My wife Kim and I were feeling more than a little sad as it was to be our eight-year-old grand-daughter’s big day to show off to her grandparents and we couldn’t be there.
So I posted on my daughter’s wall: ‘Cry, my beloved country. All because of a corrupt and incompetent government.’
As a family, we are now an ocean and a few seas apart from one another. Our three grandchildren have not been back for five years now. As unwaged senior citizens, we can afford to visit them only once a year.
This year we had to change our plans to December to take advantage of a promo fare by AirAsia, not realising how much it meant to our little princess for us to be present at the Grandparents’ Day for her first musical performance. For us.
My daughter is an Australian-trained physiotherapist and her husband an American-trained accountant. Both had returned to work in Malaysia but subsequently decided to join the Malaysian diaspora just like many young professionals. This continuing brain drain has been haemorrhaging the economy to the brink of bankruptcy.
Even Malays are emigrating, not just the Chinese, Indians and just about anybody else, largely due to Umno’s sheer incompetence in running the country. Malay professionals have also gone to work in significant numbers just about anywhere in the developed economies: Melbourne, London, New York, Tokyo, and even next door in Singapore.
Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad (left), PKR’s Seri Setia state assemblyperson in Selangor, hit the nail on the head when he blogged recently, Apabila orang Melayu turut berhijrah … (When Malays migrate as well ...).
“The issue of non-Malays leaving Malaysia because they are disappointed with the government's economic policy has been repeatedly brought up.
But when there are Malays who are supposedly the main beneficiaries of the policy take steps to get out - this sends a really strong message to the government," he pointed out.
Nazmi, who is the country’s youngest lawmaker, related an incident where a young Malay banker would rather stay put in Singapore than to return to Malaysia.
The young professional had confided: “I am not interested in going home. They will not appreciate my skills, hard work and sweat that I have put into achieving this success. I’d rather stay here where people know I have worked hard to arrive at where I am today."
The most high-profile Malay brain to leave the country in recent years was Hassan Marican, when his contract as Petronas president and CEO was not renewed in early 2010 because of friction with Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.
He was widely credited with turning Petronas into the only other successful state-run oil corporation apart from Norway’s Statoil.
Hassan, then 58, had led the Petronas board in rejecting twice Najib’s nomination of his close confidante, Mohd Omar Mustapha Ong, as a non-executive director.
Among other things, Omar had reneged on his scholarship bond with Petronas. Najib (left) put his foot down and in came Omar.
Hassan was immediately offered appointments to the board of Singapore government-linked companies like SembCorp Industries Limited, SembCorp Marine Limited and Singapore Power Group.
In Malaysia, he sits on the board of Sarawak Energy Bhd and, in the US, on the board of oil and gas giant ConocoPhillips.
Hassan now sits on the boards of such sterling corporations not because he is a Malay but because he’s good. Too good for Malaysia.
Cry, my beloved country.
It is not as though the government does not know the extent of the rot. The World Bank in its economic monitor on Malaysia in April 2011 pointed out: ‘The migration of talent across borders touches the core of Malaysia’s aspiration to become a high-income nation. Malaysia needs talent, but talent seems to be leaving.
‘The Malaysian diaspora is large and expanding. Our conservative estimate puts the worldwide diaspora at one million people in 2010.
The brain drain is estimated at a third of the total diaspora. The actual number could be significantly larger. The diaspora has grown rapidly: it almost quadrupled over the last three decades.’
The World Bank report on Malaysia’s brain drain said the diaspora is geographically concentrated and ethnically skewed. Singapore alone absorbs 57 percent of the entire diaspora. Chinese Malaysians account for almost 90 percent of the diaspora in Singapore.
One out of 10 Malaysians with a tertiary degree migrated in 2000 to an OECD country - this is twice the world average and including Singapore would make this two out of 10, the report pointed out.
Don’t expect Malaysian brains to return home when public policies continue to be driven by the severely brain-damaged. Cry, my beloved country.
BOB TEOH is a retired business journalist.