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Towards an Optimal Governance System for STI

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Tan Sri Prof. Omar Abdul Rahman FIAS

There is a lively renewed discussion among the scientific community in Malaysia for the establishment of a Parliamentary Select or Standing Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI). The idea is not new, of course. We have been discussing this at Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) and other fora for a good many years now. Lengthy discussions took place during recent ASM’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Committee (STIPAC) meetings. I have myself been arguing for such a Committee as part of the wider public debate on STI issues and their impact on the socio-economic fabric of Malaysia. The existence of such a parliamentary committee will add to our capacity to provide STI advice. But ‘capacity to provide advice’ is only one component of an effective or optimal governance system for STI  that is badly needed in Malaysia. This capacity must be matched with a ‘capacity to receive and act on good advice’. This is the second  component of the optimal STI governance system. 

There is a lively renewed discussion among the scientific community in Malaysia for the establishment of a Parliamentary Select or Standing Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI). The idea is not new, of course. We have been discussing this at Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) and other fora for a good many years now. Lengthy discussions took place during recent ASM’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Committee (STIPAC) meetings. I have myself been arguing for such a Committee as part of the wider public debate on STI issues and their impact on the socio-economic fabric of Malaysia. The existence of such a parliamentary committee will add to our capacity to provide STI advice. But ‘capacity to provide advice’ is only one component of an effective or optimal governance system for STI  that is badly needed in Malaysia. This capacity must be matched with a ‘capacity to receive and act on good advice’. This is the second  component of the optimal STI governance system. 

The third component comes in two parts:  ‘capacity to determine a national STI agenda and priorities’ necessary to achieve the national SET objectives (STI for Policy), and ‘authority and means to strengthen STI capacity in the areas of priorities’ (Policy for STI). 

So while we have some elements of the first, ‘capacity to provide advice’, which can be strengthened by a parliamentary committee and a robust public debate, the other two capacities are sadly lacking. This is the reason why we have not made much progress. 

Now that the government is considering the revival of the National Economic Action Council (NEAC) we must  vigorously push for the establishment of a National STI Action Council (NSAC) which will have the mandate to determine the National STI Agenda and the National STI Priorities to achieve the goals of the SET programmes. The NASC must have the mandate to assign the implementation of the priorities to the various ministries and agencies and collaborating private sectors, to secure and allocate resources and have implementation and evaluation oversight. 

To do all the the above the NSAC must be supported by a competent dedicated full time secretariat as a central agency directly under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office. 

Our previous STI councils were advisory, and with a rudimentary token secretariat, were ineffective in receiving and acting on good advice. The much touted Science To Action, for example, became an embarrassing science to inaction. 

The  NSAC will then be the apex of our STI governance system. 

The national STI agenda and STI Priorities will be developed the meet short term and long term objectives 

The short term priorities will be in response to urgent emergent needs. The Mid-Term Review, which was presented to the nation many months ago, is an example. In an efficient governance system, a portfolio of STI priorities will have been identified as being necessary to effect the desired results of the Review; strategies and action plans would by now be in place. Sadly we are not aware of any such. 

The long term priorities would be in support of the long term SET objectives which can be for a Harmonious, Prosperous, Progressive and Sustainable Malaysia, in the absence of a new declaration. 

Sustained harmony requires that citizens’ basic needs are met, their quality of life improving, they are gainfully employed(function of a robust economy ) and there is good governance and a responsible government, over and above national integration, cohesion and unity. The four groups of Critical Technologies are required for sustained harmony, namely technologies for Basic Needs, for Quality of Life, for Economic Growth and for Good Governance and Responsible Government.

Prosperity comes from ‘innovation driven, private sector led economy’. Without STI this  will be a pipe dream.

Being Progressive is to be future aware and future ready; to be able to spot signals in new and emerging economic,   technology, business management and lifestyle trends. 

Being sustainable is about sustainability awareness, sustainable practices and migration to green economy. 

There is a wide ranging STI requirements in all of the above; prioritisation therefore becomes necessary, hence the urgency for the establishment of the NSAC. 

The priorities become the context that all the STI advice apparatus in the public sector (eg ASM, MIGHT), the private sector, in Parliament (when such exists) and from civil society organisations and special interest groups can focus on. The NSAC will be the focal point to receive, evaluate and act on good advice. The equation is then complete.  

I suggest ASM presents our case to the PM to emphasise the urgent requirement for an efficient STI governance system, to establish the NSAC alongside the new NEAC, to provide the crucial STI  inputs to making a Harmonious, Prosperous, Progressive and Sustainable Malaysia. 

What  would be the role of ASM if a new STI landscape emerges? This is subject for vigorous discussions and deep soul searching. Under its present mandate, I believe ASM should be a major source of STI information and advice, a catalyst for a robust public debate on STI and related matters and the creation of a society at ease with science and technology. It must also work to encourage the private sector’s commitment to STI and increased investment in R&D. To effect all the above, ASM must strengthen its capacity in ACCA : creating Awareness and Comprehension on STI issues impacting national SET agenda, and nudging government and relevant organisations for Commitment and Action. There must be an addition to ACCA, an E – ‘evaluation’ to ensure effective implementation. 

Omar Abdul Rahman

tansriomar@gmail.com