Parliament should play a leading role as in other advanced countries in the transition of Malaysia into an information and knowledge society

- during "Dinner with BA MPs" organised by PAS 
on "30 Years in Parliament - A Reflection"
Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur, Wednesday):  After some seven weeks of parliamentary meetings, new Barisan Alternative MPs would have realised the constraints and hurdles restraining them from fully discharging their roles as  elected representatives of the people, particularly in the arbitrary manner in which  parliamentary proceedings are sometimes conducted, whether in getting fair and adequate time to speak in Parliament, getting satisfactory answers to their questions from the government or even just to get their questions asked during the question hour, how to get Ministers not to play truant but to be in the House diligently to answer questions and reply to speeches unless they have good and compelling reasons to be absent, and most important of all, how MPs could play a more effective role in the decision-making process in the system of national governance.

In my 30 years in Parliament, one of my favourites subjects is the need for parliamentary reforms, whether it is to have an Opposition-headed Public Accounts Committee,  extend the daily question hour to two hours, fixed Opposition business day or half-a-day  every week to give full recognition to the fact that  Opposition motions and private memberís bills are also parliamentary business, appointment of parliamentary assistants for every MP, appointment of Parliamentary Specialist Committees for MPs to specialise and  to become experts in respective chosen fields, Parliamentary library to provide top-class research services to MPs, etc.

I hope the tenth Parliament would have more success than the Parliament of the past 30 years to embark on parliamentary reforms, without which, the Malaysian Parliament would not be able to play an effective and meaningful role as the highest political and legislative chamber in the land.
Tonight, I wish to focus my talk on the need for Parliament play a leading role as in other advanced countries in the transition of Malaysia into an information and knowledge society, which is of such strategic importance if Malaysia is to succeed in the international economy in the new millennium - bearing in mind that in the final analysis, the IT revolution must be about people, how it would completely change the way people work, live, learn and play and not about microprocessors or bandwidths.

The legislatures in many countries, like the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States play a  leading role in formulating and crystallising National IT issues and policies, having Parliamentary IT standing committees which come out with regular reports on different aspects of the IT challenge to stimulate public discussion and awareness about the IT revolution.

In Malaysia, however, the Parliament has a very marginal role in the entire process. It is not that there are no MPs interested about the challenges of the IT revolution.

Let me revisit some of the IT proposals which I had made in the last session of  Parliament:

(1)  During the Parliamentary debate on the 1996 Budget on Oct. 30, 1995, I had called for an IT Budget,  a National Communications Plan and a nation-wide programme to promote "IT For All".
(2)  During the debate on new education bill in December 1995, , I introduced an amendment to the new Education Bill during the committee stage to make "computer literacy" a core subject for the primary and secondary school curriculum but it did not get support.

(3)  A Parliamentary IT Standing Committee for Parliament to play a leading role to promote Malaysia as a regional centre for Information Technology.

(4)  A Parliamentary homepage to set  an example in promoting IT consciousness and usage among the people.

(5)  Proclaim the Knowledge Society as a national vision and the tenth strategic objective of Vision 2020 to harness Information Technology to provide the environment for lifelong learning in which all Malaysians will have access to the widest possible variety of learning opportunities and tools in order to succeed in the new global economy of the 21st century.

(6)  The creation of a full Ministry on Informaton Technology to spearhead the development of IT and co-ordinate the building of the national information infrastructure with the objective of making Malaysia a world leader in Information Technology.
(7)  An annual report to Parliament and debate on IT developments.
(8)  Connect all the 8,500 schools to the Internet by the year 2000.
(9)  A three-point Education Ministry IT plan to ensure that the 250,000 teachers in the country are computer-literate and get on the Internet by the year 2000 so that they could guide the new generation of schoolchildren into the Information Age.
(10)  An  Online Government Council to  begin to provide online government services in stages beginning 1997 as the government had already spent billions of ringgit on computerisation since the 60s.

If all these proposals had been adopted by the government or pursued seriously, Malaysia  would not have lagged so behind other countries - failing to make the quantum leap into the information age in the new millennium as proclaimed by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in August 1996.

It is not that all these proposals were rejected.  The Parliamentary homepage is one good example. It was launched on May 21, 1996 not so much because Parliament wanted to be in the very forefront of the digital revolution, but just to shut me up from repeatedly complaining in the Dewan Rakyat that there is no Parliamentary website on the Internet and that it was most ridiculous for MPs to talk in Parliament about the IT revolution and the vision of Malaysia becoming an information and knowledge society when the Parliament seemed to be totally cloistered against the IT changes.

But as I said during the 1997 Budget debate on the estimates on the Prime Ministerís Department in November 1996, the Parliamentary homepage was a "disgrace".

There was not only no interactivity on the Parliamentary homepage, there was  no currency whatsoever. Parliamentary homepages from most countries to be found on the Internet have two sections - one on current topics and the other being archives. The Malaysian Parliamentary  homepage was more   archives.

I do not know whether MPs have visited the Parliamentary homepage. It has now got even worse as  some of the the archives have gone.

Unlike other Parliamentary websites, bills, acts and parliamentary documents are not available and there is no search engine.  Draft hansards and daily notices of business of the current parliamentary meeting are available, but most visitors would have given up trying to access them as they would invariably come out blank with the information "Applet canít start error. Java lang. ClassFormatError." The Parliamentary website is not just user-unfriendly, it is downright user-hostile!

In the previous Parliamentary session, draft Hansards had also been posted on the Parliamentary homepage, but they have now been removed - without being replaced by the final Hansards - example that even archives have been removed.

If MPs explore the Parliamentary homepage about the current members of the Dewan Rakyat, they must be prepared for various shocks or outrages - the  first is that there are only 192 MPs when there are 193 and the second is that all those newly elected in the  Nov. 29, 1999 general election are not listed as the MPs of the ninth Parliament are still listed as current MPs.  Even the new Cabinet list is not available on the site.

The last date the Parliamentary homepage was updated was October 15, 1999, more than five  months ago  - which is an unpardonable sin for any honourable webmaster.

The greatest IT disease in government is not the lack of technology but the lack of the IT mindset and culture without which no IT plan can succeed in putting Malaysia on the cutting edge of the new technology.

The Parliament should form an all-party IT standing committee, not only to take over the disgraceful Parliamentary homepage, but to provide leadership for new IT mindset and culture in the country.

If the Barisan Nasional which commands over two-thirds majority of Parliament is not prepared to co-operate to ensure that Parliament can play a leading role as in other advanced countries in the transition of Malaysia into an information and knowledge society, I suggest that the Barisan Alternative MPs form its own IT Committee  coming out with regular reports and studies on various aspects to what a responsible Parliamentary IT Committee should be doing to promote greater IT awareness among the people and initiate discussions about the IT challenge - to show that BA MPs are more responsible than BN MPs and Government.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman