Seasoned technocrat makes surprise return for 2yr stint
Spectrum, security, censorship, local authority issues await him
THE appointment of Dr Halim Shafie (pic)
as the new chairman of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), announced by the Minister of Communications and Multimedia Ahmad Shabery Cheek, has been met with relief and cautious optimism by the telco industry.
Relief because the speculation of a political appointee in this critical agency overseeing the development of a world-class digital infrastructure, disastrous as that would have been, has not materialised.
In Halim, the industry instead gets a “true blue civil servant” who does not display any political affiliation and follows government direction, said a former MCMC executive who has worked with him before.
The executive told Digital News Asia (DNA) that Halim never mentioned or spoke of political parties during his first stint as chairman.
But there was also cautious optimism, because Halim knows the telco and communications industry very well – not just from having served as chairman of the MCMC for three years from 2006-2009, but also as chairman of leading broadband and converged communications company Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM) from July 2009 to January 2015.
READ ALSO: TM appoints new chairman as Halim leaves for MCMC role
As one senior telco executive who dealt with Halim during his first stint at MCMC chairman described it, “He did a decent job in his first stint as chairman and was quite a balanced decision-maker as chairman.
“The industry found him to be someone who listened to their views and gave serious thought to them,” said the executive.
The caution comes in because of concerns of whether Halim would be able to act with impartiality on decisions that could impact TM.
“That is always going to be a challenge but I am sure he will make an extra effort to be impartial. After all, there is so much visibility in that position and in every decision made,” said the senior telco executive, who also noted that TM has tremendous influence with the Malaysian Government anyway, “more than the rest of us [other telcos].”
Another real concern is whether Halim can decisively reject some of the ugly realities of the Malaysian environment that were not there during his tenure.
“It remains to be seen if he will keep the country's increasingly polarising politics out of communications and multimedia policies, and focus only on what is truly important for the growth of Malaysia as a strong communications and multimedia hub,” said an executive in the wireless business.
While Halim’s past tenure may have shown him to be a competent technocrat and fair-minded regulator, a lot has happened since and the country is much more polarised when it comes to issues such as free speech and expression, racial tensions expressed online, Internet censorship, social media monitoring, and overall online dissent.
Due to this, the wireless executive said he was hopeful that Halim would be able to withstand these external pressures, resist the calls to regulate the Internet further, and to keep being a consummate technocrat that he is and not tar his reputation by becoming a “dud appointee” doing the bidding of his political masters.
The pressure will certainly be intense, but, according to a telco executive familiar with the regulatory landscape, challenges aside, Halim will also have the opportunity to set the right course for the telco industry for the next two years by putting in place medium- to long-term development goals and policies.
“Some of these include ensuring that spectrum is properly distributed to operators who can make the best use of it, balancing national security concerns and censorship issues with robust and transparent regulatory/ legal processes, and dealing with the issue of local and state authority approvals which is delaying the rollout of broadband infrastructure,” said this executive.
Despite having initially expressed reservations over taking up the role – according to a report by national news agency Bernama – citing his age, having been persuaded to take on the responsibility once again, the 65-year-old Halim will need to roll back the years and ramp up his drive and energy levels, for clearly he will have little time to rest over the next two years of his tenure.
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