High-profile MSC Panel “Members” Disappear From List

Posted on December 7, 1998 
Filed Under AsiaBizTech, Julian

By Julian Matthews

Dec 3, 1998, Kuala Lumpur — Malaysia’s Multimedia Super Corridor project continues to draw controversy after high-profile members of an international advisory panel of the project were removed from a list available on the Internet.

Three prominent technology icons HRH Prince Al-Waleed Talal Al- Saud, chairman of Kingdom Holding Co, John Doerr, a founding partner of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers Inc and Dr. Robert Metcalfe, Vice President of Technology of International Data Group named on the 45-member list were suddenly removed from the list early this week.

At press time, an official US-based mirror website of the Multimedia Development Corp in the US containing the three names was still available at http://mdc.cinenet.net/msc/advisory/index.html

The revised list is located at MDC’s Malaysian website at http:// www.mdc.com.my/msc/advisory/index.html

MDC is the one-stop agency responsible for the development of the MSC project.

An MDC spokesperson told this reporter that three were included on the official list despite their non-confirmation.

Dr Metcalfe when contacted, expressed shock that he was included on the list.

“I am surprised and alarmed that you think I am a member of the IAP of the MSC project in Malaysia and that I might resign. I am not either,” he said.

Dr Metcalfe is also the founder of 3Com Corp and the inventor of the Ethernet networking technology.

Doerr is a powerful Silicon Valley venture capitalist and serves on the boards of various technology companies including Netscape Communications Corp, Sun Microsystems Inc and Amazon.com Inc.

Saudi Arabian Prince Al-Waleed is a self-made billionaire known to be a shrewd investor with stakes in various global technology, media, finance, hotel, restaurant, shipping, and entertainment companies.

Doerr and Prince Al-Waleed could not be contacted at press time.

The MSC advisory panel is a who’s who of global technology players including Microsoft Corp chairman Bill Gates, Sun Microsystems Inc chairman Scott McNealy, IBM Corp chairman Louis Gerstner, Intel Corp CEO Craig Barrett, Compaq Computer Corporation CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer, Netscape Communications Corporation CEO James Barksdale, Sony Corporation co-CEO Nobuyuki Idei and Acer Inc chairman and founder Stan Shih.

The panel met twice, once at Stanford University, in California in January 1997, and in Cyberjaya, near Kuala Lumpur, in February 1998.

The panel was set up in 1996 to directly advise Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on the strategic direction and policies of the globally-recognized project.

The set up of the panel was largely influential in lending credibility to the project and drawing investors.

Metcalfe told this reporter he was repeatedly invited to join the MSC panel and “declined repeatedly by e-mail and in person.”

“I am a journalist and don’t join things about which I might write or comment,” he said.

Last week , renowned author Alvin Toffler threatened to resign from the panel and suggested that others on the panel would do so because “the climate of political repression” was stifling the project in the country.

Toffler referred to the arrests and jailing of sacked deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim and his former speech writer Dr Munawar Anees.

Anwar, who was also deputy chairman of policy-making body National Information Technology Council, was first brought to court with a black eye, and bruises and is currently under trial for sodomy and corruption, while Dr Munawar was jailed six months for allegedly sodomizing Anwar.

Both have denied the allegations and Dr Munawar, an internationally- renowned Islamic scholar and father of two, has filed an appeal saying he was coerced into making the confession.

Toffler called for their immediate release, and suggested that other members of the panel, comprising top executives of giant software, computer, and telecommunications companies, shared his view that the original vision of the project was in jeopardy.

Metcalfe said he did not know enough of the situation in Malaysia to comment on the viability of the project, but added: “The key to technology success, I think, is to allow freedom of choice among competing alternatives (FOCACA).”

Metcalfe’s comments come in the wake of provocative statements by US Vice President Al Gore, an acknowledged technology aficionado, who told delegates at the recent Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Kuala Lumpur: “Any government that suppresses information, suppresses the economic potential of the Information Age.”

Gore’s statement was widely seen as a veiled reference to efforts by authorities to monitor a flurry of pro-reform websites set up recently in favor of Anwar, and the arrests of four people under the harsh Internal Security Act for allegedly spreading riot rumors via e-mail.

Meanwhile, MDC executive chairman Dr Othman Yeop Abdullah stated last week that the next advisory panel has been postponed till July next year from the scheduled February date.

He said the meeting would be timed to coincide with the expected completion of several large-scale MSC infrastructure projects which were delayed because of the financial crisis.

Fashioned after the Silicon Valley, the MSC is a 750-sq.km. area south of the capital city which Dr Mahathir hoped to turn into a global hub for the creation of multimedia content, products and services.

Although, endorsed as a visionary by panel members, the project has come under scrutiny now that the Malaysian economy has slid into recession, its worse in 13 years, and faces financial and political uncertainties.

MDC’s Othman acknowledged that at least one MSC company was already in the red and facing financial difficulties.

“We tried to intervene, but they decided to go on their own,” he said.

Start-up companies in Malaysia find it impossible to raise financing because of the cautious nature of venture capitalists and banks towards high-risk, technology ventures, exacerbated by the recession and new controversial capital controls.

The government and MDC has also failed to take up a key suggestion by MSC panel members in February that legislation similar to that of US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection laws be put in place as a safety net for MSC-status companies that fail.

So far MDC has given 189 companies “MSC status”, which qualifies them for tax breaks, unlimited import of foreign personnel and 100 percent foreign equity in the companies.

Published in Asia BizTech, Dec 07, 1998

by Julian Matthews, Asia BizTech Correspondent

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