The agony of the Parliament homepage reflects the agony of Malaysia’s National Information Technology Agenda (NITA) and MSC  without a IT mindset and culture

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Monday):  In four days, the Parliamentary homepage went through four changes - which is something to be welcomed as in the era of IT (Information Technology), IT practitioners are not talking about a 40-hour five-day work week, but a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week and 365-day-a-year work ethics, where Internet websites have to be updated not just once a day but many times a day as and when necessary to keep abreast with the flow of information which travels at the speed of light.

The four changes in four days to the Parliamentary homepage should be particularly welcome as the last time it was updated before 23rd March 2000 was more than five months ago on October 15, 1999 - which I had described as "an unpardonable sin" at the "Dinner with BA MPs" in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, 22nd March 2000.

I should be the first to welcome the four changes of the parliamentary homepage in four days as I was the one who exposed the antediluvian parliamentary homepage  last Tuesday and lambasted it for being a "dinosaur" website in the era of IT, citing it as an example of a serious and prevalent IT disease in Malaysia where there is a total absence of IT mind-set and culture although there is no lack of IT  expertise and technology.

Websites are put up by Parliament and government departments not to devise new ways of communications in the IT era, providing for instantaneous interactive  two-way transmission of information,  but just to show that they are not left behind in IT although their mindset is to conceal rather than to share information.

As a result of the "unpardonable sin" of the Parliamentary webmaster, the Parliamentary homepage committed  the outrage where  on 22nd March 2000,  all the newly-elected MPs in the  Nov. 29, 1999 general election were still  not listed on the Parliamentary website as the MPs of the previous ninth Parliament were still listed as current MPs.  The new Cabinet formed after the general election was also not available on the website and the number of elected MPs was still mentioned as 192 when the tenth Parliament has 193 MPs.

However, I am not pleased at all with the four changes in the four days after my criticism last Tuesday,  as they do  not qualify to be called "updates".

On May 21, 1996, the Dewan Rakyat was  given a surprise when the Speaker, Tun Mohd Zahir Ismail suddenly announced that the Parliamentary homepage would be launched that day.

The Parliamentary homepage was launched not 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 without a  Parliamentary website on the Internet, 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.

But there was no consultation, input or involvement of MPs in the preparation, establishment or maintenance of the Parliamentary website - which shows the total absence of an IT culture, mindset and understanding that websites are meant to be interactive and not dead displays.  If there is not interactivity with MPs in the preparation of the Parliament website, it is understandable it does not provide any  interactivity with the people in the past four years.

Similarly, the four changes of the Parliamentary homepage in four days is not to make it more interactive and relevant, but a tortuous twist and turn to avoid my criticism of its being a "museum" website.

There was an immediate reaction to my criticism of the parliamentary homepage on 22nd March, when a change was made on the next day on 23rd March 2000. But the first change was not good enough - as all it did was to remove the outdated information of the list of MPs of the previous Parliament, correct the total number of elected MPs to 193, but was unable to put in the latest information as the current list of elected MPs or even more important, to overhaul the entire website to remove its user-hostile features.

This was why I issued a media statement on Saturday afternoon demanding that the  "Parliamentary homepage should be taken down immediately, the IT webmaster sacked and IT section closed as the Parliamentary homepage  is presently doing  more harm with its antideluvian presence on the Internet".

In response to my media statement on Saturday, the parliamentary webpage underwent a second change - where all the contents were removed and not accessible except for the index page.

I issued another statement on Sunday to point out that this was most unsatisfactory, as well as drawing attention to a dishonest attempt by the webmaster in claiming on the index page that the "last update" was  March 14, 2000 when it was done only after my public criticism on March 22, 2000.

This led to a third change, where the parliamentary index page was removed completely and the parliamentary homepage disappeared from cyberspace.

The fourth change was at about 9.30 a.m. this morning, when the Parliamentary website was put back on the Internet, but without much fundamental change. The only difference is that there is now a list of the current elected MPs, although it shows all the marks of a most amateurish operation in the haphazard manner in the preparation of  the list.

The "welcome" in the new index page for regular visits "to keep up to date with the Malaysian Parliament" is a joke as there is nothing up-to-date on the site at all.

For instance, the Parliamentary website snares  visitors to its Hansards page but  turns them away with the following note:

"Persidangan Semasa - Persidangan semasa yang sedang berlangsung di  Dewan Rakyat atau Dewan Negara. Format dalam bentuk fail HTML. Ianya masih  dalam pembinaan buat sementara waktu."

Why invite visitors to the current Hansards when there is nothing to visit - and this after the Parliamentary homepage has been on the Internet for four years!

The same disgraceful treatment is given to visitors on the Hansards archives, which turn the visitors off with the following note:

"Arkib - Dokumen asal sepanjang tahun Persidangan Dewan Rakyat dan Dewan Negara. Dokumen disimpan dalam database yang menggunakan konsep JAVA.   Proses downloading mungkin mengambil masa."

Access is not just "possibly take time", it is virtually impossible. This is why I classify the Parliamentary homepage not only as user-unfriendly, but user-hostile.  For this reason alone, the Parliamentary homepage should be relegated to a special Internet  section to illustrate to all netters what is the meaning of an "user-hostile" website.

The  Parliamentary homepage, after the fourth change in four days, remains a national disgrace to Parliament and Malaysia’s IT image in the world.

It should be taken down completely and relaunched.  I am prepared to give full assistance and advice for the development of a Parliamentary homepage format which would rank it as one of the best and most user-friendly Parliamentary websites in the world.

The significance of the scandal of the four-year Parliamentary "museum"  homepage extends beyond the perimeter of Parliament House, as it highlights the Achilles’ Heel in  Malaysia’s IT Vision - the fatal lack of IT culture and mindset among the top leadership in the country.

The scandal of the four-year  Parliamentary "museum" homepage should be a wake-up call for Parliament, Government and nation to address the Achilles’ Heel of the National IT Vision and Strategy and save the Multimedia Super Corridor by realising that it is content that is of paramount importance in IT and not some fanciful web design or user-hostile "cyberdoc" programme.

The important issue here is not merely about the Parliamentary website but whether the Government and the political leadership have the IT mindset and culture without which Malaysia’s IT vision to make the quantum leap into the information age will not be able to succeed.

The agony of the Parliament homepage reflects the agony of Malaysia’s National Information Technology Agenda (NITA) and MSC  without a IT mindset and culture.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman