Hotlines still buzzing with callers wanting nitty-gritty details

THE calls might not be coming in with the same intensity, but the GST hotlines are still buzzing.

Set up to answer public queries and provide feedback on the proposed Goods and Services Tax, the hotlines received 530 calls when it began on Feb 10. After that first-day blitz, the eight lines have been averaging 100 calls a day.

“The calls may not be coming in thick and fast, but similar concerns are being aired,” said Mr Goh Khee Kuan, Deputy Commissioner of the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore.

What were the questions and concerns 15 IRAS officers manning the hotlines heard from 8am to 6pm every day?

If they are any indication of how the public is taking the proposed tax, policy-makers should sleep in peace as many calls, about a third, were about how to pay the tax and how frequently.

The rest were interested in other practical details, such as what items would be tax-exempted and how much income tax and corporate tax rates would be reduced.

But there were also those who were concerned that shopkeepers would profiteer from the introduction of the GST.

“We even received an anonymous call informing us that there was a price rise for a cup of coffee in his neighbourhood even before the introduction of the GST!” said IRAS officer Heng Lee Kwang.

IRAS officers usually assured such callers that the Government would look into cases where prices of goods or services were too high. In this instance, the case was referred to the Finance Ministry, she said.

While most callers were satisfied with the rationale behind the GST, there were some who aired their disappointment.

“No amount of reasoning or assurances can convince this small group. But we will try our best to make sure that everyone understands the GST,” said Mr Goh.

Besides the GST hotlines, the IRAS also sends out regular press statements to correct false notions about the GST.

Among the misconceptions that the department has had to put right:

* The GST would be levied on freight charges, bunkering and ship repair services.

* Retailers would lose their competitiveness because of the GST.

* Consumers would end up paying more than the GST rate of 3 per cent because of the many stages goods went through in the production and distribution chain.

* Businesses exempted from the GST would charge it on their customers.

* Businesses would not have to pay the GST on deliveries made under long-term contracts.

* Salaries of foreign maids and the foreign maid levy would be subject to the GST.

The IRAS also plans to have dialogues with trade associations and professional bodies, and introduce programmes to help businesses implement the GST after the Bill is tabled in Parliament next week.

GST guides and brochures would also be published in three months.

The IRAS wants to make sure that no Singaporean can say he does not understand the GST by the time it is introduced next April.

For those still in the dark, the hotline numbers are 530-7657 and 538-4686.

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