a content publisher using the plethora of tools out there – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like,” he said.

“In my view, dissent is usually a by-product of frustration, the inability to engage and communicate constructively with another party. The dissent stems from not understanding the issues, brought about by the inability to obtain the facts, information and satisfactory answers to question. Engaging proactively, frequently and transparently, utilizing all the channels available to it - including on social and digital, traditional media and even through call-centres, would be desirable prior to the introduction or implementation of any major bread and butter issues impacting the rakyat.”

Preethi Sanjeevi, regional CMO, VML Qais said: "Any consumer or citizen oriented channel that is set up, whether by a brand or a government, needs to operate on the premise of response efficiency. In the case of higher volumes of enquiries, even if a detailed response cannot be made immediately, the acknowledgement of the consumer enquiry needs to be quick. Or else the consumer or citizen can feel like their effort in providing feedback wasn't recognised.​"