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Moving towards a cashless society
Published on: Monday, December 26, 2016

By Datuk Seri Madius Tangau
Today, Christians in Malaysia and around the world will be celebrating Christmas.

Christmas commemorates the birth of Christ and the principles He lived – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness and faith. These are also the values that bind us together as Malaysians. We embrace our diversity in ethnicity, language and faith, living together as one.

I am proud of our achievements since Merdeka. In science, technology and innovation especially, we have come a long way and made tremendous progress.

We had clear visions, laid out action plans, and still have much work to do in years ahead.

In terms of our science, technology and innovation (STI) governance, “OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy: Malaysia” has recommended for the country to implement a simplified and efficient architecture of governance, with the National Science Council, the highest science governing body in Malaysia, providing consistent mid- to long-term strategic direction and inter-government coordination.

Out of the 81 national policies that cut across 24 ministries, 56 are STI-related. It is not hard to comprehend why the Review proposed for a clear identification of the ministries or agencies in charge of implementing plans by the council.

This year the National Science Council has decided to formulate a Malaysia STI Master Plan. Looking beyond 2020 towards 2030, it serves to synergise all governmental policies that are STI-related for us to become of the world’s prominent scientific discoverer and technology producer.

But first, are we Malaysians embracing technology enough? The most current and relevant example is going cashless.

We are not only counting down to a new year but also to the start of Malaysia embracing a cashless ecosystem.

Starting 2017, the signature-based credit and debit card system would be replaced with a PIN (personal identification number) verification. Bank Negara stated that an estimated 39 million credit and debit cards in the country would be replaced by next month. Have you replaced yours?

This migration means that Malaysia would be joining the ranks of developed countries such Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where over 90 per cent of consumer payments are cashless, saving unnecessary cost incurred by using cash, such as its cost of printing and distribution, provision of cash services.

In the country, cash handling and services slap a RM 1.8bil bill a year to the banking industry. It is costly to our economy.

However according to the Association of Banks in Malaysia (ABM), as of October, only 8.4 million of the 17.8 million active debit cards, or less than 50 per cent, have been replaced so far.

The Malaysia Financial Sector Blueprint 2011-2020 aims to increase the number of electronic payments per capita from 44 in 2010 to 200 by 2020, saving us up to 1 per cent of the gross domestic product every year.

Bank Negara envisions Malaysia to move towards a cashless society by 2020. We should reset our mindset and realise that the shift towards PIN-enabled payment cards is also a step closer to mainstreaming mobile wallets.

China is also aggressively advancing towards a cashless society. About 50 per cent of their payments are now cashless and non-cash payments have been growing by 40 per cent a year.

In urban cities like Shanghai, Shenzhen and Beijing, it is fast, safe and even trendy to pay without physical notes.

Mobile payments are taking off in China.

They are reportedly the largest proportion of people in the world using their mobile phones to make payments.

Pre-paid cards and electronic wallets such as Wechat, Mi Wallet and Alipay are fashionable among the young ones.

“Computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning.” Amazon created a buzz around a revolutionised shopping experience early this month, naming this group of technological tools its “Just Walk Out” technology, where customers can walk into a store, pick up their shopping items, and do exactly what it says – just walk out!

All customers need to have is its designated app on their mobile phones, and upon leaving the store, their Amazon accounts would be charged accordingly.

Going cashless is just a preliminary step in closing the innovation gap in the retail industry.

We are witnessing the disappearance of jobs due to disruption by new technologies.

Here, artificial intelligence (AI)-based technology would eliminate the need for cashiers, as we would no longer have to queue at checkout lines. Moving on to 2017, we can look forward to the completion and next, the implementation of the National STEM Action Plan.

It is a set of strategies drawn up by the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Higher Education and Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

The Action Plan is set to complement the existing Malaysia Education Blueprint to ensure a quality and sufficient STEM workforce. One of our priorities is to upgrade science laboratories in primary and secondary schools.

In the Prime Minister’s 2017 Budget Speech, he announced that the government has allocated RM 570 million allocated to reconstruct 120 destitute schools, including 30 in Sabah.

From this allocation, 1,800 science laboratories around the country would be upgraded. Another immediate plan is to establish a STEM Learning Center in our existing Science Centers.

Inspired by the UK National STEM Learning Center in York, we want to provide our STEM teachers a sustainable lifelong professional development that is supported by the government, academia, industry and community.

One expeditious plan is a Malaysia-France primary school science teacher exchange programme, an outcome of Professor Yves Quere’s visit to Tuaran as part of the “Science Ambassadors” programme last month.

As told in my previous writings, Professor Quere is a French expert in Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE).

In collaboration with the Ministry of Education, selected Tuaran science teachers would attend LAMAP Assembly in Paris beginning next year.

LAMAP is a foundation set up by the French Academy of Sciences to improve the quality of science and technology teaching in primary and secondary schools in France. With these and other exciting plans in the pipeline, we would need to gear up, work together as one, to turn those plans into reality.

But first, we need to bring our mindsets a notch higher by truly embracing technology that could be applied even in our most mundane activities.

The difference between today and tomorrow, we can safely say, would be due to the rapid advancement of STI.

Lastly I hope you had a spiffing 2016, and may we all look forward to a stupendous 2017.

On behalf of my family and Mosti, I wish everyone Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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