Computing Professionals Bill; or, The Modern Frankenstein?

  • Good intentions in move to regulate IT professionals
  • Proposed new law creates more problems however

Computing Professionals Bill; or, The Modern Frankenstein?IN Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic, “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus”, the scientist Victor Frankenstein was driven by good intentions and a fair amount of hubris. And as we all know, whether from the book or numerous cinematic adaptations, he created a monster.

There is no doubt that among those pushing for the Computing Professionals Bill 2011 (#CPB2011 on Twitter) — which requires IT pros to be registered under a national body — are many who really believe that this is one way to raise the quality of IT professionals and practitioners in the country, and to ensure minimum security and safety standards are met for critical information networks.

(An aside: It is hard to see why this cannot be achieved with tighter controls on tender processes for such networks, more well-thought out SLAs or Service-Level Agreements from the providers, and greater accountability from those who award such projects.)

In fact, an “open day” dialogue last December at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) also left no doubt there is a certain amount of hubris at fault here. Or, as one wag amongst the 50-plus concerned citizens who turned up put it, a bit of “ego play,” a bit of the “Malaysia Boleh” spirit infiltrating the real world.

Among those pushing for the bill was Professor Zaharin Yusoff, alternate chairman of the Higher Education Ministry’s taskforce on ICT human resource and also professor of IT at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.

When someone argued there was already a host of internationally-recognised IT certification programmes, he noted that these were generally vendor-driven. “We recognise their certification, now it’s about them recognising ours.”

Pikom (the Association of the Computer and Multimedia Industry Malaysia) president Shaifubahrim Saleh said the idea has been discussed for the past two-and-a-half years. Among the drivers of that discussion was a way to garner IT professionals the same measure of respect and accountability as those professionals in other fields, such as medicine and engineering.

Pikom, he said, was looking from the industry view. “This thrust will allow us to be exporters of technology,” he added.

Datuk Halimah Badioze Zaman from the National Professors Council lamented what she saw as the plummeting employability of the typical IT graduate. This certification would enhance their job prospects, she argued.

When told that the problem then lay with the education system and curricula, she said this was one area that was also being looked into.

The idea that one should perhaps fix that first, before even considering such a Bill, seemed to have been lost on the proponents.

There were some advocates who suggested the problem lay with the vague language of the Bill, and the bad public relations move of not seeking feedback from the community of developers and programmers before posting the draft for review.

Few, if any, of the attendees, bought this, however. There is something fundamentally wrong about this Bill. How can we become net exporters of technology when all we are doing is raising the barriers of entry?

There were a few opponents of the Bill who got a tad emotional at the open day session at MOSTI. Few can blame them — their livelihoods are at stake. Many passionately argued that this proposed Bill would stifle innovation and creativity.

The proponents sought to allay their fears by saying that the required registration only applies to computing professionals involved in developing systems that come under the category of Critical National Information Infrastructure (CNII). For the rest, Zaharin said, “it will be business as usual.”

This is of small comfort given that the CNII’s themselves are vague and potentially all-encompassing. The National IT Council defines CNIIs as those assets (real and virtual), systems and functions that are vital to the nations that their incapacity or destruction would have a devastating impact on:

• National economic strength -- 
Confidence that the nation's key growth area can successfully compete in global market while maintaining favourable standards of living.
• National image
 -- Projection of national image towards enhancing stature and sphere of influence.
• National defence and security -- 
Guarantee sovereignty and independence whilst maintaining internal security.
• Government capability to function -- 
Maintain order to perform and deliver minimum essential public services.
• Public health and safety
 -- Delivering and managing optimal health care to the citizen.

The sectors covered are National Defence & Security; Banking & Finance; Information & Communications; Energy; Transportation; Water; Health Services; Government; Emergency Services; and Food & Agriculture.

Really, what’s a poor IT pro left with? Games? (Which is not a bad thing in itself, but you know what I mean.)

There are other valid concerns as well, such as the incredible amount of power given over to MOSTI and the Board of Computing Professionals Malaysia to be established under the Bill.

It is good that MOSTI sought feedback from the individuals who are going to be most affected by the legislation, but it is worrying that the Bill’s proponents are only doing so after 30 months of it being suggested and discussed.

And the biggest worry is that they are only seeking feedback so they can fine-tune the language and clarify some of the vaguer parts of the legislation, before pushing it through anyhow.

No wonder the ICT community (sans industry, apparently) is alarmed. No wonder the MCA’s Young Professionals Bureau wants the Bill withdrawn. No wonder the tech community has responded with a “Common Voice of ICT Professionals” document that argues cohesively and cogently against it.

Their stance is simple: “… We have NOT found any information and substantiation that suggests or concludes that the formation of the Board of Computing Professionals is the right and only answer to amicably resolve all matters that the Government perceives to be issues relating to the ICT profession, if such issues indeed do exist in the first place.”

Indeed, like Frankenstein, Malaysia is cobbling together bits and pieces of perceived problems, and sewing on what we see as solutions. No wonder we have such a monster on the cards.

This column previously appeared in The Malaysian Insider

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