If we are serious about the importance of Information Technology to Malaysia’s future, then the Minister’s speech should be given full treatment by all newspapers and the press should devote full two to three pages to the debate on this Bill - as this must be regarded as an important process to raise the level of national consciousness and literacy on IT and NITA

Speech (2)
- Communications and Multi-media Bill 1998

by Lim Kit Siang  

(Dewan Rakyat, Tuesday): Let me resume my speech on the Communications and Multimedia Bill 1998 by referring to the Sun report on the Parliamentary proceedings yesterday, under the heading "Journalists walk out to protest Lim's statement", which reads:

I am surprised by this report, as I was not really under the impression that some of the journalists were staging a walk-out in protest against my denial that I had said that only 10 MPs had email and that a newspaper report on it was incorrect, as I thought the journalists were going out of the Chamber for a media conference by the Minister for Energy, Telecommunications and Posts, Datuk Leo Moggie, as yesterday's meeting was coming to an end.

However, if it was true that some journalists had staged a walkout as an informal protest against me, let me ask them what they were protesting about - that I should not clarify that a newspaper report quoting me was wrong and incorrect?

Yesterday, the Gerakan MP for Bukit Bendera, Chia Kwang Thye had demanded to know whether it is true that I had said that only ten MPs had emails, and when I asked for proof that I had said such a thing, handed me a newspaper clipping from the NST  Computimes dated May 4,  1998, which said:

I admitted that I had said what was reported by Computimes, except that the report had made a mistake when it mentioned 10 MPs when it should be 10 Cabinet Ministers.

Yesterday, I had praised Cheah Kwang Thye for being one of the few computer and IT-literate MPs in the House, but I am disappointed that he has not acquired digital literacy.  Cheah Kwang Thye is computer and IT-literate enough to sell computers but our MPs should also  have digital literacy.

"Digital literacy" does not mean just the  ability to use computers or to get onto the net.

As Paul Gilster  said in his book "Digital Literacy":

Digital literacy, in short, means  "the ability to access networked resources and use them".

If Cheah Kwang Thye has "digital literacy", he need not wait for three months after the Computimes report of May 4 to find out whether I had actually said at the  InfoTech 1998 forum that "less than 10 Members of Parliament have posted their e-mai address on the Net". He knows that DAP maintains one of the most updated websites for any political party in Malaysia, which carried all my speeches and statements, and he could have easily checked online whether I had said what was reported by Computimes.

If he had gone online to check on my speech at the InfoTech forum of 21st  April 1998 on the DAP website, he would have found that what I had said was as follows:

If Cheah Kwang Thye had acquired digital literacy, he would not have wasted his own time as well as Parliament’s time on an incorrect newspaper report.

This in fact drives home my point about the low level of consciousness and literacy, whether about computers, IT or the National IT Agenda (NITA), whether in the country or even in Parliament.  If one of the leading IT-literate MPs like Cheah Kwang Thye, who dared not dispute yesterday that only one per cent of Barisan Nasional MPs know what is the NITA and  is himself  not digital literate, it shows the enormous distance Malaysia has to travel to popularise IT literacy in the country - let alone leapfrog into the  information and knowledge society.

Before I resume my speech, I wish to comment on the mass media coverage  of yesterday’s debate on the Communications and Multimedia Bill, undoubtedly the  most important cyberbill to be presented to Parliament.

The Minister for Energy, Telecommunications and Posts, Datuk Leo Moggie, described it as the "catalyst for the country’s march into the next millennium" and the one single legislation to support the country’s efforts to develop the Multimedia Super Corridor so that Malaysia can become a regional communications hub.

However, the Minister’s speech introducing such an important bill is dismissed by one national daily, the Star, into a four miserable column inch - and if a national daily is so dismissive and contemptuous of the centrepiece of the government’s national information technology initiatives, how can we expect to have the conditions to establish Malaysia as "a major global centre and hub for communications and multimedia information and content services" - one of the ten national policy objectives set out in the Bill?

If we are serious about the importance of Information Technology to Malaysia’s future, then the Minister’s speech should be given full treatment by all newspapers and the press should devote full two to three pages to the debate on this Bill - as this must be regarded as an important process to raise the level of national consciousness and literacy on IT and NITA.

Permit me a minor digression before I continue where I stopped yesterday. I have asked my office to check the latest update of the email position of all Cabinet Ministers.

There has been some improvement since January and April, as there are now 15 Ministers with email posted up on their Ministries’ websites, namely the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the Finance Minister, the Education Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Minister for Energy, Telecommunications and Posts, the Defence Minister, the Agriculture Minister, the Minister for Science, Technology and Environment, the Minister for Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, the Minister for Land, the Entrepreneurs Minister, the Minister for Rural Development and the Minister for National Unity and Social Development.

We have yet to locate the email addresses of the other nine Ministers. In the Works Ministry’s homepage, there is a search engine for the email addresses of the Ministry’s personnel. When "Samy Vellu" was typed in, the search engine came up with the following revelation: "Sorry, nothing matches your request."

 The Information Ministry’s website displays a special feature on "People and Faces", where you can see the "face" of Datuk Mohamad Rahmat of his youthful past but no email address.  Two other names were featured on the "People and Faces" of the Information Ministry Management Team, the Deputy Information Minister, Dato’ Drs. Sulaiman Mohamed and the Parliamentary Secretary, Datuk Mohd. Shafie Apdal, but there are no links or photographs  for these two personalities because of some unknown major constructional problems. There are no faces but only one face on this Information Ministry web-page.

Now we come to the  Ministry of International Trade and Industry. From the mother website at the Prime Minister’s Department, which is supposed to link to all the homepages of the various Ministries, a click on MITI takes one to a most startling site, with the following announcement:

In the case of other Ministers, like the Ministers for Primary Industries, Housing, Health, Human Resources, Transport, Youth and Sports, a click on them at the Prime Minister’s Office’s mother website will take one to their respective Secretaries-General, giving their emails and other particulars, but not those of the Ministers concerned.

The latest search of the Internet for the email addresses of all Malaysian Ministers, apart from providing material for good laughs, highlight the urgent need for a serious commitment from the topmost levels of government leadership if Malaysia wants its NITA of "Turning Ripples into Tidal Waves"  to succeed.

There should be one Cabinet Minister whose portfolio should include the responsibilty to ensure that the top government leadership, including  all Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, are serious about IT and do not make the government a laughing stock with their multitude of IT faux pas.

When the House adjourned yesterday, I had lamented that the government had not heeded my call in Parliament for over two years that the government should be a model user of Information Technology to provide more efficient, cost-effective and responsive service to the public.

The EPF, which is now a highly controversial institution not only because of the lowest dividend in two decades but also with regard to its investment of RM160 billion of EPF monies, is another case in point. The Singapore CPF has a homepage which has interactive features as allowing contributors to check on their status of their accounts online. But EPF does not even have a hompepage. So much for the government and public institutions playing their role as model users of IT.

I want to reiterate what I proposed during the Parliamentary debate on the Royal Address in March last year, when I had spoken of the need for Parliament and the various State Assemblies to play a special role in the country’s transition to the Information Society in at least four areas.

Firstly, that all MPs and State Assemblymen, whether in government or in opposition, should seek to raise awareness of IT among the Malaysian public at large, particularly among those who are currently non or unconfident users of information and communcations technologies by removing the social, educational and cultural barriers to people who would like to know more about computers, Internet and IT.

To do this, Parliament and all State Assemblies should form IT Standing Committees to promote IT literacy among all sectors of the people and popularise the concept of the information society where Malaysia can fully benefit from the information and communication technologies.

For a start, there should be a programme to make all Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, Chief Ministers, Mentri-Mentri Besar, State Executive Councillors, MPs and State Assemblymen and women computer-literate within a year.  I made this proposal 16 months ago, and if it had been taken seriously and implemented by the government, every MP in this House would have been computer and IT-literate by now.

Can Parliament conduct a poll as to how many MPs are computer and IT-literate, and if MPs continue to lag behind in acquiring IT literacy, how can they be role models to motivate and encourage the Malaysian public to get on the IT bandwagon to make a success of the National IT Agenda?

Even the Parliamentary Joint IT Committee has quickly become a defunct creature after coming into being as a result of the introduction of the first batch of cyberbills and there are even government leaders including those responsible for IT who are proud to be "digital illiterates".

This was illustrated in Parliament in November last year when during the committee stage debate on the 1998 budget for the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, I had informed Parliament of a particularly malicious virus attack on a strategic government corporation, which had been neutralised in the nick of time or would have crippled the national and world-wide operations of the corporation, and spoken of the need for a national mechanism to protect the country’s critical infrastructure from cyber-threats and cyber-attacks.

The Deputy Science, Technology and Environment Minister, Datuk Abdul Bakar Daud was in charge of the debate at the time, and in his reply, he virtually dismissed what I said as "hogwash", and while admitting that he was not literate or fluent in IT, boasted: "Anak saya lagi pandai daripada you!" and later, "Cucu saya lagi pandai komputer, saya akui". The only pity is that it is not his son or grandchild who is the Deputy Science, Technology and Environment Minister!

On the virus information attack, he said: "Saya perhati dari tadi, tidak ada benda yang boleh saya pegang. Dia mengatakan virus ini, virus itu dan dia membuka cerita di Amerika, dengan menunjukkan buku. Saya kata tidak ada benda…Kalau ditanya soalan a silly question, you will get a silly answer, dengan izin, kata orang Putih."

I think this episode will also illustrate why sometimes it is so frustrating even to speak in Parliament about IT!

It illustrates the resistance by those occupying important positions in government to the National IT Agenda, in refusing to develop the Information Age mindset and culture about life-long learning and an open attitude to accept ideas which are good regardless of their origin.

The government should seriously consider two proposals  which I had repeatedly made in Parliament in the past three years, that the Government should send out a clear signal to Malaysians and the world that IT rates top government priority by adopting two measures which will also instil a sense of urgency and seriousness about Malaysia’s transition to an Information and Knowledge Society:

If the Department of Environment can come out with an annual report on the state of the environment in the country, it is equally vital that the government should come out with an annual report on the state of the IT in Malaysia if we are serious in wanting to take our rightful place in the Information Age.

In this annual status report on IT, the Government should address issues relating to Information Technology including:

Until the Communications and Multimedia Bill was tabled in the House last Monday, Ministers and government officials had been talking about a Multimedia Convergence Bill.

In tabling the bill, Leo Moggie has explained why the term Communications and Multimedia Bill is more appropriate than the Multimedia Convergence Bill, explaining that although the convergence of the three sectors of communications, computers and broadcasting is the basis for the legislation, the term Communications and Multimedia Bill is more apt so as to focus on the industry and new activities that have arisen from this convergence - which is itself  only a process of  technological change resulting in the convergence of the sectors concerned.

I can accept this argument, but what I want to know is why after the Cabinet have decided to approve the Bill, including the new name for the Bill,  as  late as the end of June, the Information Minister, Datuk Seri Mohamed Rahmat was using the term Multimedia Convergence Bill when speaking to the press?

Mohamad Rahmat had said that the Bill approved by  the Cabinet  would provide for the setting up of a Multimedia Ministry, which will  merge the functions and jurisdictions of broadcasting, now under the Information Ministry and telecommunications under the Energy, Telecommunications and Posts Ministry and computers under the Science, Technology and Environment Ministry. The new Ministry will  ensure unimpeded flow of information to the people as information  is considered a new form of wealth that must be distributed as widely as possible to all levels of society.

From the  Communications and Multimedia Bill, it is clear there will be a new Ministry of Communications and Multimedia as Section 6 of the Bill on definitions defined "Minister" to mean "the Minister for the time being charged with the responsibility for communications and multimedia".

Clearly, what Mohamad Rahmat was more  worried about was  whether he would remain a Cabinet Minister when there is a creation of a new Ministry from Information, Telecommunications and Science/Technology Ministries and not bothered at all in giving the Malaysian public the correct information that the Bill would not be known as Multimedia Convergence Bill but Communications and Multimedia Bill.

The Communications and Multimedia Bill is the first time the government has presented in Parliament its  National IT policy objectives, giving MPs an opportunity for a full and comprehensive debate.

Section 3 (1) states the objects  of the Act are -

Section 3 (2) sets out the ten national policy objectives for the communications and multimedia industry, namely: Let me start with the 10th national information policy objective: to ensure information security and network reliability and integrity.

I am still waiting for the Government to respond to my call for a mechanism in Malaysia to detect, identify, characterize and defend against infrastructure attack, especially cyber attacks in an Information Warfare (IW), which has been defined as "conflict in which information or information technology is the weapon, target, objective, or the method".

We need to give this serious and urgent attention, as on November 27 last year I raised the case  of  a governmental corporation,  which plays a crucial role in our national economy, becoming  the target of a large-scale virus attack which if it had not been neutralised in the nick of time, would have crippled its national and world-wide operations, destroying the tens of thousands of files in its network of thousands of computers.

I had brought  this issue of the first-known large-scale information attack in Malaysia to the attention of the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who had not known of it at the time, and although he had referred it to the relevant authorities with expertise in this field, I must express my great dissastisfaction that I have not been informed of the outcome of the investigations into this information attack believed to have been made from Vietnam,  the counter-measures taken and the lessons learnt.

I call on the government to establish a Royal Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection, which should be a joint government and private sector Commission, to develop a national strategy to protect the critical infrastructures of the the country from a spectrum of threats and attacks as well as assuring their continued operation.

The Malaysian Government must not think that it is beneath its expertise to establish such a commission, for in the United States, a Presidential Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection is  presently looking into ways to protect the United States from such cyber-threats and attacks.

There are at least eight critical infrastructures which can be identified, namely the electric power system, gas and oil (storage and transportation), telecommunications, banking and finance, transportation, water supply systems, emergency services (including medical, police, fire and rescue) and continuity of government services .

Threats to these infrastructures fall into two categories: physical threats to tangible property ("physical threats") and "cyber threats", i.e. threats of electronic, radio-frequency, or computer-based attacks on the information or communications components that control critical infrastructures.

What has the government done since my warning last November of the need to protect the critical infrastructures in the country from cyber-threats and attacks?

Clause 267 of the Act provides that the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission "may direct a licensee or class of licensees to develop, in consultation with the authorities specified by the Commission, a disaster plan for the survivability and recovery of any network facilities, network service, applications service or content applications service in case of a disaster, crisis or civil emergency".

A Royal Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection should draw up a masterplan where such a disaster plan for the survivability and recovery of the communications and multimedia industry can be drawn up.

The immediate IT disaster threat is the the Millennium Bug or Y2K problem in Malaysia.

I had occasion in April this eyar to criticise the Minister for Energy, Telecommunications and Posts, Datuk Leo Moggie for his indifference, complacency and lack of a sense of urgency in dealing with the Year 2000 problem as shown by his unsatisfactory reply to my question in the previous Parliamentary meeting.

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.

Leo Moggie announced in April 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 more than three months after it was first proposed by 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: The NITC Y2K Task Force said it is its duty  to highlight this scenario, and to recommend a program to ensure that it does not come about, but has this scenario been sufficiently highlighted, whether in Parliament and in the country?

 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.

As the  Minister entrusted with the responsibility to deal with the Y2K Problem, Leo Moggie seem to be doing the opposite of what the NITC Y2K Task Force Report has recommended, downplaying the gravity of the Y2K problem by saying that the country must face the Y2K crisis without unnecessary panic or even over-pessimism.

Is Leo Moggie suggesting that  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"?

It has generally  been an uphill battle for Asian governments and companies to beat the clock and fix the software glitch, in which many computers are expected to misread the year 2000 as 1900.

The economic crisis that has devastated the Asian countries in the past year bringing about  a sweeping recession has made funds scarce. And money, apart from time, is what is needed to fix the millennium bug problem.

The Gartner Group estimates it will cost between US$300 billion (RM 1,230 billion) and US$600 billion (RM2,460) worldwide.

Ms Bibiana Choo, a first vice-president in Merrill Lynch Singapore's South Asia corporate research group, said the economies that might survive the bug threat were Singapore, Hongkong, India, Taiwan and the Philippines. The ones at risk are  Indonesia and China. Malaysia seems to be placed in a middling position.

After the disasters at the RM9 billion Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) where after three weeks of operation, what is described as the world’s most sophisticated and fastest baggage-handling system, "which can pin-point a passenger’s luggage and retrieve it within seconds", is proving world’s most sophisticated and slowest baggage-handling system still requiring as long as five hours to retrieve luggages, Malaysians would have no more confidence in any assurance that we have the best system in the world to beat the millennium bug.

I call on the Minister, when winding up, to give Parliament the latest update on how ready is the country to face and overcome the dreaded millennium bug and its associated computer chaos.


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