What happened in one day yesterday had gone a long way to destroy all the work done in the past few years to project Malaysia as an ideal location for the cutting edge of information technology and to position the country as a suitable site to become an Asian Silicon Valley.
Mahathir had solemnly announced its Bill of Guarantees, one of which is that there would be no internet censorship, when he offered the MSC as "a gift to the world". When this guarantee is violated, the MSC will not even be a "gift to Malaysia" let alone be "a gift to the world"!
What happened yesterday has only proven that the country has a Jurassic Cabinet whose members do not have the necessary IT mentality to lead and propel Malaysia into the information age.
In an age when information is transmitted at the speed of light, it is most antediluvian for any government minister to warn that any internet website can only be updated once a fortnight.
The Malaysian Cabinet and government must learn, and learn fast, that on the Internet, websites are updated not once a day, but many times a day and even all-round-the-clock - that on the Internet, the work ethos requires not a 40-hour five-day work week, but a 24-hour-day, seven-day-a-week work programme.
If the Malaysian Cabinet had understood such a rudimentary element about the internet, the Deputy Home Minister Chor Chee Heung would not have made a fool of the government by declaring that Harakah's permit, which has already been slashed from a biweekly into a bimonthly, could be suspended or revoked if the Internet version of the newspaper, available on www.harakahdaily.com.my, was published more than twice a month.
The Information Minister Tan Sri Khalil Yaacob also made the shocking comment yesterday that there was no reason for a party bulletin to be updated every day. If so, he should explain why the UMNOís new electronic newspaper, Berita e-UMNO, which was launched two days ago, would be updated daily. It is clear that it is the Information Minister who needs a lot of updating about IT!
The world has now been told through CNN of the attempt by the authorities to undo the damage to MSC and Malaysiaís IT future by Chorís remarks. The CNN quoted Reuters as saying that Bernama late yesterday issued a note to editors saying the Prime Minister's Department had asked that subscribers "kill," or ignore, the story carrying Chor's remarks.
But the damage had been done, as in the intervening hours, Chorís remarks had travelled with the speed of light through news wires and the Internet to propagate to all corners of the world the message that Malaysia intends to renege on its Bill of Guarantee of no internet censorship.
It is no use the local media "killing" or "ignoring" Chorís remarks in this morningís papers (although they were reported in all the street editions last night), when these remarks had already wrought enormous damage to the MSC and Malaysiaís IT future in the IT centres of the world.
It is not only Chor however but the Deputy Minister for Energy, Communications and Multimedia, Tan Chai Ho who also said that the internet version of Harakah cannot be updated more than twice a month! (Nanyang Siang Pao today, front-page).
Parliament should be told as to how such a disaster to the promotion of MSC and the nationís IT policy could take place in 24 hours yesterday!
The Prime Minister must come out with a new policy statement, which should strongly and unequivocally renounce all government attempts to censor or regulate free flow of Internet information before more damage is done to MSC and the national IT policy.
Today, for instance, Nanyang Siang Pao carried on its front-page the exclusive interview with the Energy, Communications and Multimedia Deputy Minister Tan Chai Ho, announcing that the Government is formulating regulation on website contents - which will be another irreparable blow to the MSC.
He said the government has advised online information providers, including newspapers like malaysiakini, to observe ethical practices and not to abuse the channel by publishing wild allegations and false accusations and that his Ministry would be having a meeting with online information providers and NGOs on 7th March 2000 on the regulation of website contents.
The new policy statement by the Prime Minister should make it crystal clear that the government has no intention to renege on its bill of guarantee of no internet censorship and that there would be no regulation of website content as announced by Tan Chai Ho yesterday.
Furthermore, the Cabinet and the government leaders should all be given a comprehensive briefing by the National Information Technology Council (NITC) on the meaning of the governmentís ten Bill of Guarantees so that they do not become obstacles to the nationís IT ambitions as a result of their IT ignorance.