At present, the government’s IT efforts had been devoted primarily to the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), with the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, making frequent forays to various developed countries like the United States, Japan and Europe to attract international multimedia/IT companies to invest in the MSC and make a success of Malaysia’s ambition to become an international IT hub in the new millennium.
However, as Mahathir warned on the eve of National Day, when the country was in a literal ‘haze’ under the double battery of currency and stockmarket crisis, Malaysia must guard against new colonialism in the IT era, whether direct or indirect, in the borderless world of Information Technology.
Malaysia has two options if we want to avoid becoming the victim of new colonialism of IT – one is turn inwards to become a hermit state like Burma and opt out of the race for greater competitiveness and prosperity and abandon Vision 2020 objective to become a fully developed nation within the next two decades, as the government has realised that without transforming the industry-based economy into an information-based economy, there is no way for Malaysia to achieve the Vision 2020 target.
The second option is for Malaysians to master Information Technology so that they are as efficient and agile in the use of the new information and communication technologies as those in the advanced IT nations.
The first option is clearly no option for Malaysia and the only viable option is the second one - for Malaysia to become an information superpower or power on our own merits in the new millennium.
At present, the government has done more to promote the MSC rather than to create IT awareness, literacy and efficiency among Malaysians to the extent that many Malaysians have mistakenly equated IT with MSC and MSC with IT.
In the final analysis, the MSC cannot succeed unless there is a national backup of IT-literate and IT-fluent Malaysian population.
The challenge is all the more acute as the world of IT is not static, but in a state of flux with information technologies undergoing continuous exponential changes on the one hand while on the other, with more and more countries trying to leapfrog into the digital future.
Philippines, for instance, has just announced its version of the MSC within the economic zone in Clarke, Pampanga, a newly emerging city south of Manila, which has a 30 ha Area 1 of the zone’s Cyber City, which would be managed by the Clarke Development Corporation.
Malaysia must not only face competition from the established IT centres, whether Silicon Valley, Singapore, Bangalore but must expect more and more competition from new IT masterplans like the Philippines Cyber City project in Clarke to attract the best IT professionals in the world.
This is one important reason why the DAP had been urging the government to launch a nation-wide "IT For All" campaign to popularise IT-awareness, literacy and usage among Malaysians of all ages as a sine qua non for Malaysia to leapfrog into the information future.
There are people who have asked why an opposition party like the DAP should be pushing the IT agenda, when it should be the business of the government. DAP is pushing the IT agenda not for the sake of the government but for the sake of the people and nation, for in the post-industrial information age, it is information or knowledge that is the new wealth where information technology become the tools of wealth creation.
In the old economy, natural resources and physical infrastructure determined a nation’s competitiveness. In the new global economy, knowledge is the key resource and the quality of a nation’s workforce is critical to ensure competitiveness.
The DAP MP for Teluk Intan, M. Kulasegaram had proposed that the Teluk Intan local authority should go online and have a Internet homepage to provide faster and more convenient information and services to the people of Teluk Intan.
I would go one step further and call on all Municipalities and local governments to establish a special IT department and draw up an IT Plan to begin the process of creating "smart communities" in keeping with Malaysia’s ambition to leapfrog into the Information Society.
A smart community is a community that has made a conscious effort to employ information technology to transform the way the people in the community live and work, involving the co-operation among the community, government and industry.
There are at present close to a hundred "smart communites" in various parts of the world involving the co-operative efforts of the community, government and industry to position their communities at the forefront of the Information Society and Malaysia should not lag behind in mobilising, energising and involving entire communities, regardless of occupation, gender or age, in a bottoms-up movement to leapfrog into the Information Society.
The MSC is a top-down strategy in Malaysia National IT Agenda, but it must be matched and supported by a bottom-up strategy of creating "smart communities".
I hope my proposal that all Municipalities and local authorities should set up a special IT department to draw up a IT plan to start creating "smart communities" in various states and regions would be seriously considered, which should be an important plank of a "IT For All" national strategy.