Malaysia

Najib kickstarts bid to reverse brain drain

October 04, 2010
Latest Update: October 04, 2010 09:38 pm

Najib said Malaysia was now going through an exciting time. — File picNajib said Malaysia was now going through an exciting time. — File pic

BRUSSELS, Oct 4 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced today that Malaysia’s Talent Corporation will be launched in January to arrest the country’s growing brain drain problem.

The exodus of local talent to more developed countries has threatened his vision of transforming Malaysia into a high-income nation by 2020.

“Previously, we waited for them to get back to us but this time we will seek them out,” Najib told reporters here on last night.

“We will find out what it takes for them to consider going back home, and at the same time create more business opportunities and pay them wages that are more aligned with global wages,” he said.

Companies have complained about the lack of skilled labour in Malaysia and economists have cited this problem as a hindrance in the country’s ability to attract more high-technology industries. About 80 per cent of the country’s workforce only has secondary school education.

About 700,000 Malaysians are currently living abroad, with half of them in Singapore, while the rest can be found mostly in Australia, Britain and the United States.

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.

Last night, Najib pointed out that numerous government initiatives had been successful in injecting optimism among Malaysians abroad who now saw the opportunities for them to return and contribute to the country’s development.

“They see a wider opportunity for them to play a role. I believe that if we can implement our programmes in the near future, their level of optimism will increase because they already like our new plans and strategies,” said the prime minister.

Previous government attempts to lure back Malaysian expatriates, such as the Brain Gain Malaysia and Returning Expert programmes, however, have had little success.

They have attracted fewer than 3,000 applicants despite offering financial incentives like importing cars tax-free and efforts to ease access to permanent residency for foreign spouses.

Yesterday, Najib cited effective and swift execution of the programmes as the key to draw back Malaysian expatriates.

“I think the icing on the cake will be how fast we can implement the various projects and business opportunities that have been identified; only then will we be able to attract the Malaysian diaspora to consider going back,” he said.

Many Malaysians living abroad, however, have reportedly cited racial tension and affirmative action policies among their concerns about returning to their homeland.

Although Najib has said that affirmative action would be made “market-friendly, merit-based, transparent and needs-based” under the New Economic Model, his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin recently stressed that the economic plan would protect the Malay agenda.

A sour reaction from Malay rights groups had also forced Najib to backtrack and call the policy a “trial balloon”.

Economist Terence Gomez was reported as saying that it was crucial for Malaysia to change affirmative action policies and become more of a meritocracy to bring back the diaspora.

Meanwhile, London School of Economics and Political Science economics professor Danny Quah had pointed out that brain drain has had a huge impact on Malaysia’s economic and industrial development for the past decade or longer.

Malaysia’s growth rate dropped to an average of 5.5 per cent a year from 2000 to 2008, from an average of about 9 per cent a year from 1991 to 1997.

The country is also facing uncertain economic prospects with average GDP growth in the next five years projected to be just shy of the six per cent target Najib had set.

Foreign direct investment plunged a record 81 per cent last year and the World Bank has warned that a lack of human capital is a “critical constraint in Malaysia’s ambition to become a high-income economy.”

The number of Malaysian migrants rose by more than 100-fold in a 45-year period, from 9,576 Malaysians in 1960 to 1,489,168 Malaysians in 2005, according to the World Bank.

Malaysian migrants with tertiary education living in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, numbered at 102,321 in the year 2000.

Deputy Foreign Minister Senator A. Kohilan Pillay said recently that 304,358 Malaysians had migrated from March 2008 till August 2009 compared with 139,696 Malaysians in 2007.