(Petaling Jaya, Monday): Last Wednesday, I criticised the Minister for Energy, Telecommunications and Posts, Datuk Leo Moggie for his indifference, complacency and lack of sense of urgency in dealing with the Year 2000 problem as shown by his unsatisfactory reply to my parliamentary question on the Millennium Bug or Y2K problem in Malaysia.
This lack of sense of urgency can be seen by the procrastination of the government in taking more than three months to act on the report of the National Information Technology Council (NITC) Y2K Task Force on 15th January 1998 recommending that the country should be in a state of readiness for the Y2K Problem.
Speaking at the opening of The Y2K Seminar/Workshop last Thursday, Leo Moggie announced the setting up of a National Y2K Steering Committee which consists of agencies from the public and private sectors and whose tasks is to plan, co-ordinate and report back to the Government on the measures that have been taken by all sectors.
What is shocking is that such a National Y2K Steering Committee held its first meeting only last Friday, i.e. more than three months after the NITC Y2K Task Force Report, when every month that elapses is a month nearer to the Y2K Crisis. In fact, the Year 2000 problem had already started surfacing with the breakdown of computer systems.
The NITC Y2K Task Force Report referred to the shutdown of a steel plant in New Zealand in 1996 because a problem akin to Y2K Problem. Because it was the first leap year since the installation of a new control computer, and the computer was not programmed to understand leap years, so on the day 366, it shut down, costing millions in losses.
The NITC Y2K Task Force Report had specifically called for an action programme to "make sure the scenarios of disaster do not come about".
The Report said:
"the forseeable catastrophic problems which would occur, include, chronologically (bearing in mind that it would be a holiday) from 0000hrs January 1, 2000" are:
The Report continued:
"All the above will happen before the man-in-the-street wakes up and hits the streets. By the time he hits the streets, he will find that he has not received his newspapers, and driving to his newsvendor would not work because the papers may not have been printed or may have failed to be delivered because of the breakdown of the transportation system, or he might not reach the newsvendor's place of business. There is no point trying to buy food because food vendors would be subject to the same situations.
"Remembering that it would be a holiday, there is also no one to complain to, and even if there is, the phones will not work, and the roads would not support a quick drive to the department or organisation.
"The next day being a Sunday, again, not much can be done. So in a very bizarre sense of the word, we would get a two-day reprieve. Y2K does not hit on January 1, 2000 but on January 3! By then government and businesses would wake up to an impossible situation. Nobody can pay bills or get government services. Businesses would not be able to operate because their own computers would not function. Even if they had taken the trouble to ensure that their own computers do function, they rely on services and supplies from others which would not come.
"There would be methodical resolutions to the problems one by one, but some cannot wait, and in some cases the damage would already have been catastrophic. Some organisations would just cease to exist, some would be badly crippled, and naturally, nearly everyone would be turning to legal action."
"It is the duty of the NITC Y2K Task Force to highlight this scenario, and to recommend a program to ensure that it does not come about. But before that, let us look at two more areas. One is the question of cost. The other is the chronology of when the Task Force was set up, and what has been done to date.
It is precisely because the Y2K Problem can result in a catastrophic scenario as admitted by the NITC Y2K Task Force Report that there should be a broad information campaign in the country to send a clear message that the Year 2000 problem affects everyone in the Malaysian society.
It is also very important that as the Cabinet Minister entrusted with the responsibility to deal with the Y2K Problem, Leo Moggie should set an example of communicating a sense of urgency to all Malaysian sectors about the Y2K Problem.
Leo Moggie is in fact downplaying the gravity of the Y2K problem when he said the country must face the Y2K crisis without unnecessary panic or even over-pessimism. He should probably explain whether the NITC Y2K Task Force Report, and in particular its description of the possible scenario of catastrophe, is one such example of "unnecessasry panic or even over-pessimism"?