ICT policies and the ‘blahdi garment’ reflex

  • People should aim their vitriol at the right targets
  • But Govt has to start walking the talk

ICT policies and the ‘blahdi garment’ reflexWE Malaysians are a generally cynical lot, especially when it comes to anything that has “government” slapped on it.

Who can blame us, right? The Peaceful Assembly Act that was touted as freeing up democratic space in the country did the exact opposite according to the Malaysian Bar; the Malaysia Day announcement that the Internal Security Act would be abolished may now see legislation just as repressive taking its place … the
list goes on.

It didn’t help matters much when the Peaceful Assembly Act was bulldozed through Parliament without sufficient consultation with the relevant stakeholders, if any. It certainly does give the impression, all proclamations to the contrary, that the current administration is still operating in “government knows best” mode.

The government’s track record when it comes to openness, transparency and accountability has been so woeful that Malaysians feel disenfranchised, lacking a voice and slow to trust anything that comes out of Putrajaya. When somebody feels cornered, they lash out — and usually it is at the most easily identified target.

The “blahdi garment”
Nowhere was this more apparent than in the reaction of the people to the proposed Computing Professionals Bill 2011 (CPB2011). Just check out the readers’ comments on the many stories that The Malaysian Insider has run on the issue.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I personally think it is a terrible idea and an ill-conceived piece of legislation.

The areas of concerns it purportedly addresses are genuine problems, but to my mind, the CPB2011 in its current form does not even begin to address them, let alone solve them.

Indeed, as it stands now, the proposed Bill could do more damage to the information and communications technology (ICT) industry by creating barriers to cultivating and retaining a skilled workforce — by throwing miles of red tape across their way, and creating many more opportunities for abuse.

There is valid reason to naysay the CPB, and most comments on this site and elsewhere have done so quite effectively and logically.

However, I am a bit bemused by the amount of vitriol aimed at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), which is only playing the role of facilitator. It is not MOSTI’s Bill; it came from the National ICT Human Resource Task Force led by the Ministry of Higher Education, which included representation from industry, academia and professional bodies.

True, the government-as-a-whole has its hands in this, but let’s be fair: It was MOSTI that had an Open Day on the CPB2011 in December last year, after the Bill had been discussed and mooted behind closed doors over the previous 30 months. I think the ministry has to be commended for that, at the least.

I was at that Open Day as a concerned citizen, and heard representatives of the above Task Force tell the technology and developer community, about 50-strong, that the Bill was going to go through no matter what, so they might as well get used to the idea and give the necessary feedback to fine-tune it.

However, when a few of us spoke to some of the MOSTI staff, who were there to observe and record the community’s feedback, they assured us that if the Bill could not be made acceptable to all stakeholders, there was a very real possibility that it would be scrapped.

Since the initial backlash against the Bill, few are standing up to claim ownership of it. It is obvious that feedback should have been opened up to the community long before this. The cynic in me is still shaking his head over how the Bill could be in its 17th revision and still be so vague in key definitions and so badly aimed.

Among others, the Bill hopes to upgrade the quality and professionalism of ICT practitioners in the country. When pointed out that this is best addressed by examining our education system, the Task Force representatives assured those of us at the Open Day that this is being looked into.

According to some industry pundits, Malaysia is considering becoming a signatory to the Seoul Accord, a multi-lateral mutual recognition agreement that wants to prepare ICT graduates for professional practice with a set of international standards for computing programmes, and by sharing best practices for computing education. The six founder-members are professional bodies from Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States. Other signatories are Hong Kong and Taiwan.

In essence, professional qualifications in any one signatory country are good for any other member country of Seoul Accord.

To join the Seoul Accord — which is one of the drivers for the CPB2011, depending on whom you ask — Malaysia needs to seriously revamp its ICT education programmes to meet these international standards.

Apparently, a proposed revised curriculum is now awaiting approval by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency. However, enacting the CPB2011 before this revised curriculum can be implemented and its effectiveness properly gauged is a case of putting the cart before the horse.

No wonder we are all cynical about this proposed law.

Hopefully, all this will be a lesson to everyone in government. You can start by believing in your own rhetoric: The era of government knows best IS over. The Malaysian people are generally more informed, educated and opinionated than ever before, and their voices should be — and need to be — heard.

This article appeared previously in The Malaysian Insider

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