IT and a Knowledge Society will be critical determinants as to whether Vision 2020 objective of Malaysia becoming a fully developed nation is a success or failure

Speech - Promotion of Investments (Amendment) Bill 1997
by Lim Kit Siang

(Dewan Rakyat, Thursday): The Promotion of Investment (Amendment) Bill is not considered as one of the four cyberbills representing the first batch of cyberlaws of the country to devise new legal structures and concepts in cyberspace, but it is an important enabling legislation to make it possible for Malaysia to make the quantum leap into the Digital Era.

This Bill provides that investors participating in the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) would be granted pioneer tax-free status for 10 years.

The importance of this Bill cannot be gainsaid as Information Technology (IT) and a Knowledge Society will be the critical determinants as to whether the Vision 2020 objective of Malaysia becoming a fully developed nation is a success or failure.

The Government has realised that under the current industrial approach, Malaysia would not be able to achieve fully-developed nation status by 2020 and that an Information Age approach, leapfrogging Malaysia from an industrial society into an information society, is the only way to achieve fully-developed nation status as envisaged in Vision 2020 - and maybe even before the year 2020.

The Deputy Finance Minister, Datuk Dr. Affifuddin bin Haji Omar admitted last week that the government is "groping in the dark" as far as the MSC is concerned as there is no precedent or model in any part of the world, resulting in the two-year deferment of one of the eight MSC flagship applications within six months of the original announcement - i.e. the multimedia funds haven - which prompted my intervention that we should be sure that while we are "groping in the dark", we must see "light at the end of the tunnel".

There has undoubtedly been unprecedented hype about the MSC, to the extent that MSC had been fully identified with IT in the minds not only of the majority of the people, but also Ministers, MPs, government officials and journalists - which is a very mistaken notion as the MSC can only be a part and not be the whole of the National IT Agenda - even if it is the crown jewel of the National IT Plan.

The MSC has not only been been regarded as synonymous with IT in Malaysia, the hype about it has created the euphoria that the MSC would not only be a sure-success to become an international IT hub, but would excel Singapore and compete with the Silicon Valley.

It is imperative that while we must impart to Malaysians the vision of an Information Society, there must be a strong dose of realism so that we do not take flight into the realm of "virtual reality" as far as the country’s information technology development plans are concerned.

After the Prime Minister’s visit to the United States and Japan to promote the MSC in January this year, there were a lot of talk and even media reports about Malaysia emerging as a threat to Singapore in information technology.

This prompted the response from the Singapore National Computer Board chief executive, Stephen Yeo that Singapore officials were not worried by the threat of being overtaken by Malaysia as an information technology (IT) leader as Singapore enjoys superior infrastructure and a high rate of computer literacy among its people.

He was confident that Singapore could maintain and improve its "multifaceted" edge, namely:

  • the infrastructure which is "state-of-the-art and able to carry us well into the next century";
  • the people and the general IT literacy level - a 15 to 20 years of experience and a headstart.

    Singapore’s IT strength includes its high level of PC household ownership where one in three has a computer and one quarter of these families have internet access. For instance, Malaysia has only 80,925 Internet subscribers as on 1.3.97, made up of 55,470 with Jaring and 25,455 with TMnet, while Singapore has about 150,000 Internet subscribers despite only having 19 per cent of Malaysia’s population.

    Press reports at the time reported not only on the IT threat of Malaysia to Singapore, but also the contest to be the IT hub of the world - the present Silicon Valley, Malaysia’s MSC, Singapore’s IT2000 Plan to wire up the whole island and even Subic Bay Cybercity in the Philippines. The general conclusion is that Silicon Valley’s great inherent strength to flourish well in the 21st century or perhaps beyond lies in its "awesome creative brainpower, the state-of-the-art research capability and its unrivalled high-tech know-how".

    These press reports and surveys deserve serious study, not only by policy makers and planners, but also by the ordinary people, for finally the purpose of any government plan, whether MSC or leapfrogging Malaysia from the Industrial Age into the Information Age, should be for the good of the people and future generations.

    In the past two years, one of my concerns has been how we can assure our future as a nation, our competitiveness, prosperity and place in the world which is making the transition to the Digital Era and this is why I had repeatedly called for a nation-wide "IT For All" campaign to promote IT-literacy with the twin objective to ensure:

  • Malaysia joins the ranks of the "information rich" nations; and
  • Promote a high Internet take-up rate in the country by removing the fear of computers among the Malaysian population and thus reduce the internal division between the "information haves" on the one hand and the "have-nots" and "cannots" on the other.

    This is important as in the next decade, there will be a new underclass of the handicapped and the disadvantaged - those who are computer illiterate!

    If Malaysia is to become an IT power or superpower in the next century, which is what the MSC and the present bill before the House is all about, then we must even go further than an "IT For All" campaign which I have been advocating.

    I agree with Datuk Dr. Noordin Sopiee, the chairman and CEO of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, who recently set a higher target for this generation of Malaysians - firstly, that 90 to 100 per cent of our population are computer literate; secondly, the majority of our people must be computer-fluent; and thirdly, a sizable segment of our informatized elite must be as computer accomplished, creative and innovative as their counterpart in the most advanced countries.

    If we are serious in wanting to make a success of MSC and the transition of Malaysia into the Information Society, we must launch a National IT Agenda and Plan which gives top priority to the transformation of the Malaysian people into a computer-literate and computer-fluent population. For a start, let us resolve that from the year 2000, no Malaysian child will be allowed to leave school without full computer literacy, which means all the 1,273 schools presently without electricity supply or limited supply would be provided with power and connected to the Information Superhighway by the year 2,000.


    *Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong