Malaysia must fulfil promises to boost ICT

Malaysian government unveils new ICT initiatives in country's 2011 budget including multimillion dollar funds to boost innovation and local talent, but industry watchers urge need to ensure actual implementation of these schemes.
Written by Edwin Yapp, Contributor on

PETALING JAYA--Industry players have welcomed new ICT proposals unveiled in the Malaysian government's 2011 budget, but stressed the need to ensure the execution of these initiatives as well as address the root of key problems facing the local industry.

Prime Minister Najib Razak last week tabled the national budget, outlining several measures to help prepare the country better stave off rising competition from neighboring countries. Among the initiatives related to ICT he proposed during a parliament sitting Friday included plans to allocate 50 million ringgit (US$16.3 million) to the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), the government's custodian of ICT initiatives, to train graduates.

Najib also announced that 119 million ringgit (US$38.9 million) will be allocated to the MY Creative Content Programme to encourage the development of local content, hosting of local content and unlocking of new channels for content.

He also proposed the Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC) be allocated a sum of 100 million ringgit (US$32.7 million) to provide soft loans for startups.

To enhance the skills and quality workforce in the domestic market, Najib said the government will establish a Talent Corporation (Talent Corp) in early-2011 and formulate a National Talent Blueprint and develop an expert workforce database, as well as collaborate closely with talent networks globally.

He added that 71 million ringgit (US$23.2 million) has been allocated to establish a Special Innovation Unit (UNIK), which will serve as a one-stop center to formulate policies and strategies needed in an ecosystem to drive innovation. UNIK will be designed to support innovation, creation and commercialization of new products.

Bobby Dangerfield, managing director of Dell Global Business Centre, welcomed the efforts to optimize the nation's human capital base.

"Malaysia is in dire need of nurturing more knowledge workers and strengthening the talent pool to propel the country's economy to greater heights," Dangerfield said. "It is evident there is a shortage of skilled workers who are innovative and capable enough to meet the growing demands of the market."

Johnson Khoo, managing director of Hitachi Data Systems, noted that while the government is on the right track with the Economic Transformation Program (ETP), there is a need to prioritize and focus on the implementation of the program.

The ETP is the government's ambitious program to catapult Malaysia into a high-income nation by doubling the nation's per capita income to US$15,000 by 2020. It comprises the investment of 1.38 trillion ringgit (US$450.7 billion) over 10 years, of which 60 percent will come from the private sector, 32 percent from government-linked companies and 8 percent from the government.

"What has been planned should not remain as mere announcement," Khoo said in a statement. "The nation is at a critical stage of its economic development and the government must endeavor to focus on delivering these initiatives.

He lauded the allocation of 411 million ringgit (US$134.2 million) for research, development and commercialization activities but cautioned that much more needs to be done to ensure the country drives and promotes innovation through R&D.

"We need to be creative not just in new products and services, but innovation must also be inculcated right from the outset of our education system," Khoo urged. "This will ensure the foundation for innovation is built before our youths enter the workforce."

Execution, results still pending
According to Ong Kian Ming, political scientist and lecturer at the faculty of Economics and Policy Science at UCSI University, the Prime Minister has been consistent in his message of transforming Malaysia into a high-income nation and the means by which he intends to do so. However, he noted that last year's budget announcements yielded little of its intended results.

"It is difficult for me to point out any single government expenditure program, especially those that are meant to develop and retrain human capital, which have yielded significant and positive results," Ong told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.

He acknowledged that some items on the budget looked good on paper, namely, the 400 million ringgit allocated to UNIK, the My Creative fund, as well as the 100 million ringgit assigned to MTDC.

"But the key is implementation, which is sadly lacking in Malaysia," he said.

Ong stressed the importance of not merely looking at the budget in isolation. He noted that the bigger focus should be on the ETP because this is intended to deliver "real economic value" in terms of providing the impetus for future economic growth.

A senior executive in the tech industry, who spoke to ZDNet Asia on condition of anonymity, had a more scathing view of the budget.

"I believe the 50 million ringgit allocation to train ICT graduates is nonsense," he said. "The government would do better and spend less if it focuses on the root of the problems--the syllabus and the lecturers, neither of which is market-driven."

"If we fix the problem at the root, we will make the university programs market-linked and -driven, and this will [naturally] produce employable graduates," he added.

He noted that the focus of the Talent Corp should not merely be on highly qualified returning Malaysians, but should also include top talent in the country and whether they have been optimized and assigned in the right place.

"We should also target the migration of talents in specific sector globally into Malaysia, particularly scientific talents from less-developed countries than the West but with a stronger and deeper scientific and technical talent base than us, such as those from India, China, Egypt, Iraq, and Libya.

Talents from these economies regard Malaysia as a good environment to move to, he said, making it easier to bring these talents into the country than to convince Malaysians from developed countries to return home.

The executive also noted that Talent Corp needs to recognize that it can only attract talent if there is a level-playing field of meritocracy, not to mention cultural permissiveness. "Is Malaysia ready [to do that] when it cannot even offer the same to its own people in the country?" he questioned.

Edwin Yapp is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.

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