Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

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@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

All Malaysians aged 18 and above will receive a 1Malaysia email account. The announcement was made by Prime Minister Najib Razak last week, when he stated he wanted ‘direct and secure communication between citizens and the government.’

The concept of a ‘Malaysian’ email was actually first floated last June, when the government unveiled its seven-point Economic Transformation Programme. Through their 1Malaysia email, citizens can access government e-services with a single sign-on user ID. Government notices over things such as income tax assessments, driving license renewals and rent reminders, as well as Employee Provident Fund statements and notices of summons, will be sent by email.

The government has already tapped Tricubes Berhad, a Malaysian IT company, to develop the software and hardware components of the email project. Tricubes, for its part, recently disclosed that it will collaborate with Microsoft in designing the software technology and other computing infrastructure needed by the project.

The project is expected to cost around RM50 million ($16 million). Tricubes said that it had already secured initial financing through a combination of internally generated funds and borrowings. While the email service is free, Tricubes hopes to generate revenues from value-added services such as bill and notice delivery, job boards, online registration to government agencies that currently use e-forms, advertising, and an online marketplace.

Malaysian netizens who oppose the project questioned the financial viability of Tricubes, which was reportedly almost delisted from the Bursa Malaysia stock market for its weak finances. They also find the price tag of the project prohibitive considering that free email services are already available on the internet.

If 1Malaysia had been conceived and implemented more than a decade ago, it would have been warmly received by the online public and it would definitely have improved how the government interacts with its citizens. But with the rise of free email services offering unlimited and secure storage of data over the past decade, who would need a 1Malaysia email today?

Privacy concerns were also raised since each email account contains personal details of the citizen. Many doubt if Tricubes can provide a secure communication platform that citizens can use to communicate with the government. They also doubt if the state can resist the temptation of monitoring the email conversations of its citizens.

Since subscription to 1Malaysia email is voluntary, there should be some incentives and add-on services that would inspire netizens to use the email. The idea of assigning a single user ID to each citizen in order to access all government e-services seems promising, but unfortunately, this isn’t part of the free services package to be offered by Tricubes.

The opposition to the 1Malaysia email initiative unsettled Najib so much that he was forced to send a Tweet assuring his constituents that no public money would be spent on the project. The government and Tricubes have until July to iron out any problems, with the service set to be rolled out then.

written for The Diplomat

Singapore: PAP Manifesto Falls Short?

Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP) issued a manifesto containing its election agenda on April 17 but it seems many voters—at least in cyberspace—aren’t impressed with it.

Released less than three weeks before the upcoming general elections on May 7, the manifesto mentions the PAP’s vision of a ‘vibrant and inclusive society with opportunities for a better life for each and every citizen’ in Singapore.

To achieve this vision, the PAP vowed to do the following: 1) Create opportunities for higher incomes for all; 2) Improve the lives of lower-income Singaporeans; 3) Bring out the best in every child; 4) Develop a vibrant city and an endearing home; 5) Help seniors stay active, healthy and engaged; and 6) Involve all Singaporeans in shaping the future.

Who would argue with this beautiful vision guaranteeing the right of young and old citizens to share in the progress of Singapore?

Singaporeans who’ve criticized the manifesto have complained that it doesn’t include new solutions or ideas. They’ve said that the proposed programs have been tried before but didn’t make any difference at all in improving the quality of life in Singapore. They reminded PAP leaders that while government ministers are receiving some of the highest salaries in the world, income inequality in Singapore has increased. They cited as well the rising cost of schooling, health care and housing as among the bad legacies of the PAP.

PAP is the current ruling party in Singapore, and has been in power for more than five decades already.

Furthermore, critics noted that the publication of the party’s manifesto was late, since the opposition Workers’ Party (WP) had already discussed and distributed its election agenda a week earlier. Some election observers who compared the programs of the PAP and WP picked the opposition agenda as more appealing and substantive. In fact, the PAP document consists of only 25 pages while the WP manifesto is composed of 63 pages with detailed recommendations in 15 different policy areas.

Some voters also slammed the PAP manifesto for being too vague. Nigel Tan, the chief editor of The Satay Club, an online political portal, is disappointed that the manifesto contains only a ‘series of vague promises with neither details of specific policies nor information on how the various stated aims were going to be implemented.’

Through the manifesto, the PAP hoped to convince more voters, in particular first-time voters, to choose its brand of leadership. But in fact, that it was forced to release a manifesto in reaction to the opposition platform may be indicative of its desperation to reverse its declining popularity and reach out to alienated segments of the population.

So did the manifesto improve the PAP’s electoral chances? If online reactions are the gauge, then it seems the party still has some serious work to do in the next few days if it wants to secure another landslide victory in the coming polls.

written for The Diplomat

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