Counterpoint: Budget 2013 treats ICT industry as a step-child

  • The proposed Budget’s tax write-offs for angel investments, and the IPR moves, are great
  • Not so great is the glaring omission of anything to do with Digital Malaysia

Counterpoint: Budget 2013 treats ICT industry as a step-childTHE legacy of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is safe. Whatever their personal feelings about his high-handedness, the destruction of institutions like the judiciary and media, his selective memory and increasingly racist screeds since retirement, the ICT industry in Malaysia will continue to regard him as their favorite premier.
After all, Dr Mahathir (pic below, courtesy of The Malaysian Insider) – Malaysia’s longest serving prime minister – was the man who launched the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC or MSC Malaysia as it is now known) in Silicon Valley itself, surrounded by the industry luminaries and thought leaders of that era. Over the next few years, it was “MSC this” and “MSC that”. You couldn’t escape the phrase – it was embedded in just about everything his administration did.
Oh right, we now have the even more ambitious Digital Malaysia or Digital Transformation Program. But how many times did current Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak – among the nation’s longest serving premiers without an electoral mandate -- bring it up during his Budget 2013 speech on Sept 28? He mentioned all the other transformation programs or TPs his administration has rolled out, but did not once mention Digital Malaysia.
Counterpoint: Budget 2013 treats ICT industry as a step-childYes, there is the Domestic Investment Strategic Fund worth RM1 billion to leverage outsourcing activities and the acquisition of technology by Malaysian companies; the establishment of 100 1Malaysia Internet Centers by 2015; and a number of initiatives involving intellectual property.
Most benefit the industry only indirectly. Admittedly, some may be game-changing, such as the tax write-off for angel investments, and the increase in real property gains tax (RPGT). Property speculation not only drives up the cost of housing beyond the reach of those who need homes, but as some tech industry pundits have lamented, is such a no-brainer investment that those with such available funds would rather play the property market than invest in tech startups.
On skills training, the ICT industry was lumped together with oil and gas, shipping, creative and biotechnology. Given that the ICT industry is facing a crisis in terms of human resources, it’s like taking a fly-swatter to an elephantine problem. The RM600 million for research universities to conduct high-impact research covers everything but ICT: Nanotechnology, automotive, biotechnology and aerospace.

I am not going to dignify the RM200 rebate for smartphone purchases for a small segment of society -- but a large vote bank -- with any other statement than to say that those who can afford it, don't need such a small rebate.
Let’s face it – under the Najib Administration, as with that of his predecessor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s, the ICT industry has become a step-child, and not a favorite one either.  Nobody in government is championing it. Even the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation does not bother attending major ICT events, instead sending his deputy Datuk Haji Fadillah Haji Yusof in his stead.
The National ICT Association of Malaysia (Pikom) will have to be at its diplomatic best in the next few months, as just about nothing on its Budget 2013 “wish list” was addressed.
Even the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), the lead agency for Digital Malaysia, may say that its requests have been met, but only in the vaguest and most ambiguous of fashion.
Sure, one can argue that the ICT industry in Malaysia is mature enough to proceed without the need for any further handholding. But as MDeC CEO Datuk Badlisham Ghazali has noted, more than 80 of the entry point projects in the Government’s Economic Transformation Program or ETP has an ICT component.
Just as much as the education system, which has deservedly got its fair share of focus under the Budget, is the lynchpin of everything the nation aspires to, the ICT industry enables these aspirations. It is high time we started paying attention to it again.
Point: Time to get on with IT, men!

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