Call on Selangor to take the lead in Malaysia to instruct all municipalities and local authorities to establish a special IT department and to draw up a IT Plan to create "smart communities" in the state

by Lim Kit Siang
(Klang, Sunday):
At the Selangor State Convention in August last year, I proposed nation-wide "One Family, One Computer" campaign to catapult Malaysia into the Information Age in the next millennium.

Although such a nation-wide "One Family, One Computer" campaign has still to be launched, the DAP will continue to play our role to heighten Information Technology awareness, literacy and usage among all sectors of Malaysians to ensure that every Malaysian can benefit from the advent of the Digital Society and that there would not be a new divide among Malaysians among the IT-literate and the IT-illiterate.

During the Parliamentary debate on the new Education Bill in December 1995, I had introduced an amendment during the Committee Stage to make "computer literacy" a core subject for primary and secondary school curriculum.

The proposal was clearly too advanced for the times and has yet to be acted on by the government, although the Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said that the government would be prepared to accept the proposal when the time was ripe.

I am glad to read last week of the call by the National Union of Teaching Profession (NUTP), Siva Subramaniam, proposing that computer literacy be made a compulsory subject in all schools.

Siva also called on the state education departments to take the lead in implementing Computers in Education (CIE) programme instead of waiting for directives from the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad like the rubbish problem in Jalan Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur.

The CIE programme was first announced in 1989 by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who was then the Education Minister. Under the CIE charter, all schools in Malaysia were to have been equipped with PCs by 1992. Although millions of ringgit had been pumped into various projects under the CIE, the programme was more a failure than a success or Malaysia should be ready to introduce computer literacy as a compulsory core subject for all schools.

Here, I would like to call on the Education Minister to seriously consider my proposal in Parliament last year that his Ministry should draw up a three-point crash programme to ensure that the 250,000 teachers in the primary and secondary schools are computer-literate by the year 2,000, including a special loan scheme to encourage and provide an incentive to teachers to buy a personal computer and get special discounts to get connected to the Internet.

At this Selangor DAP State Convention, I want to put forward another IT proposal, to call on the Selangor State Government to take the lead in Malaysia to instruct all municipalities and local authorities to establish a special IT department and to draw up a IT Plan to create "smart communities" in the state.

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, that Malaysia must guard against new colonialism in the IT era.

Malaysia has two options – one is to opt out of the race for greater 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.

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 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 therefore expect more and more competition 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 time has come for 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, and this is an area where Selangor can take the lead with all the IT facilities and advantages she has over most other states, including being the host of the MSC.

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 Selangor can take the lead in Malaysia and direct 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 as a distinctive contribution of the state to the national ambition to leapfrog into the information society.


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