BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — Enabling legal frameworks and inclusive policies are needed to realise digital transformation in Southeast Asia, Brunei’s Minister of Transport and Infocommunications (MTIC) said on Tuesday. 

The “right legislative framework” can help brick-and-mortar businesses transition to e-commerce and provide e-services, said YB Dato Seri Setia Abdul Mutalib POKSSDP Hj Mohammad Yusof.

The minister was speaking during a virtual panel discussion on digital transformation in ASEAN along with his Singapore counterpart, Communications and Information Minister Josephine Teo, at the inaugural Asia Tech x Singapore Summit.

Spanning across four days, the summit gathered governments, global companies and communities to discuss the role of technology in shaping a shared digital future.

Noting that ASEAN members states are at different stages of technology development, YB Dato Abd Mutalib said some Southeast Asian nations do not have data protection laws or are in the midst of drafting regulations.

Policymakers in the region can refer to guidelines such as APEC’s digital transformation framework, he added.

Brunei holds this year’s ASEAN chairmanship.

Fostering an inclusive digital transformation

In response to a question on ASEAN’s digital transformation plans, YB Dato Abd Mutalib said there are three aspects to consider — opportunities, technology neutrality and the role of policymakers and regulators.

He said policymakers and regulators need to devise mechanisms and adopt approaches that will strike a balance between technology’s impact on the economy, society and national security.

The minister said ASEAN nations should promote inclusivity in the regulation of the digital economy.

“The most fundamental aspect would be how to get people on board.

“Inclusivity means [involving] the underprivileged and [special needs individuals],” he added.

To bridge the digital divide within ASEAN member states, YB Dato Abd Mutalib said there is a need to ensure affordability and accessibility of IT infrastructure among people of ASEAN.

There are about 400 million internet users in Southeast Asia, accounting for 70 percent of the region’s population, according to a 2020 report by Google, Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings and business consultants Bain & Co.

An increase of 40 million online users last year has further spurred the growth of e-commerce, surging 63 percent amid the COVID-19 pandemic.