The Malaysian Insider
10 January 2016
Malaysia’s brain drain problem is far from a new one and, to be fair, is not exclusive to our country.
However, the rise in the number of highly-skilled Malaysians moving abroad to work or live is especially troubling for a country that is hoping to become a developed, high-income nation in less than five years.
The most recent World Bank report states that more than 300,000 Malaysians moved overseas in 2013 alone, joining the millions who are now spread across the globe.
The number of skilled Malaysians living abroad is estimated to have risen 300% over the last two decades, and roughly 20% of them are tertiary-educated.
While statistics for 2014 to 2015 have yet to be released, it is clear that Malaysia’s brain drain problem has not improved and if frustrations on social media and the internet is any indication of public sentiment, it may even intensify.
To explain the chronic brain drain and the country’s dismal economic and political outlook, our government has often pointed to the problem of a trust deficit, a term to explain a situation where public perception does not reflect reality.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Paul Low and Pemandu CEO Datuk Seri Idris Jala have both been famously quoted as blaming this trust deficit for the general perception that the country’s economy, governance and politics is in a deplorable state.
The reality, they claim, is that the crime rate has dropped, our economic fundamentals are strong and corruption and transparency is being checked. They also claim that Malaysians are not appreciating these gains because there is a lack of trust in the reports and statistic that are released.
In the bigger picture, this speculative view overtakes fundamental values and snowballs into what appears to be a badly-performing economy and a troubled government.
But these leaders fail to openly address the reasons for this trust deficit. Why is it that announcements of a drop in crime rate, a clampdown on corruption or a rise in economic expansion, are usually met with ridicule and disbelief?
When we don’t feel safer on the streets, when the common man needs to work two or three jobs to feed his family, when racist leaders continue to enjoy impunity and when minority groups are increasingly being pushed to a corner, is it a cynical public that is to be blamed, or a government that has failed to convince its people?
Many emigration-haters put down the outflow of Malaysians to a lack of love and loyalty to the country, and there is often a hint of resentment towards those who seek greener pastures abroad.
“Serve your own country”, “This is where your talent and your vote is most needed” and “If all the capable ones move, we’ll be in deeper trouble” are just some of the usual arguments for staying back in Malaysia.
These are all valid points, and is surely some of the noble reasons why many Malaysians who have the means and opportunity to leave, have chosen to stay.
But for most Malaysians who have emigrated, their decision has less to do with a lack of loyalty than it is a lack of acceptance for the irresponsible governance, political hijacking of the education system and creeping Islamisation in society, among others.
The journey of leaving your home and all that is familiar to you is never an easy one, and not all of the hundreds of thousands of Malaysians who have left and those who are planning on leaving, do so gleefully.
Many Malaysians thinking about emigrating are, in fact, looking for signs to stay. They are looking for a strong leadership that shows real political will to bring about reforms in the government.
For these Malaysians, simply putting the blame of the country’s declining fortunes on a trust deficit is far from enough to convince them that Malaysia is conducive to build a secure future or to raise a child.
The responsibility to assure the public and the world that Malaysia is truly on its way to political reform and economic recovery lies in the hands of the government.
And until the government addresses the real issues and reasons our people are leaving, no amount of tax exemptions, incentives or good PR will stop Malaysians from leaving, or bring them home. – January 10, 2016.