Let the Cabinet set the example that Malaysians have confidence in their ability to master information technology

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad wants Malaysians to have confidence in their ability to master information technology.

Speaking at the signing of an agreement between Telekom Malaysia and MEPS JV for the planning, designing and construction of Telekom’s Multimedia University in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, Mahathir said:

"There is nothing inferior in our people’s capacity to understand and appreciate knowledge in IT.

"The main thing is to convince yourself you can do it and put in the effort to acquire the kind of knowledge that we need as we move into the 21st century."

After two years of telling the world that Malaysia wants to be in the very forefront of the Information Technology revolution, we should be past the time of exhortations to Malaysians to master Information Technology and should be in full action-mode.

Unfortunately, we are still very much in the talking stage rather in the action stage as far as popularising digital literacy among the population is concerned, particularly at important leadership levels.

I would call on the Cabinet, the top government leadership and Parliament to set the example that Malaysians have confidence in their ability to master information technology.

Last month, when I wanted to email to all Cabinet Ministers my Open Letter to them on the 15 areas they should focus on in order to effect the fastest economic recovery and turnaround, my office could only find email addresses for six Cabinet Ministers after a lot of surfing, namely the Education Minister, Datuk Najib Tun Razak, the Minister for Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, Datuk Megat Junid Megat Ayob, the Minister for Entrepreneur Development, Datuk Mustapha Mohamad, the Minister for Science, Technology and Environment, Datuk Law Hieng Ding, the Minister for Rural Development, Datuk Anuar Musa and the Minister for National Unity and Social Development Datin Paduka Zaleha Ismail.

Subsequently the Minister for Primary Industries, Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik complained that I had done him an injustice in suggesting that he was not abreast with IT developments, and claimed that he had not just one but three separate email addresses!

My office again checked with the official web-sites today and still could not find the Minister for Primary Industries’ email address. There are two official websites which give the profile of the Primary Industries Minister, the "Cabinet Line-Up" and "Ministry Profile", which give all sorts of personal particulars about Keng Yaik, his numerous awards and honours, such as P. C.M. in 1976, D. P. C. M. in 1981, S. P. M. P. in 1989 and the Honorary Doctorate of Law by Queens University of Belfast, N. Ireland in 1995.

Both official websites also give fulsome particulars about his political background, that he joined the MCA in 1968, became MCA Chairman in Perak 1971 - 1972, joined Gerakan in 1973, became Perak Gerakan Chairman in 1974, Gerakan Deputy President 1976 - 1980 and Gerakan President in 1980 (Aug)

Furthermore, they also give the following particulars about Keng Yaik under the column "POSITION HELD":

There was another column on his "ELECTION PARTICIPATION" in six Parliamentary/State Assembly elections in the past 29 years, but there was not a word as to how the Minister for Primary Industries could be contacted by email on both these official websites for the Minister for Primary Industries! What is the use of the Minister for Primary Industries having three separate email addresses if there is no way the Malaysian public could reach him through anyone of them?

Another instance where the Cabinet has failed to set the example that Malaysians have confidence in their ability to master information technology is the manner some Ministers and Deputy Ministers deal with issues of information technology during Parliamentary debates and question-time.

What is worse, we have government front-benchers who flaunt their "digital illiteracy". The best case in point was the Deputy Minister for Science, Technology and Environment, Datuk Abu Bakar Daud, on November 27, who dismissed my speech during the budget debate on the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment on the need to protect the country’s information systems from malicious virus attacks with a response which showed clearly that he had never heard of "virus" information warfare!

I thank the Minister for Science, Technology and Environment, Datuk Law Hieng Ding who recently sent me a letter apologising for the most unsatisfactory reply of his Deputy Minister to my speech on his Ministry’s budgetary allocation, but the important point remains that if the Malaysian Parliament cannot discuss and debate the issues and challenges of the Information Revolution in an intelligent and knowledgeable manner, then the prospects of Malaysia succeeding in making the leapfrog into the information society are not very bright.

I would call on the Prime Minister to give all Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries one-month deadline to be accessible by members of the public through email to show that the government is serious in wanting all Malaysians, "young and old, rural and urban, Government and the Opposition alike, to answer the 'call to arms' and support the nation's initiative in harnessing IT".


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