Government proposal to go online from September a major step forward in introducing electronic government

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Saturday):

The announcement by the Chief Secretary to the Government, Datuk Halim Ali on Monday that the government would begin to go online from September is most welcome as a major step forward in introducing electronic government in Malaysia.

The Chief Secretary said that ATM-like kiosks would be installed at various places in the Klang Valley to enable the public to transact electronically with government departments, such as renewing driving licences and settling traffic fines, from September this year.

He said the people would also be able to renew their passports and pay quit rent without having to go to the relevant departments by using the kiosks.Under the Public Services Department’s pilot electronic government project, the kiosks would be set up at highly visible areas such as shopping complexes, office complex lobbies and banks in the Klang Valley, which would later be expanded to cover the rest of the country.

I find the Chief Secretary’s announcement bringing forward the introduction of electronic government one year ahead of the original schedule particularly welcome as I had been pressing in Parliament last year for such an early introduction, arguing that there is no need to wait until the completion of the new Prime Minister’s Office in Putrajaya in the Multimedia Super Corridor in September next year for the government to begin its online services.

This is because Malaysia’s problem is not the lack of technology but the absence of commitment, will and leadership as far as the early introduction of electronic government is concerned.

As Malaysia aims to be the first civil service in the world to qualify for the ISO 9000 quality standards, the Malaysian public service must be a world leader in government administration and in the cost-effective provision of affordable, equitable and accessible information and services as well.

Bearing in mind that other countries have already taken major strides in introducing electronic government, and that Malaysia has a lot of “catching-up” to do, I call on the Government to present a White Paper in the forthcoming meeting of Parliament setting out the government’s plans to provide and expand online government services to the people for the next three years till the year 2000.

While I am glad that the Government is prepared to expedite and accelerate its Information Technology plans, I am disappointed that there is still a lack of understanding among the government leaders of the meaning and the ends of the IT revolution - which is to empower more active citizen participation in the decision-making process as a result of the greater availability of information.

Parliament, for instance, is meeting in a week’s time, and this is one Parliamentary meeting which is being awaited with great international interest because of the government promise to pass some of the most advanced cyberlaws in the world.

The brochure put out by the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDC) to promote the Multimedia Super Corridor, gave the following assurance:

“As a cornerstone of its move into the Information Age, Malaysia is transforming its legal and regulatory environment to support companies undertaking multimedia commerce. The first steps include drafting the Multimedia Convergence Act, which creates an up-to-date communications framework.”

The MDC promised that the Multimedia Convergence Act would be implemented in 1997, along with five “high-impact cyberlaws”, namely on digital signature, multimedia intellectual property, computer crime, telemedicine development and electronic government.

This would mean that the government is preparing for the enactment of the first batch of six cyberlaws for the take-off of the MSC.

Although the MDC has promised the first batch of six cyberlaws, to be spearheaded by the Multimedia Convergence Act, only three laws had been talked about in recent months, namely on digital signature, multimedia intellectual property and computer crime. What has happened to the Multimedia Convergence Act which is supposed to provide the “up-to-date communications framework” for the MSC?

I have checked with Parliament this morning and I have been informed that although it has received formal notice that three cyberbills would be tabled in the forthcoming meeting, it has not received anyone of the cyberbills as yet - although Parliament is only a week away.

This is not a good advertisement to the world about Malaysia’s greater responsiveness, accountability and transparency in the Information Age.

This is very disappointing, especially as the briefing given by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad on Tuesday to Barisan Nasional Ministers, MPs and Assemblymen on the MSC and social ills have shown the poor grasp of elected representatives on the the subject of MSC in particular and IT generally.

As reported in the press, although the MSC was explained at length by the Prime Minister, only one question was asked from the floor on the subject by the Barisan Nasional elected representatives. University undergraduates would have done better!

The Prime Minister should give his personal attention to ensure that the cyberbills to be presented to the forthcoming meeting of Parliament should be made public immediately and posted on the Internet to invite the fullest and widest public discussion and participation - and send out a clear message to all government and political leaders that the entire objective of the IT exercise must be people-oriented!


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