Newly-minted Prime Minister Najib Razak has delivered an embarrassing snub to the country's ICT association Pikom, after he not only ignored its call for a single ministry, but also transferred jurisdiction for the local communications sector to a low-profile ministry.The following was the questions asked to me via email, and my full response.
- How would you characterize the impact of previous PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on the ICT sector?
In all truthfulness, the ICT sector over the past 5 years have been on a free-gear mode, essentially drifting along anywhere the current was taking it. There was absolutely no direction, no emphasis, little incentives or funding which have been allocated to the sector, unlike during the latter part of Tun Dr Mahathir's administration. Hence, the actual impact of PM Abdullah is really the relegation of the sector which was meant to be at the forefront of Malaysia's drive towards a knowledge economy, to one which was neglected and regarded as irrelevant.
- Some say his impact was neglible, disappointing, would that be an reasonable assessment?
As above, absolutely.
- Given the immense contribution of the ICT sector to the economy, do you think it has been treated as a “stepchild” compared t other sectors such as construction, power and agriculture?
During Pak Lah's reign, the focus shifted pretty much towards attempts at modernising the agrarian economy, particularly in the small-holdings agricultural sector, the cottage industry as well as the village homestay tourism business. This emphasis can be clearly seen in practically every budget speech Pak Lah has given. In fact, ICT was not the only sector which was neglected, even a major mainstay of the country's economy, the manufacturing sector was neglected to the extent that the industry make-up remained pretty much in the low-value added industries which relied on cheap foreign labour, instead of the more capital, technology and innovation intensive industries.
- Are you hopeful that Najib will bring about major policy changes that will boost the ICT sector, especially during the current downturn?
We have yet to see any indication that Najib will be more generous towards the ICT sector although we hope he will be. Even in the last RM60 billion so-called stimulus budget announcement, there was no allocation or announcement of initiatives towards supporting and promoting the local ICT sector.
- Specifically, what policy changes should Najib make to boost the ICT sector?
ICT is a sector which is necessarily driven by innovation and competition. Without competition, the industry loses its cutting edge and its ability to match the cross-boundary and globalised nature of the business.
Hence, specifically for the ICT sector, there should be liberalisation of competition, particularly for the government sector which has to date, despite the MSC initiatives, been restricted to contractors approved by the Ministry of Finance. There should be funds to encourage qualified software service providers to explore overseas markets. There should be also be open competition in the telecommunications sector which should not be characterised by the direct award of a 12 billion ringgit Hi-Speed Broadband project to Telekom Malaysia.