The e-ASEAN Task Force was created by ASEAN in late 1999 to develop a broad and comprehensive action plan for an ASEAN e-space and to develop competencies within ASEAN to compete in the global information economy. In developing the action plan, the Task Force has been asked to examine the physical, legal, logistical, social and economic infrastructure needed to create the basis for ASEAN’s competitiveness in the 21st century.
The e-ASEAN Task Force is the only advisory body to ASEAN that is composed of representatives from the public and the private sector from ASEAN member countries. This is in recognition of the important, leading role that the private sector plays in developing the information economy in Southeast Asia. This arrangement also allows the private and public sectors to bring their respective comparative advantages together.
For instance, the development of a national information infrastructure is highly capital intensive and is best left to the private sector who can do these things more efficiently and effectively. Through the e-ASEAN Task Force, the governments of Southeast Asia are able to receive advise on the most appropriate enabling policy, legal, and regulatory environment for the development of said information infrastructure from those that will build it. This will ensure that policy is responsive to the needs of the market and that the private sector will have a favorable environment to operate in.
The most visible achievement of the e-ASEAN Task Force in terms of policy advise is the ASEAN Framework Agreement on Information and Communications Technology Products, Services and Investment. This agreement, which was signed by the ASEAN Heads of States/Governments, represents a landmark step in ASEAN efforts to create a coherent strategy for ICT development in the region. With provisions on connectivity and regional content; a seamless legal and regulatory environment; a common marketplace for ICT products and services; human development; and e-governance, the e-Agreement forms the basis for a coordinated approach to implementing the action plan for achieving e-ASEAN. The e-Agreement will serve two main purposes: first, to establish the political commitment to undertake the necessary steps to achieve the goals of e-ASEAN; and, second, to allow the horizontal treatment of cross-cutting issues and therefore facilitate a coordinated approach to addressing these issues given the many sectors and institutions concerned.
The e-ASEAN Task Force does not only give policy advise but is also committed to showing that the Information Revolution can make a difference in the daily lives for the people of Southeast Asia through Pilot Projects. These pilot projects are private sector activities aimed at demonstrating concretely the benefits of the Information Revolution to ordinary citizens.
Proponents of e-ASEAN Task Force Pilot Projects come various countries including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. They range from multinational corporations – like General Motors, IBM and Sun Microsystems; large ASEAN corporations – like Multimedia Development Corporation and SingTel; small and medium sized businesses – like Connect!, weThai.com, e-ASEANproperty.com; and educational institutions – like Thailand’s Assumption University, the National Library Board of Singapore.
Apart from the profit motive, the private sector gets involved in pilot projects as part of their corporate citizenship/responsibility programs; many private firms are also interested in becoming identified with IT promotion and be a key player in the New Economy in the region – they’re looking toward both short term positioning within the region a swell as longer term returns.
While it is composed of representatives from the public and the business sector, the e-ASEAN Task Force believes that civil society must be involved in the implementation of ICT initiatives in order to build ground level support and community ownership to guarantee efficacy and sustainability.
For example, under the Capacity Building & e-Society pilot projects is the ASEAN SchoolNet. The Task Force, through the ASEAN SchoolNet program, aims to link students, teachers, researchers and education administrators within ASEAN and connect them to their counterparts worldwide. Three components of the project are Connectivity, Training and Collaboration.
The private sector provides fund for the three components of the project. Government’s role is kind or cash assistance/provision in any or all of the SchoolNet components. In some instances, they can provide schools with computer laboratories that are connected to the Internet. The benefits of this project are clear: upgrading skills level of public school teachers as well as infocommunications infrastructure, which if taken as a purely government initiative would have taken much longer to come to fruition and would have cost the government some substantial capital outlay that the smaller countries and the newer ASEAN member countries may not have the budget for. Participants get the knowledge and skill to maximize the use of technology in education. The private sector benefits in the students and teachers are able to tap into the wealth of information and learning resources that are made available by new digital technology, to maximize the potential of these technologies for enhancing learning, that will adequately prepare ASESAN students for the digital workplace.