(Petaling Jaya, Friday): Last Saturday, when launching the 1,000-People Information Technology Literacy Gathering for K-economy at Stadium Putra in Bukit Jalil in Kuala Lumpur, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad expressed his unhappiness with the progress made in promoting the use of computers and IT in the country.
He said: "Too many people are just not making any effort to learn how to use computers. We have lots of computers, you cannot wait until you own one before learning. It has to be done now, otherwise, we will be left behind.
"From primary pupils to university undergraduates, from workers to chief executives, housewives, farmers and fishermen, they must be able to understand IT and multimedia, and how to communicate using electronic technology and computers."
The next day, calling on workers to be skilled in information and communication technology (ICT) or the country will lose its competitive edge, the Human Resources Minister, Datuk Dr. Fong Chan Onn said that only about 8% of Malaysians used computers which was lower than the rate of computer usage in some other east Asian countries such as Singapore, South Korea or Taiwan.
This is a very poor personal computer usage rate for a country which wants to take the quantum leap into an information society and K-economy. Malaysia must be able to compare favourably with Singapore which has a rate of 39 per cent, Hong Kong’s 36 per cent and Japan’s 33 per cent in 1999 and should not feel proud to be better than countries like Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines whose usage rate in 1999 ranged between 1.34 per cent and 4.04 per cent.
In actual fact, there is nothing to be proud and every reason to be ashamed of the 1,000-People Information Technology Literacy Gathering for K-economy at the Bukit Jalil Stadium last Saturday.
It is a sign of Malaysia’s failure to carry out a systematic programme to promote “IT for All” in the six years after the announcement of the grandiose Multimedia Super Corridor, to the extent that Malaysians from all over the country have to gather in Kuala Lumpur in the year 2001 with the not very productive purpose of getting into the Malaysian Book of Records.
There has recently been a renewed call from the ICT industry for a review of the MSC to ensure that it could play an effective role in the success of Malaysia’s K- economy, as a lot of the MSC-status companies are just enjoying the tax benefits rather than developing the MSC’s goals resulting in the MSC being more of an importer of ICT than exporter.
The MSC suffers from a lack of proper focus and direction, as illustrated by the fact that there has been no single allocation from the RM500 million allocated by the Government for venture capital in Budget 2001 although local information technology (IT) and Internet companies face a chronic lack of funding.
The government, Parliament and nation must find the answer as to why the MSC has lost all the glitter it had been able to attract on the world stage when it was first announced six years ago, to the extent that it has become common staple in IT journals and articles to dismiss the MSC - or as one IT writer has put it, “first mover advantage lost”, resulting in “Singapore and Bangalore are now years ahead” in terms of IT development.
It is most shocking that four days after the Prime Minister has expressed his unhappiness with the progress made in promoting the use of computers and IT in the country, the Minsiter for Energey, Communications and Multimedia, Datuk Amar Leo Moggie could come out with the statement that Malaysia’s level of e-commerce readiness is comparable to that of developed countries!
It is time that the various Cabinet Ministers who make pronouncements on IT get their act together and agree whether Malaysia is ready or not ready for the quantum leap into the information society and K-economy.
The National Information Technology Council (NITC) should present a White Paper in Parliament next month on why the MSC has lost its glitter on the world stage and zero in on the causes why Malaysia has lagged behind other countries in IT development so that the country’s readiness for the quantum leap into the information society and K-economy will be one of the top priorities of Members of Parliament, both Barisan Nasional and Barisan Alternhative, in the policy debate on the Royal Address beginning on March 20 next month.