Current speculation is of political appointee from Umno taking over
New chairman must be firm enough to stand against political pressure
HISTORY repeated itself at the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) at the end of December 2014 when its chairman Mohamed Sharil Tarmizi (pic) came back from his vacation to find a letter waiting for him in the office.
The letter was from the office of the Minister of Communications and Multimedia, Ahmad Shabery Cheek, thanking him for his services and informing him that his contract would not be renewed. It ended 31 Dec 2014. [Clarified]
With that impersonal note, the curtain dramatically fell on Sharil’s 11 years of service at the industry regulator, with the last three as its chairman. He also had a six-month stint as acting chairman in 2008. He was not 40 years old then.
Back in October 2003, the second MCMC chairman Nuraizah Abdul Hamid suffered the same cold exit when she received a fax at 5pm from the then Minister of Telecomunications and Multimedia, thanking her for her services and informing her that her contract would not be renewed. She too had been chairman for three years.
Whether Sharil’s exit caught the 600-plus staff of the MCMC by surprise is not clear. Digital News Asia (DNA) could not get anyone to talk about this, but the telco industry is certainly abuzz with questions and speculation as to why Sharil’s term was not extended.
As at press time, the minister still had not issued any statements clearing the air.
The loudest speculation is that the Malaysian Government wants to put a member of Umno, the dominant political party of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, in the powerful post.
The prevailing view is that as head of the MCMC, Sharil did not do enough to curb dissenting voices against the Government in the digital sphere.
Another line of thinking is that the cash-rich MCMC provides plenty of opportunities for the business associates of Umno to fight over.
For instance, in the second quarter of this year, the MCMC will award the contract for 600 towers to be built in rural areas. The contract for the first 400 towers came up to around RM900 million (US$252 million). The next phase will cost more than RM1.3 billion (US$360 million).
While Sharil declined to comment when DNA contacted him, he has in the past made it known that the freedom of the Internet from censorship is one of the bedrock principles on which Malaysia is building its digital economy.
But it is obvious that a loud minority within Umno is having none of that.
Meanwhile, the telco industry is buzzing. “Shattering news,” is how one telco chief executive officer described it, preferring not to be named however.
While there clearly was some unhappiness with Sharil, a DNA Digerati50, from some of the established telcos, none wished to comment on any low points during his tenure.
Two analysts DNA spoke to however had positive things to say about the impact Sharil has made.
Avinash Sachdeva, senior industry analyst of the ICT practice at Frost & Sullivan, described Sharil’s tenure in positive terms: “Over the past three years, the MCMC focused on offering robust broadband and telecom service, and facilitated the development of world-class telecom infrastructure in Malaysia.”
Avinash also highlighted how the MCMC ensured quality of service and penalised service providers which failed to meet accepted standards and levels of service.
Malaysia’s household broadband penetration improved from 62.3% in the fourth quarter of 2011 to 67.8% in Q3 2014; while cellular penetration improved from 128% to 145% during the same period. Smartphone penetration significantly improved from below 20% to 48%, through various initiatives such as smartphone rebates.
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