Six proposals to make the National IT Awareness Campaign a purposeful and effective one

Opening of the Malacca DAP State Convention
by Lim Kit Siang

(Melaka, Sunday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, yesterday launched the National IT Awareness Campaign and asked Malaysians "young and old, rural and urban, Government and the Opposition alike, to answer this ‘call to arms’ and support the nation’s initiative in harnessing IT".

DAP fully welcomes and supports the government in the National IT Awareness Campaign. In the past two years, the DAP, both inside and outside Parliament, had been urging the Government to launch a national "IT For All" campaign to popularise IT-awareness, literacy and usage and to ensure that all Malaysians - every adult and every child - is confident in the use of the latest technology to develop their potential and enhance their lives.

On our part, DAP leaders had taken the initiative in the past two years to create IT awareness among the people to reach out to all those who are not currently involved in Information Technology so that every Malaysian can be part of the emerging Information Society. Part of this initiative is the establishment of two IT centres, one in Cheras and another in Teluk Intan.

Raising greater IT-consciousness and awareness among Malaysians is a prerequisite to the success of the national plan to make the quantum leap into the Digital Era.

In the new millennium, 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.

Unless Malaysia transforms its current industrial approach to become an information-based economy, Malaysia will not be able to achieve fully-developed nation status by 2020.

A meaningful National IT Awareness campaign however cannot be confined just to radio and television programmes but must be a comprehensive plan to involve the entire society to encourage and motivate all Malaysians to acquire computer-literacy.

I have six proposals to make the National IT Awareness Campaign purposive and effective.

Firstly, the National IT Awareness Campaign must involve all sectors of society and there should be a high-powered National IT Awareness Campaign Committee with representatives from political parties, civic organisations, trade unions, NGOs and all cross-sections of our society to be responsible for drawing up and implementing an IT Action Plan.

Secondly, Malaysia must aim to create a big body of netizens among Malaysians. I was informed in Parliament this week that as on Oct. 1, Malaysia has 160,000 Internet subscribers, with Jaring having 88,363 subscribers while TMNet 79,084 subscribers.

This is a far cry from the Mimos estimate in April last year that Malaysia would have 150,000 Internet subscribers by the end of last year and 500,000 Internet subscribers by the end of this year.

The main reason why there was a sharp drop in the Internet take-up rate in Malaysia, which in April last year was growing at the exponential rate of 22 per cent a month, was the prohibitive telephone charges, especially when Telekom introduced the time-based charge system in June last year. My second proposal is that the Prime Minister should declare the national target of reaching 500,000 Internet subscribers in Malaysia by the end of next year - which would be one year behind the Mimos forecast.

Thirdly, Telekom should revert to the old telephone charge system by abolishing the time-based charge system - at least for Internet usage.

Fourthly, the government should focus on an important target group as agents of change in the race towards an Information Society. There are 250,000 teachers in Malaysia and a large number of them are computer-illiterate. The government should draw up a two-year programme to ensure that by the year 2,000, everyone of the 250,000 teachers would become computer-literate and be connected to the Internet. In this way, all the teachers could not only be role models for students in the field of IT, but could also influence parents to overcome their fear of technology and to acquire IT-awareness and literacy.

Fifthly, the government should give interest-free loans to the 250,000 teachers to buy personal computers.

Sixthly, government leaders and officials must undergo a radical change in their mind-set in keeping with the needs of an information society, where the government should stop restricting information but instead encourage a free flow of information - becoming in the process more open, accountable and transparent.

A few days ago, the Information Minister, Datuk Mohamed Rahmat charged that there were "traitors" who were using the Internet to say "bad things" about the country.

Describing them as "traitors," Mohamed said they did not deserve to live in Malaysia as they were disloyal.

Mohamed Rahmat typifies the pre-IT mindset which believes in the suppression of ideas and information which is antithesis of an information society. How can Mohamed Rahmat be serious in wanting to promote IT when he has already found "traitors" on the Internet?


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