Advisors impressed with Malaysia’s MSC

Posted on July 9, 1999 
Filed Under CNET, Julian

By Julian Matthews

CYBERJAYA, Malaysia–They came, they saw, they were bowled over. That was the consensus of the Multimedia Super Corridor international advisors after reviewing the progress of the project.

Separating the cherries from the pits, the panel surmised that the MSC indeed was a plum fruit.

In fact, the 12 MSC panel members and 14 representatives were falling over themselves with compliments. Hewlett-Packard chairman and CEO Lewis Platt was “pleasantly surprised”, British Telecom Sir Peter Bonfield said the progress was “remarkable”, Madge Networks NV chairman Robert Madge described it as “amazing”.

The panel was set up in 1997, in the early days of the project, to provide advice to the Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his government on its strategic direction.

They met for their third annual meeting in Cyberjaya, the new city within the MSC, that will be the hub for experimenting with new multimedia products and services.

The praises were centered on the fact Malaysia was able to proceed with the project despite its economic downturn.

“Last year, because of the economic difficulty I had concerns, but now I see there is hope, ” concluded NEC director Tadahiro Sekimoto.

To its credit, Malaysia hammered away at costly edifices it thought were central to the project during a ravaging financial crisis while the critics shook their head and picked at its faults. Disenchanted citizens wondered why government was still pouring their tax dollars into “mega” projects while they had put up with paycuts, longer hours and mounting bills.

The price tags for several of the components of the project added to the anxiety. The first phases of twin cities Putrajaya and Cyberjaya within the corridor amounted to billions of ringgit.

As recently as Wednesday, opposition Islamic party, PAS said that if it came to power in the next election it would auction Putrajaya, the new government administrative center, and the Prime Minister’s residence, described as “palatial”, to the highest bidder.

Sun Microsystems chief scientist John Gage remarked how that the assembled group of panel members was a precedent unequalled in the world advising a government that actually listened, sought advice and acted upon that advice.

“It takes consistency of vision and purpose for long-term projects of this scale to work,” he said.

Gage said Malaysia was intelligent in pursuing its vision especially in a world where the Yahoos and Netscapes can go from zero to US$10 billion within a few short years.”Some of these companies were started by students who are willing to take chances. We hope the atmosphere here will reveal the new companies that can dominate the world.”

SGI World Trade Corporation chairman Bob Bishop said he liked the balance that MSC had struck at all levels in the project.

The examples of this were the twin developments of Cyberjaya and Putrajaya, one for the private sector and another for the public sector; the multinationals and the smaller and medium-sized companies involvement; the venture capital funds and research and development grants; and the Multimedia University and the E-Village, the proposed entertainment hub–similar to Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

He suggested that balance was the key to its success.

Lucent Technologies COO Ben Verwaayen said the number of companies involved was impressive and the physical infrastructure is better than expected.

“We need to see the next stage which is the implementation. It is more difficult from now on but we hope they can maintain the momentum,” said Verwaayen.

Earlier in briefing the press of the outcome of the closed-door meeting, MSC facilitator Multimedia Development Corporation executive chairman Othman Yeop Abdullah said panel members told MDC to be “more aggressive in telling its side of the stories”, given the negative publicity last year.

“They suggested one-on-one marketing efforts may be more effective than throwing the net wide,” he said.

He said the members offered to arrange such meetings to convince potential investors and also help organize forums overseas to spread the MSC gospel.

Madge of Madge Networks when asked whether the project was overly hyped, replied that more hype was needed. “Now since there is more substance on the ground, one needs to be more intensive. I think also it’s absolutely critical to be ambitious in a project of such scale. Half-hearted measures will not be successful,” he concluded.

Published in CNET Asia, July 09, 1999

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