As less than one per cent of Malaysia’s population are Internet users, where is the nation-wide campaign to raise Internet take-up rate to ensure that Malaysians can fully benefit from the MSC?

Speech - 1997 Supplementary Supply Estimates Bill 1997
(Comm. Stage - Finance Ministry)
by Lim Kit Siang
(Dewan Rakyat, Wednesday):
In his speech to the Imperial College during his visit to the United Kingdom in May at the start of the two-month "working leave" to promote the Multimedia Super Corridor, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said that the MSC is Malaysia’s contribution to the new millennium - which he described as "the World Century of the Information Age".

He said: "Malaysia offers the Multimedia Super Corridor as a huge test-bed for trying out not just the technology but also the way of life in the age of instant and unlimited information."

On the Multimedia Development Corporation’s website, the MSC has also been described as "Malaysia’s gift to the world".

The important question Malaysians want to be sure about is that the RM5 billion MSC, with its high-capacity global telecommunications and logistics infrastructure built upon the MSC’s 2.5-10 gigabit digital optical fibre backbone, is also a gift to all Malaysians.

If Malaysians are to be able to take advantage of the MSC as a gift, then they must be IT-literate. At present, less than one per cent of the Malaysian population are Internet users

In the last Parliamentary meeting, I am told that Malaysia had only about 80,000 Internet subscribers from the two Internet service providers - which was a drastic shortfall by an earlier MIMOS estimate that Malaysia would have 150,000 Internet subscribers by the end of 1996 and 500,000 Internet subscribers by the end of 1997.

In reply to my specific question whether the government had any plans to launch a major campaign to raise the Internet take-up rate of Malaysians to prepare the people for the information era in the new millennium, the Minister for Science, Technology and Environment, Datuk Law Hieng Ding, said that "kempen penjualan secara besar-besaran akan dilakukan pada bulan Mei 1997 iaitu sebaik sahaja pemasangan litar suwa (leaseline) 45 mbps di antara Malaysia dan Amerika dikemaskinikan".

May has come and gone, and the 45 mbps leaseline between Malaysia and America had been completed, but where is the nation-wide campaign to promote a greater Internet take-up rate among Malaysians so that Malaysians would be able to take full advantage of the MSC?

Last month, the Singapore government announced that it was allocating a sum of S$2 billion (about RM3.5 billion) towards a programme designed to raise the level of computer literacy among the people’s population. This was to ensure that every child in school would have access to a computer within the next five years.

Singapore already has one of the highest computer literacy rates in the world today, but it has realised that this would not be enough for the challenges of tomorrow and it wants to have a computer literacy level as high as that in the United States.

Why are we in Malaysia lagging so behind in giving the topmost priority to promoting computer literacy among the Malaysian people, when we want to make the quantum leap into the Information Age through the MSC?

In tandem with its other responsibilties to ensure that Malaysia can leapfrog into the digital era, the Multimedia Development Corporation should be fully involved in a national campaign to raise computer literacy among the people so that the MSC could be a gift to Malaysians and not just to the world.

The Multimedia Development Corporation has a very wide charter of powers and responsibilities, including:

However, the MDC should be fully conscious that if it is to discharge and fulfil its wide charter of powers and responsibilites, the barriers which deter local and international multi-media/IT companies must be overcome.

Although the critical issues ranked as the main barriers for investment in the MSC in 50 domestic interviews conducted by the government differ somewhat from 50 overseas interviews, they also cover common concerns.

For instance, the criticial issues constituting barriers to the success of the MSC which rank high in the domestic interviews are:

In the overseas interviews, the critical issues regarded as barriers to the success of the MSC are:

As the MDC has been created to make the MSC a success, it must be concerned not only set standards for the MSC’s information infrastructure and urban developments, it must be in the forefront to address and resolve the critical issues and barriers impeding the full participation and national and international multi-media/IT companies in the MSC.

Yesterday, on his return from his two-month "working leave", the Prime Minister warned that those given "what little powers" to enforce religious matters not to abuse them, saying it gave Islam a bad image.

It also gives the country and the MSC a bad image. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister must have been dogged by the adverse international publicity arising from the arrest and prosecution of three Muslim beauty pageant contestants in his international promotion of the MSC, for as the All Women's Action Society, the Association of Women Lawyers, the Sisters in Islam and the Women's Aid Organisation said very aptly in their joint statement of 3 July 1997:

One of the selling points for MSC as a "global bridge" to the new millennium is the rich cultural and civilizational diversity in Malaysia, where it would be a huge test-bed not for a clash of civilisations but where business would become ‘thoroughly international’ and would not only make old-fashioend confrontations unlikely but also promote a greater mix of peoles and religions.

This is the vision not only for the MSC but of the world which the Prime Minister held out in his speech at the Imperial College in London in May, but which was immediately spoiled by the international adverse publicity over the arrest and prosecution of three Muslim beauty pageant contestants.

Another issue which must have dogged the Prime Minister’s in his recent promotion of the MSC in the United Kingdom, Europe and Japan must be the Health Minister’s handling of the deadly viral epidemic which killed 31 infants.

Yesterday, the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng admitted defeat in trying to identify the killer virus although on June 9, he told the world that the Health Ministry had identified Coxsackie Virus B as the killer virus. This had seriously compromised the reputation of Malaysian medical experts as well as undermined public confidence, both national and international, in the viral epidemic crisis management of the authorities - with serious consequences on the promotion of the MSC as virus knows no state frontiers.

I believe corruption, which ranked as one of the top critical issues regarded by international multimedia/IT companies as barrier to the success of the MSC, is another issue which must have dogged the Prime Minister in his recent international promotion of the MSC.

The Prime Minister also had to address the issue of corruption in his previous overseas trips to promote the MSC, but the recent publicity about corruption should be positive in showing that the government is at last serious in wanting to combat corruption by launching an all-out war against corruption and in drawing in the support and participation of the civil society in the campaign.

Priority should be given to the enactment of Data Protection Act to regulate electronic or computerised data processing to protect right of privacy

According to the booklet, "An Invitation to Malaysia’s MSC - Leading Asia’s Information Age", issued by the MDC, one of MDC’s functions is to shape MSC-specific laws.

Last night, the Parliamentary IT Committee had organised two talks, one on Data Protection by Merlynna Hashim and the other on Cyber Crime and Business by William J. Marlow.

I would urge the MDC and the Government to give priority to the enactment of a Data Protection Act to regulate electronic or computerised data processing to protect the right of privacy of Malaysians.

With the impact of increasing computerisation in our society, Malaysians are potentially under surveillance - watched, videotaped or digitally monitored - for most of their waking hours with great scope of considerable trade and abuse of personal information by government and non-government persons.

At the last meeting of Parliament, I had called for the enactment of a Data Protection Act and the Ministerr for Energy, Telecommunications and Posts, Datuk Leo Moggie responded by saying that a special government committee was being set up to look into it.

Can Parliament be informed of the progress of such a study and whether the government is prepared to enact a Data Protection Act?

The MDC has the responsibility to "attract, develop, and retain exceptional Malaysian and foreign professionals for MDC, through an international compensation package and a supportive, client-focussed culture".

Yesterday, the Asian Wall Street Journal carried the first of two articles on "Developing Asia’s Brainpower" under the heading: "Malaysians Abroad Hear Call of the Wired - But Their Hesitations Offer Reality Check for a Virtual Silicon Valley".

The article wrote about how the inventive, successful Malaysians who have made a success in the soft-ware industry in the United States, like Shahril Ibrahim, described as a high-technology whiz kid, are torn about returning home in the service of the MSC.

Shahril made a name for himself in Hollywood circles as the digital-effects research chief at Boss Film Studios, working on big-budget films including "Multiplicity" and the science-fiction thriller "Species".

As Shahril admitted in the Asian Wall Street Journal article, the biggest challenge for the MSC is human expertise and talent. Shahril noted that Malaysia’s largely conformist youth, long taught to pass exams through rote learning, would need to be untaught.

There may be over 100,000 Malaysian professionals who have moved to the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand since the 1970s, and this figure does not include people like Shahril who intended only to study abroad, but then chose to stay on.

What is the strategy of the MDC to "attract" exceptional Malaysians from this huge Malaysian brain-loss over the decades who could make a contribution to make the MSC a success?


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