Friday, February 19, 2010

Malaysia's Brain Drain

Written by Mariam Mokhtar
Thursday, 18 February 2010 ImageIt's Not Just Politics and Racial Discrimination.

Malaysia's brain drain appears to be picking up speed. According to a recent parliamentary report, 140,000 left the country, probably for good, in 2007. Between March 2008 and August 2009, that figure more than doubled to 305,000 as talented people pulled up stakes, apparently disillusioned by rising crime, a tainted judiciary, human rights abuses, an outmoded education system and other concerns.

The general assumption is that Chinese and Indians form the majority of those abandoning the country of their birth because ethnic Malays consider them pendatang – aliens in a Malay land, regardless of how long they have been in the country. However, increasing numbers of Malays have already emigrated as well, or are seriously thinking it, dismayed by corrupt practices as well as the rigid confines of Islam and the rise of fundamentalism embodied in the revelation on Wednesday by Home Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein that three women had been caned in Kajang Prison in Selangor on Feb. 9 for having had illicit sex under shariah law.

In 2000, according to figures compiled in 2007, 40 percent of Malaysian emigrants headed for Singapore – at the same time Singaporeans are headed somewhere else. By one estimate, (Singaporeans Seek Asylum Elsewhere, Asia Sentinel, Jan. 7) the number who put the Lion City behind them is as high as 15 percent of annual births. In 2006, the Transport Minister, Raymond Lim, expressed concern that 53 percent of Singaporean teens would consider emigration. One website survey put Singapore's average outflow at 26.11 migrants per 1,000 citizens, the second highest in the world - next only to East Timor (51.07).

Of the other émigrés, 30 percent go to OECD countries (Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and Britain) 20 percent to Asian countries (Brunei, Philippines, Indonesia) and the rest of the world (10 percent). Malaysian Employers Federation executive director, Shamsuddin Bardan, said in an interview that 785,000 Malaysians are working overseas. Unofficially, the figure is well over 1 million.

Nor are people all that is leaving. Asia Sentinel reported on Jan.11 (Malaysia's Disastrous Capital Flight) that there has been an exodus of money from Malaysia on a scale which surpasses that which occurred during the Asian crisis. The decline is also reflected in a sudden decline in base money supply – even while, thanks to Bank Negara, broader M2 has continued to grow modestly.

A major problem is the flight of graduates. As early as 2004, former Premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was becoming concerned, pointing out that as many as many as 30,000 thought to be working in foreign countries, many of whom had held scholarships in top universities from the Malaysian government but chose to stay overseas at the end of their studies. Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad demanded that other countries pay Malaysia for having seduced them to stay, " since, by right, the graduates' training and knowledge should be called intellectual property."

The typical reasons are well-documented: improved employment and business prospects, higher salaries, better working environments, greater chances of promotion and a relatively superior quality of life.

Three Malay women put a personal face on statistics in conversation with Asia Sentinel, sharing their decisions to emigrate. Two are graduates of overseas universities, the third is from a local school. Their decisions to leave were made, they say, after a lot of soul searching. But for these women, money and economic incentives were not the end-all. Their names have been changed to protect them.Read more.

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