Sunday, June 14, 2009

Worst-Run Telco in the Known Universe!

Every time there's a problem with my phone line or Streamyx connection, I find myself sucked into the Twilight Zone. That's what dealing with Telekom Malaysia feels like.

Kafkaesque is the word that immediately springs to mind whenever I have had any dealings with this dinosaur-like organization which is undoubtedly a top contender for Worst-Run Telephone Company in the Known Universe. On Thursday afternoon my Streamyx connection went down and now, more than 72 hours later and half-a-dozen time-wasting, blood-pressure-raising calls to the human robots at TM Customer Support, it mysteriously remains down. I've been forced to post this using my Jaring dial-up account.

Why should this be so? In the first place telecommunications is no longer a luxury - it's an essential part of our everyday lives - and therefore ought to be ranked together with public utilities like water and power supply as basic infrastructure necessary to the normal functioning of a nation. None of these vital services should ever be placed in the hands of uncrupulous profit-driven businessmen.

Instead the government would do well to declare water, power, telecommunications, education, housing, medical care and food production as essential community services that are every citizen's birthright. In effect, they must be managed as bona fide public services, not as opportunities for Umno cronies to make a huge killing. As things stand, the mounting anger and frustration the public feels towards Umno/BN is being projected against damnable monopolies like TM and TNB - and rightly so, as these monolithic (and embarrassingly monoethnic) organizations wouldn't survive 6 months without Umno protection.

Tenders for the operation and maintenance of these essential services can be opened up to private enterprise at a stipulated management fee paid for out of the public purse. The contract must be renewed every year and if the company is found to be underperforming and there are too many complaints, it will lose the contract. Quality control has to be absolutely stringent.

Management objectives have to be focused on delivering optimal service at minimal operational cost, without incurring financial loss. Profitability will not be a motivating factor as it is counterproductive and myopic to turn essential services into profit-driven enterprises.

Instead, those who wish to be in profit-driven businesses ought to become producers of wealth in the form of intellectual property and creative assets. In other words, the production of original artefacts - whether in the form of music, movies, artwork, software, or new inventions - will be the only legitimate means of earning unlimited profits and general applause.

Extracting unlimited profit from essential services invariably leads to massive inefficiency and results in our being forced to suffer substandard services, generation after generation. These are the unmistakable hallmarks of retarded economies - notwithstanding the grandiloquent architectural display of the purely superficial trappings of "success."

This is something I would like the new Pakatan Rakyat government to study in depth even before it takes over the reins of power from Umno/BN. Gigantic monopolies which began during the Mahathir era (like TNB, TM and Syabas) created through crony capitalism and unwholesome privatization must be dismantled and the field opened to new players with the wherewithal to deliver on promises.