Many Malaysians have voted with their feet, as they emigrated to greener pastures, citing affirmative action policies as hindrances to returning to their homeland, observes Martin Jalleh.
On 4 October 2010, PM Najib Razak expressed his concern that the exodus of local talent to developed countries has threatened his vision of transforming Malaysia into a high-income nation by 2020.
Below are some statistics gathered from various sources and highlighted in 2010 to show how serious the problem is:
- 785,000 Malaysians are working overseas. Unofficially, the figure is well over 1 million (or even 1.5 million) (Malaysian Employers Federation executive director, Shamsuddin Bardan).
- Of those who have left, nearly 40 per cent of them have settled in Singapore; 30 per cent in the Organisation for Economic Co-operationa and Development (OECD) countries such as Australia, USA, UK, Canada and New Zealand; 20 per cent in other Asean countries and 10 per cent in the rest of the world.
- An Australian immigration agency in Perth with offices in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor has reportedly said that the number of Malaysians enquiring about moving to Australia had spiked by 80 per cent since 2008.
- There were only 9,576 Malaysians living abroad in 1960. The number of migrants from Malaysia rose sharply to 1,489,168, a near 150-fold increase over the 45-year period (World Bank)!
- The number of Malaysians relocating to Singapore jumped from 120,104 in 1981 to 303,828 in 2000. The number of Malaysian migrants to Australia, meanwhile, went up to 92,337 in 2007.
- 140,000 left the country, probably for good, in 2007. Between March 2008 and August 2009, that figure more than doubled to 305,000 (a recent parliamentary report.)
- About 80 per cent of the country’s workforce have only secondary school education.
- Around 350,000 Malaysians, half of whom have tertiary education, are working abroad the National Economic Action Council (NEAC).
- The number of Malaysian researchers, scientists and engineers working overseas exceeds 20,000 with 40 per cent of them in the United States and 10 per cent in Australia.
- 304,358 Malaysians had migrated from March 2008 till August 2009 compared with 139,696 Malaysians in 2007.
- Around 7,000 plus research scientists, i.e., about 70 per cent of the total in Malaysia, working overseas.
Bird-brained over brain drain
In response to the disturbing diaspora scenario, the government announced in December 2010 the setting up of a “Talent Corporation” under the Tenth Malaysia Plan to attract and retain highly-skilled human capital. Operating under the PM’s Department, it would commence operations in January 2011.
Judging from the statements of the political elite in 2010 and their contradictions with one another, Talent Corp will probably turn out to be Talent Crap and will eventually meet a fate similar to past attempts.
Malaysians living abroad have often cited affirmative action policies as hindrances to returning to their homeland. In response, Najib said that affirmative action would be made “market-friendly, merit-based, transparent and needs-based” under the New Economic Model.
His deputy Muhyiddin Yassin insisted that the economic plan would protect the Malay agenda. Malay rights groups jumped on the Deputy PM’s bandwagon, Najib backtracked and called the policy a “trial balloon”!
In an article entitled “Treat returnees as real national assets” Khairy Jamaluddin wrote on the “need to offer enough opportunities and scholarships to our top performers all the way through to university and prepare a lucrative and rewarding career path for them so they end up contributing here rather than elsewhere”.
On 16 June 2010, Nazri Aziz was on a different wave-length: “Sending overseas students causes brain-drain where some of them won’t want to come back after studying there for a few years. If you keep sending students overseas, when are we going to improve our standards (locally)?”
He also believed that the money saved from the scrapping of the Public Service Department’s (PSD) overseas scholarships could be put to better use in “improving the facilities” of local universities. Two days earlier, Nazri had said the government “did not have the ‘capacity’ to finance the studies of the growing pool of bright students in the country”!
Commenting on Talent Corp on 24 July 2010, respected academician and retired politician Toh Kin Woon said that it may not succeed because the government has failed to tackle the real causes of the diaspora – “racial discrimination; the lack of an open, democratic space; and declining quality of our country’s education”.
Stripping the government bare of its hypocrisy, Toh said that the “haemorrhage of skills, knowledge and talents” was mainly due to the “continued resort to using race as a tool by power elites at the Federal Government ostensibly to help the Bumiputeras, but whose aim is in fact to nurture cronies. The victims of this race-based policy are the poor and middle class of all ethnic groups”.