Friday, April 22, 2011

Malaysia's brain drain

Malaysia at economic crossroads as it fights the great brain drain Kuala Lumpur government announces new strategy to try and retain its brightest sons and daughters from emigrating

Dustin Roasa in Kuala Lumpur, Thursday 21 April 2011 18.47 BST

Sheng Cai Lim is a skilled and experienced IT professional, an asset to a country that aspires to grow into a fully developed nation by the end of the decade. There's only one problem. Lim, 29, isn't sure he wants to stay in Malaysia.

Lim says it's 50/50 that he'll leave. "I'll likely go to Singapore for a few years, and then after that maybe Canada or New Zealand," he said. He's on a six-month sabbatical from work and recently registered with head hunters who place candidates abroad. "My friends overseas wonder why I'm still in Malaysia. They say there are better opportunities abroad," he said.

If Lim does make the move, he'll join the 1.5m Malaysians, or 5.3% of the population, who live and work outside of the country, according to the World Bank. By moving to countries such as Singapore, Australia and the UK, these migrants are creating a considerable brain drain that threatens the country's economic progress.

"Brain drain is hurting the country's drive to move up the value chain," said Dr Ooi Kee Beng, senior fellow at the Institute of South-east Asian Studies in Singapore. "The fact that Malaysians fill many of the top and middle management posts in the region, from Shanghai to Singapore, tells us that the country is bleeding talent."

The problem has been getting worse in recent years. More than 300,000 Malaysians left the country between March 2008 and August 2009, compared to nearly 140,000 in 2007, the deputy foreign affairs minister, Tuan A Kohilan Pillay told parliament. Many work in key sectors such as finance, technology and engineering.

Two factors are driving the exodus, said Tony Pua, MP and member of the opposition committee on the ministry of higher education. "First, there's simple economics. You can make more money overseas," he said.

The other cause is the country's race-based affirmative action policies, Pua said, which favour ethnic-majority bumiputra, or sons of the soil, over minority Chinese and Indians, who make up 24% and 7% of the population, respectively.

"The two problems exacerbate each other. The economy has not been growing, and there's an increasing demand for a bigger piece of the pie among bumiputra. As a result, the government is more prone to implement policies that favour them, and minorities feel excluded. It's a vicious cycle," Pua said.

Malaysian law provides bumiputra benefits such as rebates on property prices, quotas for university enrolment and civil-service jobs, and preferential treatment for government contracts, among other advantages. The laws, which were enacted in 1971 in an attempt to redistribute wealth in the wake of race riots in 1969, distinguish Malaysia from other Asian countries with brain-drain problems, such as the Philippines.

In interviews with Malaysians living in Kuala Lumpur and overseas, frustration with these laws and worries about rising racial tension and Islamic conservatism have led many to reconsider their futures in their country of birth.

"Malaysia is a very controlled and fanatic country," said Janath Anantha Vass, 29, an ethnic Indian accountant in Kuala Lumpur who plans to move to Australia. "Melbourne suits my lifestyle the best, and I feel that's the place for me."

The Malaysian government is attempting to respond to the problem with an array of programmes, including 1Malaysia, a campaign designed to ease racial tensions. In January, Prime Minister Najib Razak launched the Talent Corporation, which seeks to lure back skilled Malaysians. But many are sceptical that these programmes will address the systemic problems driving brain drain.

"I'm not sure how effective Talent Corporation will be. Past programmes like this have not worked, and I'm not sure how this one is different," said Evelyn Wong, an ethnic Chinese economics student at Scripps College in California, who blogs about brain drain.

But Dr Kim Leng Yeah, an economist at Ram Holdings in Kuala Lumpur, said Talent Corporation did at least demonstrate the government's willingness to address the issue. "There has been a lot of public scepticism," he said. "But it is a proactive move." Representatives at Talent Corporation declined to comment.

As Lim, who is ethnic Chinese, considers his future, he has spent time thinking about his place in multicultural Malaysia. "I do realise that I am a minority in this country," he said. "My family is encouraging me to leave. They say, 'Malaysia doesn't want us anymore, so why stay?'"

And while he hasn't given up on eventually returning, he would have to see significant changes before doing so. "It doesn't feel like the country is mature enough to tackle its problems right now. When we are ready to face our problems, I'll be ready to come back," he said.


Anonymous said...

Yb, just give one good reason why we must remain in this bolih land headed by a clueless, useless PM!
Unless the government Change after next PRU!

VP said...

Im booked to leave for Perth on 25 Apr 2011.I've had my PR of Aus since 2007 and stayed back since.But it's just too much sh*t goin on in this country at the moment.I don't condone racism,thats why im kids must grow up in a truly racist free environment.Im willing to face the odd racism in Aust than languish in this hopeles situation.I intend to come back,even for a day to vote in the next GE.I owe this to my kids,fellow malaysians,family n friends. Au revoir Msia !

Anonymous said...

This is not a new problem. It existed over 40 years ago. The way I see it, the root of the problem lies in the Constitution, where distinction is made between fellow Malaysian citizens. One CAN NOT fix this problem without granting ALL Malaysians EQUAL citizenship. I know the present government will NEVER do that. But can the replacement government, I'm thinking of Pakatan Rakyat here, if Malaysian voters decided to wake up someday, guarantee that ALL Malaysians are equal ? I have my doubts judging from how the PKNS affair was handled. Frankly speaking, Talent Corp. is a waste of everybody's time. As you know, Malaysia can not compete against the developed countries, which happened to be the main destinations of the emigrants, in terms of professional development opportunities, as well as many other things that are equally important to those who left. The only thing left on the bargaining table is equal citizenship. I'm sure those who left already figured out that they are not getting it. So the conclusion is that Malaysia will not be getting back those who already left, including myself, and more are on their way out. It just stagnates and dies a slow death, that is the fate of Malaysia. In today's world, a country needs all the brains it can get to get ahead of competition and this is what we, those who left Malaysia, are lending to our new country. Citizenship is a two way street relationship, not a one way street, the way it is practiced in Malaysia.

charleskiwi said...

Umno wants you, in particular the Chinese, to stay just so to continue paying their income tax because 90% of the personnel taxes the government collects come from the Chinese.
Even though some of the Umno members call for the Chinese to return to China so that these callers will not have any competitions and also to keep pointing out their corruptions. Otherwise the quarter cooked civil servants will not have their salary paid when the black gold runs out soon. Worst still the country is running a deficit for years and is pretending to be developing with borrowed money just so they can continue to be corrupted until they join the rank of Greece, Ireland, Portugal and soon Spain. May be they can borrow some more from China, the Chinese has trillions in reserves ! So pathetic !

Anonymous said...

The main cause of this brain drain problem is bcos of different treatments between malay and non-malay. The govt is using religion to segregate the citizen mass in the sense that you are classified as a malay if you adopt the islam faith and practises and maybe they will consider accord the special privilege to you. They are scared that they(the malays)will lose their identity if they are not muslim,so the govt stipulated(whether it is a legal thing,I do not know)that all persons born of malay parentage are automatically muslim(which must adopt the islamic faith and practises).
So how to have real unity among Malaysians when you have other races being discriminated bcos of different religions.
One of the solutions to this is inter-marriages,but with the condition that there should no compulsory adoption of religion.Let the couple decide which religion they want to adopt or not at all and same goes to their children.
This way we will produce better breed of citizens and they can be more competitive and then the govt no need to have such thing like NEP or NEB or affirmative actions(for only one race)and we will really be Malaysians with one identity(ie Malaysia for all Malaysians).
Then the brain drain problem will be solved.

clear conscience said...

it is not just the other races who are leaving, just look at the bumis who are abroad...not many want to be back as well.

I think it is beyond what YB Tony Pua had is the opportunities that BUmis themselves are aslso deprived as only the elite Bumis have a chance

Unknown said...

A sad issue but isn't it too obvious that if root cause not solved, Malaysia will go under, from a heaven to hell.

I am thinking.... should I stay or should I go? I don't see hope for my children..... How many are out there like me?

Will GE 13 comes? Will GE 13 make the change for next generation and the next and the next?