KUCHING: A businessman here was barred from leaving the country due to an overdue GST payment by a company of which he is a director and a shareholder.
Chung Nyuk Swee, 66, found out about the travel ban imposed by the Customs Department at the Kuching International Airport (KIA) while preparing to depart for Singapore at around 5pm last Friday, The Borneo Post reported.
He said he was appalled at the ban as his flight was scheduled to take off in an hour.
“I even asked the immigration officer if I could just settle the outstanding payment and leave for Singapore where I have business to attend.
“The immigration officer told me to go to the Customs (Department office) at the airport to find out more, which I did. That was when I was told that I was banned from leaving the country because of an outstanding GST payment.
“But (they) could not tell me the amount. And so I was left with no choice but to find out more when I got home later,” he told a press conference attended by Pending assemblywoman Violet Yong yesterday.
Chung said the outstanding payment was not even a personal debt, adding that the authorities had not informed him of the overdue amount.
He said he had communicated with other company directors and settled the overdue GST payment that evening, thinking that he could fly to Singapore the following day.
However, he was still barred from leaving Malaysia despite having settled the outstanding amount.
He said the reason given by KIA Customs was that the authorities could lift the ban only after a clearance directive from Putrajaya.
“I even showed them the official receipt to prove that I settled the outstanding amount of RM2,739.04. But they still could not lift the travel ban.
“The ban itself is unreasonable because no notice or summons was issued to me about the unsettled payment. And even after I settled the payment, I’m still not allowed to leave the country.”
Chung said this was the first time a travel ban had been imposed on him, questioning whether the Customs Department could ban Sarawakians from leaving the country just because of an overdue GST payment.
He said his case should serve as a warning to his fellow Sarawakians to check their travel status with the authorities before they made travel plans.
“My case goes to show that any Sarawakian can be controlled by Putrajaya, and that the federal government can stop us from travelling outside the country.”
At the press conference, Yong said there was no provision of law under the GST Act which allowed the authorities to impose travel bans on individuals who had yet to settle outstanding GST payments.
According to her, the authorities can issue notices or summons to push for payment. If this step is unsuccessful, they can then impose a fine or imprisonment on those who fail to pay.
She said Chung’s case was unheard of in Malaysia.
“All this while, we heard about people being banned from travelling overseas under Section 104 of the Income Tax Act 1967 and Section 22 of the Real Property Gains Tax Act 1976, and also those blacklisted under PTPTN (National Higher Education Fund).
“The travel ban by the Customs Department is uncalled for. In my opinion, it is unlawful. It is not right for customs to do that. Chung reserves his legal right to pursue further on the matter.”