Malaysia's new consumption tax is a boon to IT companies that stand to win infrastructure contracts and fees – provided they can convince people to switch to electronic payments in a country where 91% of transactions are in cash.
The 6% goods and services tax (GST) that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak announced in his budget speech last Friday is aimed at narrowing a budget gap that is expected to hit 4% of gross domestic product this year.
Cash payments are harder for tax collectors to track, so the government is encouraging e-payments as a way to reduce costs and improve efficiency.
For companies such as Censof Holdings Bhd and GHL Systems Bhd that specialise in creating electronic payment and software systems, the initial benefit will likely come well before the tax is implemented in April 2015.
These companies, along with privately held Brilliance Information Sdn Bhd and Revenue Harvest Sdn Bhd, are seen as front-runners for government contracts to build the necessary infrastructure, because Malaysia has a procurement policy that favours local companies.
That potential has caught investors' attention. Censof's shares are up 64% in the year to date while GHL's have jumped more than 160%, both out stripping the broader market's 7.7% gain.
"To impose GST, you need to capture sales accurately and it needs to be done electronically. You need payment infrastructure in place," said Raj Lorenz, group CEO at GHL, Malaysia's largest e-payment firm by market share.
"The business is very bright but there are a lot of people using cash, so they (the government) have to make them all use e-payment. In the end, the only guys who can get away with it are those in the night markets," he said.
Censof executive director Ameer Shaik Mydin concurs, adding that all his company's systems are GST-ready and waiting to be implemented on clients' sites.
"We've done it in Singapore and Australia. It definitely has to be electronic. If not, I have to say it'll not work," he said.
Accounting for GST is especially tricky in a cash economy. Businesses might understate sales to lower the tax bill. But for cash-only companies, making the switch will be costly.
"Big boys can afford it but what about eateries and sundry shops? Do you expect them to pay for such machines and issue receipts (on GST)?" said Kuala Lumpur-based business consultant John Yong.
"If they don't buy and issue receipts, then the 6% GST is not going to be remitted to the government. Some industries are just not ready for GST," he added. – Reuters/theSun
Malaysia Tax Budget 2014 Updates