1Malaysia Computers: Robbing the poor, to give to the rich

By Mariam Mokhtar, Malaysian Mirror

When Selangor state assembly backbencher, Ng Suee Lim, blamed BN grassroots leaders for abusing the ‘1Malaysia Computer’ programme, we are reminded about how easy it is to rob the poor to give to the rich.

The aim of the ‘1Malaysia Computer’ programme was to benefit 65% of the students in government and government-aided schools. The conditions to receive free laptops were: only household incomes below RM3,000 in rural areas (below RM5,000 in urban areas), the family did not own a computer, the children were in Forms 1 – 5, each family was limited to one computer.

However, Ng has unearthed how with favouritism and cronyism, free laptops were approved for distribution to division leaders of Umno, MCA and Gerakan.

He said, “I am shocked with the way in which such contributions are distributed, which does not reflect transparency, instead using the programme solely to fulfil the agenda and political interests of Umno and BN.”

The distribution anomaly comes on top of other irregularities.

Ever since the programme was first launched various concerns have been raised. Last June, a report highlighted how recipients who were not computer literate or who lived in areas without electricity, were selling these computers for RM700 each.

This then prompted the Deputy Information and Communication and Culture Minister Joseph Salang to warn recipients, that they would be punished if they abused the free laptop scheme. At the same time, he confirmed that the recipients were indeed from areas with broadband coverage and electricity supply.

The important question is: Was this ‘1Malaysia Computer’ programme planned properly? What measures were in place to stop abuses of the system, including the one uncovered by Ng?

We are told that free laptops would help educate and engage poorer students in information and communication technology (ICT). It is a novel way of ICT encouragement although it seems expensive and over-indulgent.

However, is it difficult for students to secure easy internet access, both at home and at school? Internet access is as crucial as the availability of terminals for each student during their IT lessons. So were the following factors considered seriously?

For anyone with a computer, an uninterrupted electrical supply is crucial. It is frustrating to the person, if current to the computer is suddenly stopped, which may also damage the computer. Many of us have experienced frequent power-cuts where we live.

To make full use of the computer’s capabilities and functions and to introduce the outside world into the house, a good telephone connection is vital. Most of us are only too aware that dial up connection is slow.

In this age of mobility, handphones are common and few houses have access to a (telephone) land line. The internet broadband can be unreliable even in Kuala Lumpur. The internet service provider cannot possibly be better in the rural areas.

A computer needs anti-virus software and programs like Microsoft Word or Microsoft Office Suite. These are expensive and unless the state government is condoning the use of counterfeit software, will it provide a subsidised purchase for these and other programs?

A laptop is an attractive item for the opportunist thief – an open school bag in a bus, an unguarded moment, and the laptop is whisked away. Will there be an insurance scheme to accompany this project? Should the computer be covered under the student’s (or rather the parents) home insurance? Many households even lack these basic provisions of insurance.

What about security of these laptops at school? Are lockers provided for when students are at recess or on the sports field?

The educational websites are mostly in English. Do the students have an adequate command of the English language to take full advantage of these scientific, technological, cultural and arts sites? The novelty of owning a computer will soon peter out.