Week in Review: New Malaysian Communications and Multimedia minister needs to get on accelerated learning curve

  • Driving Malaysia’s Digital Economy forward will fall under Gobind Singh Deo’s portfolio
  • Has to drive all parties hard to ensure Malaysia has world class telco and digital infrastructure

 

MALAYSIA’s peaceful transition of power from an incumbent party that had ruled the country since independence in 1957 to its defeat in the 9 May election, the 14th in the country’s history is still making global headlines.

While those headlines celebrate the power of citizens to choose their destiny, in Malaysia itself, the headlines have been around the former prime minister and his wife, or late night police operations and of course of decisions made by the party voted into power, Pakatan Harapan (Coalition of Hope).

One of the key decisions made on the evening of Fri, May 18 was to fill a number of key ministerial positions, with the digital ecosystem particularly interested in the announcement of Gobind Singh Deo as the new Minister of Communications and Multimedia or KKMM as it is known going by its Malay language acronym.

A lawyer, Gobind Singh is known in Malaysia as being one of the most vocal and fearless voices in Parliament. He is equally known as being the son of legendary opposition leader and voice of justice in Malaysia, the late Karpal Singh. (Interestingly, Gobind’s father and my late father grew up living in the same house in Penang for a few years.)

Gobind’s portfolio is wide and includes content, broadcasting, broadband, personal data protection, postal and mobile and fixed telecommunications services. Significantly, with the world already transitioning to a digital economy, Gobind will be overlooking two key agencies that are driving Malaysia’s Digital Economy forward – The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and The Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC).

He will have a steep learning curve and needs to quickly familiarise himself with his portfolio especially the work being done by the MCMC and MDEC and drive both of them hard to ensure Malaysia has a world class telecommunications and digital infrastructure network with Malaysian companies on equal footing with global players to deliver world-class services.

In the old economy, power, water, roads, airports and ports were key infrastructure that drew in foreign investors, besides talent. Today, having world class digital infrastructure joins those old economy assets as being hygiene factors that foreign investors expect. This now falls under Gobind to ensure the agencies under him deliver.

The good news is, from the time Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad first launched the Multimedia Supercorridor (MSC) in 1996 during his first stint as PM, the nation has had ambitions to be a serious player in the tech economy and the momentum has been building. And with Mahathir back as the PM and no doubt pushing digital adoption, Gobind will not need to do anything radical and indeed, when the National ICT Association or Pikom issues its press release tomorrow, welcoming his appointment, that will be the key thrust of its message. Keep the momentum going and ensure Malaysian tech companies are given a chance to show their capabilities to deliver services, these will be what Pikom will be looking for from the new minister.

On the telecommunications side, more has to be expected from the telcos, both fixed players and mobile with one telco leader telling me that while the ministry in the past few years has not really had regular engagements with the players, the industry players themselves “have been equally guilty of not doing enough for the country”.  Regular dialog with key industry players is a must as is with non corporate players to ensure he hears views from all stakeholders and not just from the corporate players.

Gobind will also find national sovereignty issues with fiber network licences given to non-Malaysian players with claims that the networks may not be built for the benefit of Malaysians.

Like I said, Gobind will need to get on an accelerated learning curve to quickly come to terms with the key issues in his portfolio while ensuring Malaysia’s Digital Economy powers onwards and upwards.

At the same time, the ecosystem will expect, as promised by the government, that open tenders be the norm for KKMM and its agencies moving forward. And as Minister, it is best that Gobind set the bar high by ensuring his legal firm does not branch into or accept any telco and tech related work.

Let’s wish him the best of luck. And here’s wishing you a productive week ahead and I hope you had a restful weekend.

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