Najib’s Email Gift

The Malaysian government’s proposed 1Malaysia email accounts are coming in for some heavy criticism.

Mong Palatino

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.

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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.