Digital gap: Sabah, Sarawak, Bumiputera and the new normal

I WELCOME the brief statement by Dato’ Abdul Rahman Dahlan on the digital gap in Malaysia. The Covid-19 pandemic and MCO have drastically increased the people’s and economic dependency on digital news dissemination system or online.

It somehow exposes how big the digital gap is. It is well-known that those in urban areas are more conversant in English and comprise the middle-income bracket and above, more comfort living, having easy access and more ready to reap the benefits of such evolution.

Such a phenomenon demands comprehensive revision of our mindset.

The instances, in brief are,

a) If previous infrastructure developments were linked to road building, hospitals, schools and others, its dimension has eloped to digital infrastructure although it still contains such elements.

b) If we used to talk about 3M (read, write, calculate), it is now more on 4M which includes computer programming or coding.

The current status is not satisfactory.

For instance,

  • Broadbank Internet penetration rate in Putrajaya is 96% as compared to Sarawak rural areas which is around 70%. In fact, such a gap may exist in Sabah – 94% in urban and 85% in rural areas.
  • Quality of 4G network: 84% per cent users in the Klang Valley, Penang and Johor Bahru have access to 4G compared with 44 per cent in remote Sabah, Sarawak and some areas in the Peninsular.
  • Findings of the Education Ministry at the early stage of the MCO shows 37% students did not have any online facility.
  • According to Sabah’s director of education, 52% students did not have internet access, smart phone, computer or any online apparatus.

The topic on digital gap is wide-range but apart from urging the government to resolve it, here are short term suggestion to be defined further. Should Covid-19 crisis prolongs, we must focus on effort to assist certain sectors of the community that doesn’t require much time.

For example:

A) Asisst traders in online marketing and operation such as encouraging them to use the marketplace platform. Not necessary for the government to prepare the platform as joint-venture with the private sector is the best avenue.

Among the best examples are the e-bazaar Makmur Johor recently where the state government and the local council cooperated with GetMakan, besides giving our special grants to traders to utilise such platforms. Similarly, PahangMart provided such opportunity to thousands of traders. The bottom line is, the government does not have to provide everything from A-Z but manages its policy and financial strength to make easy the digital adaptation.

B). We can’t escape those who are not well-equipped with such apparatus. No matter how excellent our broadband is, it will be of no use if many out there are still without laptops and let alone iPads.

The government might not able to resolve the issue in a short duration but priority must be given to our education sector (as mentioned above). The government launched Skim Komputer Riba 1Malaysia in 2010 which provided free laptop to more than a million low-income households.

The same concept can be reviewed by the present government and accommodate it with the current situation. Whether with or without MCO, we want to avoid such a situation to prolong when schools can always adapt to online classes.

Whatever the short term planning is, amicable solution to the digital gap must be overcome fast if we want to stay in parallel with the long term revolution.

In UMNO struggle context, this is among challenges in the 21st Century. No point being rhetoric if it is not follow up towards overcoming the issue should the Bumiputeras want to champion the new millennium.

C) Comprehensive digital infrastructure. Set the target for broadband penetration rate as soon as possible, revise the Fiber-Optic Connectivity Plan (NFCP). Although the government launched it, enhance and upgrade it.

D). Open up Bumiputera participation in digitalised solution application. Marketing assistance in global platform for any business, from agricultural products at Agrobazaar Online (introduced in 2014) to goods at Shoppee and Lazada. Let the Bumiputeras compete and gain internationally.

E). Besides becoming smart users in digital applications, produce more Bumiputera entrepreneurs in technology inventing and ownership.

Later on, from just 10 outstanding Malaysian ‘startups’ which draw foreign investment, set the target that 7 or 8 are Bumiputera companies. This demands a comprehensive strategy from coding classes in rural schools to government investment through agencies like Mavcap. Ensure that it meets the geographical target so that all business, not in KL only, attract investment, but those in Perlis and Pahang and Kelantan too deserve special attention as in enabling them to expand. Most of whom are the youths, so we should take it as a long term investment.

Enough of being loyal Facebook and WhatsApp users if no Malay youths are provided with assistance to come up with chain-business on FB, WhatsApp, Grab or Taobao. The idea might be there but there’s nothing to shout of.

Its a wide-range topic with so many experts. However, among the struggles towards this can be achieved with proper planning and implementation. Global challenges are getting stiff and for us to keep abreast with, as the digital gap can give us a big socioeconomic repercussion soon.

Some of us (not all) aged 30s or 40s might have escaped it for having jobs and income within the current economic paradigm but our next generations will face uncertainties should the digital gap is not properly-addressed soon.

In a world where there are already perceptions that almost half of primary school pupils will find employment that do not exist today, we have no option but to embrace the new normal in a larger contexts – planning and implementing something significant so that the digital economy, IR4.0 or whatever terminology used will bring about excellent results, and not otherwise.


UMNO Information Chief