Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Putrajaya's Tunnel Vision on Ict

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 15 — Budget 2011 has just been tabled: What does it offer our local information and communications technology (ICT) sector? What is glaring in the Budget is not what it offers (very little) but what it lacks — decisive measures to grow our local talent in the sector and build our supposed K-economy.
In a statement earlier in the day, Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) CEO Datuk Badlisham Ghazali highlighted the industry’s own wish-list for the budget:
•    Tax or fiscal incentives for the private sector to embrace new technologies such as green/sustainable technology
•    Public-private partnership investments
•    Spending to strengthen the current ICT human capital pool
•    Incentives to increase ICT adoption by SMEs
What did the sector receive? All mobile phones are no longer subject to a 10 per cent sales tax. Broadband equipment will continue to be exempt from tax and duties until 2012. There were also plenty of incentives to encourage the take-up of green technologies and reduction of duties for hybrid cars.
On the funding side, a RM100 million Malaysian Technology Development fund will be set up to provide soft loans to qualified applicants. Though seemingly generous, it is a paltry sum compared to the RM3 billion that will be invested in an eco-resort in Sabah.
Yet the body in charge of managing the fund doesn’t see it that way. CEO of Cradle Fund, Nazrin Hassan said, “We see the government’s plans to encourage a healthy angel investment community as a clear indication to reduce the dependence on grant funding.” Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak spoke at length during his speech about the government’s efforts to bring in venture capitalists and angel investors to engage the local sector.
Content is king
The budget also allocates money through training — MDec is being given an allocation of RM50 million to train graduates in ICT.
Datuk Abdul Wahab Abdullah, president and chief executive of Mimos, said such measures would “ensure an adequate supply of domain experts for the country” and was a step in the right direction to ensure Malaysia has a pool of experts with the right skills.
A further RM119 million will be given to the Multimedia Development Corridor, to “encourage the development of local content creation”. But what of the other ICT sectors? What about developers, systems integrators or hardware manufacturers?
Yusseri Md Yusoff, CEO of open source solutions company Omnilogic, said that the government’s focus on multimedia was likely because “it’s a more visible success story.” Multimedia content, he said, was far easier to promote and the sector’s strides made far more waves locally than say, software developers.
Another oft-neglected area was the talent already existent in the country. Most skilled, technical people in ICT often prefer the freedom and better remuneration of independent consulting.
“Let’s put it this way, “ said independent consultant Dinesh Nair, “in four years, a technical person would earn less than half what someone working in sales would earn in the same firm.”
Malaysian companies, he noted, also tend to provide few incentives salary-wise for these skilled professionals to take up full-time work
Dinesh said that instead of the proposed Talent Corp, more effort should be made to retain local talent.
“The ones who left, they left. What the government needs to do is acknowledge the talent that is already here,” he said.
Earlier, Najib said “We are not dreamers. We are realists.”
The reality is that ICT is not and should not be limited to the local content industry. A K-economy requires knowledge workers of all specialisations and rather than attempt to woo back those lost to us, perhaps it is time the government see the resources it does have.
Should the government fail to acknowledge the hidden wealth of talent in ICT, it is doomed to keep losing its best and brightest.

** ict

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