KUALA LUMPUR: A former minister has spoken against the government’s penchant for getting involved in business, saying the focus should be on administering the country.
Citing the example of Malaysia’s 5G rollout, Johari Ghani said the government could have engaged telecommunications companies directly instead of setting up Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB), a special-purpose vehicle (SPV).
“In Thailand, when the government decided to implement 5G, it did not set up a 5G entity (SPV). As a result, their rollout was very fast and smooth,” said Johari, who was second finance minister from 2016-2018.
“We (Malaysia) set up a company to deal with the telcos (but) the telcos do not have confidence in the government entity,” Johari told FMT in an interview.
The Titiwangsa MP said this was why the progress of the rollout was only around 40%, as it had not received the proper buy-in from industry players.
DNB, owned by the Minister of Finance Incorporated (MoF Inc), is responsible for building and managing the 5G network and acts as the single wholesale provider of 5G services.
The government’s 5G rollout plan has been fraught with delays since it was first slated to take off at the end of 2021, with some network operators not wanting to purchase capacity in the initial stages due to pricing and transparency issues.
It has been reported that Maxis, the second-largest mobile phone company, with some 20 million subscribers, has yet to sign up for DNB’s 5G network.
In December, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim instructed a review of the 5G rollout. He said it was “not done in a transparent manner, with no proper tender process.” DNB has denied this claim.
Johari said that if the 5G rollout is unsuccessful, the government would not be able to recoup its investment of an estimated RM16.5 billion on 5G infrastructure for 80% coverage.
“But if you give it to the private sector, they know how to handle it, (then) we just need to make sure we control the mechanism to ensure it benefits the government and rakyat,” he said.
He said the government could earn an estimated RM5-6 billion in revenue from leasing out the spectrum to current network providers. “These network providers will then further invest in a demand-driven network rollout, which would not only be faster than DNB, but also reach communities and industries that need 5G first.”
He said the economic multiplier effects from the private sector deployment will also create more jobs.
“That should be the role of the government, instead of going into business. The government (should) focus on running the government and collecting taxes.”
“When the government starts to do business, that is where a lot of problems arise.”