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By Julian Matthews
November 26, 1999

When Tengku Dr Azzman Shariffadeen, chief executive of Mimos Bhd, called for a review of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) project in August, one would have thought it would cause a stir in Malaysia.

At best, one expected a media frenzy of follow-ups to encourage public debate on the controversial project. At worst, the powers-that-be would issue some form of damage-control counter statement.

Instead, the comment passed without official reaction, echoing in the hallways of Malaysia's active rumor mill until it faded into oblivion.

The apparent silence on the part of MSC promoter Multimedia Development Corporation (MDC) and the over 240 investor companies of the project--including some of the largest information technology and telco players in the world--was deafening.

Did the non-reaction suggest apathy or were investors too self-involved to care? Or have all its stakeholders become so wary of the fact that it doesn't pay to be critical in Malaysia, especially not about the Prime Minister's multi-billion-ringgit pet project?

"I believe that Malaysians are overly sensitive about criticism of the MSC perhaps because they feel like the underdog, working extra hard to get it up," said one investor who refused to be named. "They perhaps believe that they deserve more support for those things that they have done right, rather than criticism for those that they have done wrong, and there will always be things that have been done 'less than perfectly'," he continued.

His comments typify the hushed tones that MSC investors go into when speaking forthrightly on the project, perhaps for fear of the law of unintended consequences-- cold-shouldered by government administrators; falling out of favor with the powerful one-stop super agency that MDC has become; or worst, losing future MSC contracts.

Tengku Azzman's arrow may have not struck the raw nerve it intended but his contention is still valid. It has been five years since the project was first mooted and much has changed in a world zipping along at the light-speed of the Internet.

"If it ain't broke, break it," says Govinathan Pillai, managing director of Sun Microsystems Malaysia, an early MSC investor. "It's not whether what was done in the past was successful or not. The question is can you afford to stay with one model for a long time? One needs to go back and ask, 'Is there a new way to do it?' I think that's where the call is coming from and we totally support that," he said.

He added that when first conceived, the MSC banked more on the software developer model. But the world has changed and become more oriented toward the service-provider model.

To be fair to the people behind the MSC, Pillai said they were aware from the very beginning that the project would need constant realignment. "The MSC is not a building plan--you draw the plans and construct the building--but an ever-changing experiment," he said


Julian Matthews is the Malaysian correspondent for CNET Malaysia. Email us your comments.


Call for review

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