Computing Professionals Act 2011: Flawed at the Fundamentals

This is an opinion published by independent, not-for-profit research institute REFSA (Research for Social Advancement) on Wednesday, 21 Dec 2011. Original release here.

REFSA disagrees with the proposed Computing Professionals Act 2011 (CPA).

REFSA recognises the good intentions of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Information (MOSTI) to safeguard IT industry standards and “enhance the value of the profession” by regulating the qualifications of its practitioners [1]. However, this Act will likely stifle innovation and result in higher costs, with little gain.

The CPA mandates that only individuals and firms certified as qualified computing professionals and service providers can work on Critical National Information Infrastructure (CNII) projects. The certification would be decided by a Board of Computing Professionals Malaysia (The Board) to be set up.

REFSA sees at least 3 major flaws with the proposed Act:

  1. Firstly, it is divorced from industry reality. Unlike other professional services such as law and accounting, the IT arena is fast-moving and fast-changing. Furthermore, IT industry advances are largely forged by innovative, self-taught hobbyists.  The Board would necessarily have to rely on academic and vocational qualifications in its ‘certification’ process, which would be behind the latest developments. The late Steve Jobs, immortalised as an icon by our Prime Minister himself in his Budget speech, is famously a college drop-out. Would our new Board ‘certify’ him given his absence of paper credentials? This process would be the death-knell of enterprise and innovation
  2. Secondly, the proposed Act is extremely far-reaching. Any activity that “impacts on national economic strength, image, defence, public health and safety and the government’s ability to function” may be listed as sectors under the CNII. The CNII entities will be identified by the Chief Government Security Office (CGSO). Where will the CGSO draw the line?  For example, it is plausible that telecommunications companies and banks could  be considered ‘vital to the national economic strength and image’ of the nation, which would mean that any IT company wishing to serve them would have to be certified;
  3. Thirdly, it will add another layer of costs and bureaucracy with little gain. IT procurement is an established, multi-billion dollar industry around the world. Large multi-national companies are confident enough in the existing industry structure, without government certifications, to buy and develop IT systems critical to their operations. It is hard to see what value the Malaysian Board will add.

MOSTI, in response to criticism of the proposed Act, assures that “registration with the Board … will also take into consideration those from other disciplines with adequate computing experiences”.  It also said that registration with the Board only applies to those that are identified with CNII projects[2].

These responses do not address the core problems – that of ambiguity and incompatibility with the reality of the industry it is supposed to regulate. Firstly, MOSTI is still unable, at this point, to clearly define areas that will be categorised as CNII. Secondly, how will the Board measure ‘adequate computing experiences’? Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook while he was in just his second year in university. Would he meet the ‘adequate’ requirements, which have yet to be defined?

REFSA concedes that savants like Jobs and Zuckerberg are rare. However, the Bill would also impose barriers on young, hard-working Malaysians. Many talented IT professionals are not computing graduates. It is not unusual to find extremely good self-taught programmers without formal IT qualifications. They not need certifications to enhance their value, neither do their clients demand formal paper qualifications. Forcing them to undergo a registration process would merely mean an additional layer of costs without any benefit.

It is extremely worrying that MOSTI has admitted it is facilitating this bill at the behest of multinational companies and industry leaders[3]. This then lays hollows the olive branch of MOSTI saying that the industry can decide members of the Board[4]. Such a Board would be dominated by the existing leaders, whose self-interest would not be aligned with new start-ups or freelance professionals.

REFSA considers this Act completely unnecessary. Its drafters suggest that CPA 2011 is the “fastest vehicle” to achieving international IT standards. Professor Timothy Bresnahan of the University of Stanford, who co-led the research for the book Silicon Valley and Its Imitators, emphasises that the success of Silicon Valley “took years of firm-building and market-building efforts”, and that there is no “magic recipe”. He said, “Efforts to jump-start clusters [of technology] or make top-down efforts to organize them do not work.”

REFSA calls upon the Malaysian government to withdraw this proposed Act. IT standards in Malaysia will not be helped by bureaucracy and stifling regulation. Let us go to the root of the problem. IT standards can be improved by the government adopting an open-tender policy, with concomitant rewards for those who deliver, and penalties for those who do not. A market-oriented carrot-and-stick approach is what we need, not more red tape.

REFSA has signed the on-line petition against this Act at www.change.org – MOSTI:Stop Computing Professionals Bill 2011 (CPB2011). If you wish to sign too, go to www.change.org and search for “CPB2011”.

 

Teh Chi-Chang                                                          Foong Li Mei

Executive Director                                                     Public Policy Researcher

[email protected]                                                   [email protected]


[1] “9 DEC 2011 : THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE BOARD OF COMPUTING PROFESSIONALS MALAYSIA (BCPM)”. Available at MOSTI website www.mosti.gov.my. Retrieved 13 Dec 2011.

[2] 9 Dec 2011: The Establishment of the Board of Computing Professionals Malaysia (BCPM). MOSTI. Available at its website www.mosti.gov.my.

[3] Computing Bill: Big businesses vs practitioners. Haslan Zakaria, Malaysiakini, 14 Dec 2011. Retrieved on 19 Dec 2011.

[4] Industry to decide members of IT board, critical areas, says MOSTI. Shannon Teoh, The Malaysian Insider, 14 Dec 2011. Retrieved on 19 Dec 2011.

PDF document also available for download here.

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REFSA is an independent, not-for-profit research institute providing relevant and reliable information on social, economic and political issues affecting Malaysians with the aim of promoting open and constructive discussions that result in effective policies to address those issues. Visit us at www.refsa.org

Posted on 22 December 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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