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Tapping the Malaysian Diaspora and engineering a successful reverse brain-drain policy one of the greatest challenges of Ninth Malaysia Plan



Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang  

Parliament, Friday): Last week, Works Minister and MIC President Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu led a 250-strong delegation to the Pravasi Bharatiya  Diwas (BPD-2006) in Hyderabad,  the fourth annual jamboree of the Indian diaspora organized by the Indian Government to rope in the expertise, money and experience of the 20  million Indians abroad (or non-resident Indians).

In launching the BPD-2006, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced several important initiatives including the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) scheme, which grants life-long multiple-entry visas and  exemption from registration with local police, which creates considerable harassment, for any length of stay in India. Other measures are easy-to-use integrated electronic facility to remit money, a liberalized insurance scheme and a diaspora network by which users and providers of knowledge could discover one another  and work together.

According to a recent World Bank study on migration and remittances, officially recorded remittances worldwide exceeded US$232 billion in 2005, with India receiving almost 10% of the amount (US$21.7 billion). China came second with US$21.3 billion, followed by Mexico, France and the Philippines. Non-resident Indian (NRI) remittances are nearly four times foreign direct investment (FDI) in India, estimated at about US$5 billion last year.

The role of India’s diaspora has been critical to the country’s development. Nineteen of the top 20 Indian software businesses were founded by or are managed by professionals from the Indian diaspora.  The industry relies for new ideas, new technologies and new markets on diaspora-led professional organizations in India and abroad, and diaspora-led subsidiaries in key markets such as the United States.

Malaysia should take a leaf from India, South Korea and other countries which have been able to tap successfully into their diasporas and in particular, to effect  a reverse brain drain.

Tapping the Malaysian Diaspora and engineering a successful reverse brain-drain policy  is one of the greatest challenges of the Ninth Malaysia Plan – an area which the Eighth Malaysia Plan 2001-2005 had failed.

The government had announced an ambitious "reverse brain drain project" under the Eighth Malaysia Plan, especially in the key fields of information and communications technology, science and technology, manufacturing industries, finance and medicine, to propel Malaysia to transform itself into a K-economy and Information Society through a two-prong strategy, viz:

·     An annual "brain gain" of 5,000 "extraordinary world citizens of extraordinary talent" to "lure the best brains regardless of race and nationality, from Bangalore to California".

·     Encourage 500 skilled Malaysians overseas every year to return home with their expertise, starting with the 2001 Budget in October 2000 giving incentives of quick approval of permanent resident status for foreign spouses within six months, two-year income tax exemption for income remitted to Malaysia and tax exemption for all personal effects brought into Malaysia, including two motor cars.

The government has however very little to show for the "Reverse Brain Drain" programme in the past five  years, whether to attract the 5,000 of the world's "men and women of extraordinary talent" to come to Malaysia every year or to annually repatriate 500 successful Malaysian professionals who have made the grade internationally.

The Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr. Fong Chan Onn had publicly admitted that the “reverse brain drain” project under the Fifth Malaysia Plan had been a dismal failure.

In the seventies and eighties, when the country was first confronted with the crisis of brain drain with the  mass emigration of professionals because of alienation and disaffection over unfair and unjust nation-building policies, the attitude of top government leaders was one of “Good riddance to bad rubbish”.

Today, more and more countries are rising up to the challenge of using  their diasporas to contribute to national development by turning the “brain drain” into a “brain gain”,  with innovative measures including recognizing dual citizenship to allow their internationally mobile nationals to take advantage of opportunities overseas while maintaining their links with their homeland so that they could bring back to their communities their valuable expertise and knowledge.

Is Malaysia prepared for a paradigm shift in the Ninth Malaysia Plan to face up to the challenges of information and communications technology, liberalization and globalization such as dismantling policies and mindsets which have paralysed the “reverse brain drain” programme under the Eight Malaysia Plan so as to successfully tap into the resources of the Malaysian diaspora in the Ninth Malaysia Plan?


*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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