Speech - Prime Minister’s Department during the committee stage of the 1997 Budget
by Lim Kit Siang - Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjong
in Dewan Rakyat
on Monday, November 18, 1996

Call for the establishment of an Online Government Council which will begin to provide online government services from next year in keeping with the government’s intention to make the Malaysian civil service a world leader in government administration as in fulfilling the ISO 9000 standards by year 2000

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed had announced in April after his keynote address at the biennial conference of the Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management (CAPAM) in Malta that Malaysia aims to be the first country in the world whose 800,000-strong civil service qualify for the ISO 9000 quality standard.

This is what the Prime Minister said in his keynote address in Malta: “Quality has become a much sought-after target. If goods produced must meet a certain standard, surely services, government services, included, must achieve a certain degree of quality. ISO 9000 should not be for the factories of the private sector alone. Government administration must also vie for the coveted award. A good government administration cannot be of lower quality than its clients - largely the private sector. It must complement the private sector fully if it is going to serve the country and contribute towards its growth and well-being of the people.”

However, in the quest to be a world leader in government administration, the Malaysian government had overlooked the vital importance of information management to provide better government for the people.

Good public sector reform is about managing resources to the best effect. Any overall program of public sector reform, if it is to be effective in the digital age, must give due weight to four key areas of management effectiveness:

Although information is a key resource of government, the Malaysian government has by and large failed to give proper attention to information management so as to provide affordable, equitable and accessible information and services to the Malaysian public.

This has been confirmed recently by none other than the secretary to the National Information Technology Council (NITC), Tengku Datuk Dr. Mohd Azzman Shariffadeen, who is also the chief executive officer of the recently corporatised Mimos Berhad.

Let me quote from the following news item from the Sun dated 9th November 1996, under the heading: “Top govt officials can’t careless about IT”.

The report reads:

“Kuala Lumpur, Fri: Senior government officers are a great disappointment to the National Information Technology Council (NITC) as they seem to be indifferent to seminars of information technology (IT)., NITC permanent secretary Tengku Datuk Dr. Mohd Azzman Shariffadeen said.

“This attitude was not good for the future of the multi-media supercorridor.

“‘The people who should be listening are not attending’, he added, lamenting that many IT conferences and seminars only attract the converted or people who are already into IT.

“Officials like directors-general or secretaries-general prefer to send their system administrators to these functions, he said.

“‘The chiefs should also be present. System administrators cannot change things in the whole department. It is people at the top, the decision makers. We are talking about radical transformation especially with the coming of the multimedia supercorridor (MSC)’ Azzman said.

“‘Systems administrators have already been converted. We want the policy makers to be next,’ he said, adding the same goes for chief executive officers (CEO) of companies, he added.”

Tengku Azzman has hit the problem on the head. We hear about plans for a quantum leap into the future under the Multi-media Supercorridor, about smart cards, smart schools when what is most important is to have a smarter government.

For instance, the country was promised that electronic government would be introduced in 1998 when the Prime Minister’s Office would move into Putrajaya and would be paperless - and in this manner, hopefully, Ministries would be encouraged to make themselves paperless as they would have to interact with the Prime Minister’s Office.

This is a very peculiar and unusual way to introduce electronic government in Malaysia. In fact, the question must be asked as to why the government must wait until the Prime Minister’s Office move into the MSC before electronic government is introduced to the people in Malaysia?

The Government had spent billions of ringgit for its computerisation programmes since the 1960s and there is no reason why the Government is unable to begin to provide online services to the people, as is already being done by many other governments, including those which had not declared any intention for their civil service to qualify for ISO 9000 standards!

That Malaysia is unable to begin to provide government online services is not because of lack of technology, but the absence of commitment, will and leadership by both the political and bureaucratic leadership.

The Parliamentary homepage is a very good example. It was launched on May 21 this year not so much because Parliament is 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.

There is not only no interactivity on the Parliamentary homepage, there is 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 archive. The Malaysian homepage is all archive and nothing else.

When the Parliamentary homepage was launched in May, it was only in Bahasa Malaysia. The last update for the Bahasa Malaysia version was July 10. It took more than two months just to put up the English language version, and this is all that is available on the Parliamentary homepage.

Although Parliament has its own server with a 128 Kbps leaseline, the Internet terminal in the Parliament library is often off - and nobody in the Parliament library could explain why. There is a Internet terminal in the Office of the Leader of Opposition, but it has not been able to access the Internet for the last two weeks. The fault has been placed on the telephone connection, but nobody in Parliament seems to know how to fix it. May be I should mention here that the computer in the Office of the Leader of Opposition is not only the slowest, but the oldest in Parliament, a set nobody else in Parliament wants - making access to the Internet always a great agony!

Let me state here that far from being a credit, a Parliamentary homepage which has neither interactivity nor currency, is a disgrace to the Malaysian Parliament. Unless there is the commitment and will at the highest level of leadership to have a Parliamentary homepage which contains current topics and is interactive, it might be better for the reputation of Malaysian Parliament to close down the Parliament homepage altogether.

This IT disease of the Parliamentary homepage is also suffered by many Ministries and government agencies, who put up websites on the Internet not because they want to provide better online information and services, but so as not to be seen as IT illiterate or backward - completely without the mindset required for the Information Society.

In the Information Society,as a general rule, government information should be accessible by the people because it belongs to the people. This requires a change from the traditional philosophy under which the government’s information was regarded by the government (and often by the people) as the government’s property and none of the people’s business.

The government holds this information on behalf of the people and should take due care to ensure the quality, integrity and authenticity of government information.

Access to government-held information is a prerequisite to the proper functioning of a democratic society. Without information, people cannot exercise their rights and responsibilities or make informed choices. Information is necessary for government accountability. A general shift in focus is therefore required - from one of not disclosing information unless absolutely required, to one of disclosing unless there is a very good reason not to.

DAP offers free public service to post the proposed cyberlaws and all Bills on the Internet to invite public feedbacks

I will give another example to show that it is not technology that is lacking, but the commitment and will from the highest political and bureaucratic leadership to make full use of IT to provide better services and information to Malaysians.

The government for instance has announced that it is ready to present in Parliament its first package of four cyberlaws to pave the way for Malaysia’s entry into the cyberage and that compared with cyberlaws introduced in some countries, Malaysia’s would be more comprehensive.

Some two months have passed since the first announcement about the completed drafts for the first package of cyberlaws, but they have not been made public.

I want to ask why the government has not been able to put the four proposed cyberlaws on the Internet to invite public feedbacks?

If the Government lacks such technology, DAP is prepared to offer free services to put all proposed legislation on the Internet, provided there is full co-operation from the government.

As almost all information created by the government is now created in electronic form, the cost of electronic dissemination of these information to the public through the Internet is most marginal.

If the government is incapable of putting the four proposed cyberlaws and all other Bills on the Internet, the DAP is prepared to do a free public service by posting them on the Internet, provided the relevant government agencies give us their materials in the electronic form that they had prepared.

The DAP is not only prepared to post all these proposed legislation on the Internet free of charge, we will assume responsibility for the cost of finding the websites to do so.

I hope I have made a case that the government is capable of immediately introducing online services and information without having to wait for the completion of the Multimedia Super Corridor.

The Internet - the global digital information access and communication network - is a development of the highest significance for government. It offers the potential to radically re-engineer government and government services delivery over the next decade and beyond.... development of a whole-of-government approach..

For this reason, I propose that the Government establish an Online Government Council which will begin to provide online government services from next year in keeping with the government’s intention to make the Malaysian civil service a world leader in government administration as in fulfilling the ISO 9000 standards by the year 2000.

The Online Government Council should make full use of the new technologies which enable the provision of a single official Internet-accessible Malaysian Government “Entry Point” Service, to have the Internet address http://www.gov.my.

The online electronic services provided by the Malaysian government to improve its capability for more effective delivery of all government services should be comparable to the best practice demonstrated by other governments.

Online technology allows services to be available from multiple locations, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. It is also important to provide alternative methods for the public access services so as to avoid the dangers of creating ‘information disadvantages’ in our society.

Let the Online Government Council submit an annual report to Parliament on its successes and plans of extending online services and information, revealing in the process which are the “leading” and “lagging” agencies in information management planning, and the use of Internet technologies for administration and service delivery.

Finally, the revelation by Tengku Azzman that top government officials couldn’t care less about IT should be a matter of grave concern. It shows that the government’s billion-ringgit computerisation programme since the sixties had been a failure, if it had been incapable of ensuring that officials like directors-general or secretaries-general today become computer-literate and fully appreciate the critical importance of IT.

May be what the government should do for a start, is to give every senior government officer a notebook computer, requiring them to use it in their daily tasks as well as to hook up to the Internet to develop their IT literacy.

Malaysia is qualified to get into the Guinness Book of Records in having the Ministerial benches empty most of the time

Malaysians must have been taken aback this morning when they read in the New Straites Times the news item under the heading: “Ling: Don’t question my absence in Parliament”.

The report quoted the Transport Minister, Datuk Dr. Ling Liong Sik as declaring from Pattaya that his absence from parliamentary sessions should not be questioned as he had other official duties to attend.

He said it was not necessary for him to be present at every sitting of Parliament so long as there was sufficient quorum. He said: “As a minister, I have to divide my time at the ministry, ports, airports and railway stations. I also have to run a political party. Going to Parliament is just one of my many duties.”

This is the type of arrogant statements which some Ministers are now making as a result of the unprecedented landslide victory of the Barisan Nasional in the general elections last year, which coupled with defections, has given the Barisan Nasional close to 90 per cent of the Parliamentary seats!

However, if there are Barisan Nasional leaders who think that just because they now control close to 90 per cent of the Parliamentary seats, they are no longer accountable for their actions, as shown in Ling’s arrogant statement from Pattaya, they will be in for a rude shock in the next general elections!

Parliamentary records shows that Liong Sik is one of the two senior Ministers occupying the front row in the Dewan Rakyat who had never attended Parliament during question time to answer questions pertaining to their Ministries during the whole of this year, although Parliament is meeting for the fourth time. The other senior Minister is the Primary Industries Minister, Datuk Dr. Lim Keng Yaik.

The Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu is the most diligent of the seven senior Cabinet Ministers occupying the first government row, having attended Parliament on ten separate sittings to personally answer questions during question time, followed by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the Minister for International Trade and Industry, Datin Paduka Rafidah Aziz, all three of whom had attended Parliament on two separate occasions each to answer parliamentary questions.

The Minister for Energy, Telecommunications and Posts, Datuk Leo Moggie, had turned up in Parliament once this year during question time.

If Samy Vellu can be in Parliament for at least ten days to answer Parliamentary questions in four Parliamentary meetings this year, there is no reason why Liong Sik cannot be equally diligent in the discharge of his parliamentary duties.

In any event, there can be no excuse whatsoever for Liong Sik to show a poorer record than either the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister in terms of diligence in attending Parliament - unless Liong Sik claims that he is even busier than both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.

Undoubtedly, the Malaysian Parliament has one of the highest records in the world of Ministers playing truant from their parliamentary duties - whether during question time or in introducing government bills or replying to MPs during various policy debates.

This is testified by the long duration when the Ministerial benches in Parliament are completely empty. In fact, I would say that the Malaysian Parliament is qualified to get into the Guinness Book of Records in terms of the Ministerial benches empty most of the time!

There is nothing for Malaysia to be proud of such a entry in the Guinness Book of Records and I hope the Prime Minister would impose some discipline on the Cabinet Ministers to ensure that they take their parliamentary responsibilities with greater seriousness.

All the 600 Malaysian People’s Action Front demonstrators at the APCET II should be charged in court to give them a lesson in civil society

Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Megat Junid said in yesterday’s press that six members of the Malaysian People’s Action Front who demonstrated against the second Asia-Pacific Conference on East Timor would be charged in court.

What is most disgraceful is that the ugly demonstrations by the 600 UMNO Youth, MCA Youth and MIC Youth members, hurling abuses, throwing chairs, overturning tables, breaking glasses, and threatening participants, both foreign and local, with bodily harm, have the full endorsement of the UMNO Youth leader and Barisan MPs.

The harm these 600 UMNO Youth, MCA Youth and MIC Youth members have caused to Malaysia’s international reputation had been enormous, especially in raising the question whether the rule of law is merely the playthings of the powers-that-be, to be manipulated by those in authority at their whim and fancy - as seen in the double standards applied in the detention of the 60 participants of APCET II as compared to the VIP treatment given to the six chief hoodlums of the Malaysian People’s Action Front.

All the 600 UMNO Youth, MCA Youth and MIC Youth members who had participated in the disgraceful demonstration against the APCET II Conference should be charged in court to teach them a lesson in civil society. I am sure if the police claim that it does not know these 600 demonstrators, there are enough witnesses with the public spiritedness who are prepared to come forward to help the police to identity them.

In fact, ‘civil society’ should be included as a compulsory curriculum for the Biro Tatanegara to teach all aspiring leaders in the Barisan Nasional as to the meaning of a civil society - and the first person who should be sent for such compulsory education in the fundamentals of a civil society is none other than the new UMNO Youth leader, Datuk Zahid Hamidi who had unabashedly and unrepentantly instigated the hooliganism of the Malaysian People’s Action Front demonstration against APCET II.