Tun Dr. Mahathir, the fourth prime minister of Malaysia, has a long and coloured legacy that spans over two decades.
It was in 1996 that Tun Mahathir had identified that information and communication technology (ICT) would be a catalyst for growth in the coming years. A plan was devised to transition from a production based economy to a knowledge-based economy by the year 2020.
As the longest serving prime minister of Malaysia, he has many achievements under his belt. Though his tenure was marked by many new innovations it was not without its fair share of controversies.
Whether you celebrate or dislike Tun Mahathir’s contribution to the nation, there’s no denying that the impacts of his contributions are felt until this very day.
Without further ado here Tun Mahathir’s top 10 tech legacies.
In the early 1980s, Tun Mahathir had the vision of the National Car Project that would help industrialise the nation and at the same time produce affordable cars for the domestic market.
A joint venture between Proton and Mitsubishi Motors resulted in the first Proton Saga to roll off the production line to mark the beginning of the Malaysian Automotive industry.
Be as it may, the vision of a national car was finally achieved though it resulted in increased protectionism with the establishment of the local automotive industry via the AP (Approved Permit) system that increased the cost of imported cars.
Despite operating in a protected environment, Proton still faced financial difficulty in its nurturing years and bad quality control has dogged the reputation of its cars for years.
Nevertheless, Proton has created over 12,000 jobs, contributed RM24 billion in taxes and sparked the start of the automotive industry that saw the creation of Malaysia’s second carmaker Perodua.
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Tun Mahathir had a grand vision to transform Malaysia from a rubber and tin exporter to a fully industrialised and developed nation by the year 2020.
To help achieve this grand vision, the MSC (Multimedia Super Corridor) Malaysia program was established in the mid-1990s as a national ICT initiative to attract world-class technology companies while helping the local ICT industry get on its feet.
To help enable this vision, MSC certified zones were created to attract companies with temporary tax breaks, offer state of the art facilities with high-speed Internet access to help the IT industry grow in the country. MSC zones include areas like KL Central, Cyberjaya, and many others.
Over the years the MSC Malaysia initiative has immensely contributed to the growth of the ICT sector in Malaysia. MDEC chief executive officer Datuk Yasmin Mahmood has cited MSC is alive and well today and has accumulated RM4.57 billion last year alone, its highest ever increase in new investments since its inception.
In 1997, Around the same time MSC Malaysia was established, the city of Cyberjaya was established with the vision of being a well-planned, intelligent city that is located midway between Kuala Lumpur city centre and the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
Envisioned to be Malaysia’s version of Silicon Valley, Cyberjaya was the first hub of the MSC Malaysia program. It was to be the destination of choice for big multinational tech companies and small startups alike, creating a working and living environment that is conducive to promoting creativity and innovation.
Cyberjaya is home to a number of multinational corporations including Dell, Shell, IBM and DHL to name a few. Back in its early days there were just 25 companies based in Cyberjaya, today the number has ballooned to 800, of which 40 are multinationals.
Truth be told, Cyberjaya has struggled over the years in achieving its objective. Though companies are drawn to it for the tax breaks and broadband facilities, many still prefer to work in KL. Also, many of the people employed in the city are tied to support and call centre services or what is termed as low-level employment. It is hardly churning out venture the Googles and Facebooks of the future.
Perhaps, Cyberjaya needs to chart its own path instead of being a copy of Silicon Valley. There is now renewed interest to develop the city to be a living lab. A test bed for new ideas for concepts by startups utilising the Internet of Things and one day become a full-fledged smart city.
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As part of Tun Mahathir’s policies to drive Malaysia towards Modernization, he encouraged mega projects like the Petronas Twin Towers skyscrapers that have become a prominent landmark in the city of Kuala Lumpur.
As the headquarters of the national oil company, Petronas, the 88-floor towers feature an avant-garde design, by master architect Cesar Pelli, to symbolise the country’s ambitions and aspirations.
Work began on the towers in 1993 and the towers were completed in June 1996. The towers were ranked as the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004 and remain as the tallest twin towers in the world.
Tun Mahathir even had an office on the 86th floor of one of the towers until his removal from Petronas earlier this year.
To this day the Twin Towers remain an iconic landmark in KL and is synonymous with Malaysia. It also remains one of the most visited tourist attraction in KL.
With the increasing population of Kuala Lumpur, the need for better public transportation was more crucial than ever. This led to the creation of the Light Rapid Transit (LRT) system in the Klang Valley with the commissioning of the Kelana Jaya line and Ampang line.
The Kelana Jaya line, measured at 29km long and served 24 stations when it was first launched though it has since been extended to include 13 new stations across 17km.
Similarly, the Ampang line extended across 27km serving 25 stations and also has recently been extended to include the suburbs of Puchong and Putra Heights, adding 11 new stations and 18km of track.
The lines are considered among the longest fully automated driverless metro system in the world.
Though, the LRT was not the silver bullet that would end public transportation woes it has laid the groundwork for new extensions (some of which are completed this year) to more parts of the Klang Valley.
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In line with Tun Mahathir’s vision to catapult Malaysia into the international spotlight, the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) was created with the aspiration of making Malaysia the hub for motor racing activities in the region and spark the Malaysia motorsport industry.
Designed by German designer Hermann Tike, the circuit was inaugurated by Tun Mahathir in 1999 and was completed in a record 14 months.
The state-of-the-art circuit has a length of 5km featuring 15 turns and 8 straights. Its facilities can accommodate up to 130,000 spectators at a time.
The circuit has played hosted to a number of events such as the Moto GP MalaysianGrand Prix and Formula One Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix. Aside from major motorsport events, the circuit is also used for Go kart racing and tours.
Though the SIC has hosted countless motorsport activities and events, much of the land around it is under utilised. There were plans to build a theme park in the area but that was put on hold indefinitely.
Now, there are plans to revitalise the 260-hectare land around the area with a commercial park, hotel development, safe driving centre and an entertainment hub. Commence of the first phase which includes the hotel development is said to commence in 2017.
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In the mid to late 1990s, the Internet was the equivalent of the Wild West, and Tun Mahathir was one of the few world leaders who recognised the Internet as a transformative force.
To do so, incentives need to be established and this was done so via the MSC Bill of Guarantees that ensures no Internet censorship by Malaysian authorities. That is to say, there is to be a free flow of information, greater transparency, and accountability.
In recent times, however, the government of the day has gone back on these guarantees by calling on for more stringent regulation and silencing online criticism of the government.
This has included the blocking of online publishing platform Medium and certain websites like the Sarawak Report when documents pertaining to 1MDB were revealed online last year.
Sadly, even Tun Mahathir himself has expressed regret over the bill’s guarantee of an uncensored Internet.
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As Malaysia’s aspirations to be a developed nation grew that also meant more international travel and arrivals. In 1993, Tun Mahathir decided the Subang International Airport could no longer handle the future demand of air travel.
This lead to the upgrading of Malaysia’s air travel infrastructure and the opening of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in 1998 as part of the Multimedia Super Corridor, grand development plan.
The airport is the busiest airport in the country and is the world’s 23rd busiest airport by total passenger traffic. In 2015, the airport handled over 48 million passengers and 726,000 tons of cargo.
KLIA is old by today’s standards and some of the facilities are in need of maintenance, especially in light recent reports of aerotrain breakdowns. However, to date KLIA remains to be a major transportation hub for air travel in Malaysia and the main gateway into the country.
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Before the Penang Bridge was built, the only mode of transportation between the George Town on the island and Butterworth on the mainland was via the Penang Ferry Service. Plans to connect Penang Island started in the early 1970s though construction on begun in 1982.
In 1985, Tun Mahathir officially opened the bridge by driving a Proton Saga carrying the national flag to officiate the ceremony. The design of the Penang Bridge follows the cable-stayed concrete girder of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge.
The bridge is the second-longest bridge in Malaysia and the fifth-longest in Southeast Asia by total length. It measures at a length of 13km and has six lanes to accommodate traffic.
It was previously the longest bridge in Malaysia though that title now goes to the Penang Second Bridge that was completed in 2014, measuring 24km in total length.
Despite the opening of the second bridge, the first bridge remains as one of the primary methods of connection between the island and mainland. There are even now talks of a third bridge or undersea tunnel to improve connectivity.
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Progress is not made on infrastructure and technology alone. Tun Mahathir had recognised that education plays a crucial role in the development of human capital, bridging the digital gap and the creation of an IT savvy society.
In 1997, the Ministry of Education launched the Smart School initiative under the MSC Malaysia project. Its goal was to promote best practices in technology-enabled teaching, learning and school management.
Between 1999 to 2002, a total of 88 selected schools nationwide were to undergo a transformation to Smart Schools. Using technology as an enabler, computer labs and facilities were set up for students to access learning materials and accelerate learning.
However, the digital divide is still present today and the ideas of the smart school has not been spread throughout other schools in Malaysia. Sadly, education was one of the sectors that received cutbacks in last year’s budget.
And that’s pretty much it, love or hate Tun M, his tenure as Malaysia’s fourth and longest serving Prime Minister may have its fair share of controversies but you can’t deny that his vision set the country on a path of industralisation and modernisation.
So what do you think of the list? Leave your thoughts in the comments section