Cut tech costs, Malaysian prime minister urges West

Rich Western nations should support information and communication technology (ICT) progress in developing countries by providing the technology at more affordable prices, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Wednesday at a meeting of the G15 nations in Jakarta, according to Malaysia’s government news agency Berita Nasional Malaysia.

Mahathir told delegates from 19 developing nations that the information age could help their countries, but the technology is currently too expensive and should be made cheaper, the agency reported.

“We have to participate actively and together in global negotiations on ICT,” Mahathir said in a speech reported by the agency. “By acting collectively and in concert with each other, the group can make a stand and even contribute to shaping a future in which the concerns and interests of developing countries are taken into account.”

It is crucial for developing nations to cooperate in efforts to exploit ICT for economic and social benefit, the agency reported Mahathir as saying.

“In light of our inherent weaknesses in the ICT sector, we have to foster closer cooperation and collaboration among members of our group,” Mahathir said. “We have to create a knowledge society that is not only computer literate but has the capacity to create content and application solutions in order to leverage on ICT for development.”

Developing countries face hurdles in creating sufficient infrastructure for ICT and finding enough skilled staff to exploit its benefits, Mahathir said, according to the agency report. In developed economies, for example, around 50 per cent of the population has fixed telephone lines and Internet access, whereas in developing economies the proportion of the population with access to these facilities languishes at below 20 per cent.

“The biggest hurdle we have to overcome is the cost involved in financing comprehensive infrastructure development,” he said. “Even if we deregulate the provision of such services, we still have to address the inclination of the private sector to concentrate on commercially viable areas or services that command premium charges.”

Member countries must use the development potential of ICT to ensure a better quality of life for their people, the agency reported Mahathir as saying.

“As developing countries, we have to overcome major impediments in order to seize the opportunities offered by the digital era,” he said. “We have to develop the necessary human capital.”

The G15 grew out of the Cold War era Non-Aligned movement. Since its foundation in 1989, four countries have joined the original 15, but the organization has decided to keep the G15 name. Current G15 members are Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

The meeting continues through Thursday.