One thing that seems to annoy Malaysians is the habit of new ministers making the same announcements as their predecessors each time a Cabinet is formed. One example is the promise to reduce the non-teaching workload of teachers.
This promise was made by all education ministers since 2004, namely Hishammuddin Hussein, Muhyiddin Yassin, Idris Jusoh, Maszlee Malik and Radzi Jidin. But teachers will tell you nothing much has changed in all these years.
Fadhlina Sidek, the education minister in the new unity government, also made the same promise as soon as she took over last month. The teachers are apparently not waiting with bated breath to have their non-teaching workload lifted any time soon.
A few days ago came another same old, same old, with the focus on TalentCorp, a body formed in 2011 to bring back Malaysian brains lost to foreign countries.
Human resources minister V Sivakumar said a new programme will be launched in the first quarter of the year to encourage Malaysians working overseas to return and strengthen the local labour force.
He said the new initiative, known as Malaysia@Heart (MyHeart), will be under TalentCorp’s Returning Expert Programme.
Last year, TalentCorp attracted only 5,774 Malaysians home, or 0.33% of the total number of those who emigrated, despite having spent RM500 million since 2011 – money that can be construed as having gone down the drain.
When M Saravanan took over as human resources minister in 2021, TalentCorp was also among his first announcements, saying the body had failed to achieve its objective, and promising to empower it to help bring back the brains.
If you ask me, the unity government which promised reforms will live up to its promises if it just disbands TalentCorp. This will save a lot of money.
Those who left Malaysia to work abroad, whether professionals or skilled or semi-skilled workers, earn many times more than what they can get here for the same work.
The favourable exchange rates may be a factor but recognition of talent and a fair bit of meritocracy also draws them away, not to mention the pull of big dollars.
TalentCorp should instead be refocused on ways to stem the brain drain and keep our talent at home. It’s almost impossible to bring home the thousands of Malaysians who have not only found a firm footing elsewhere but who have also achieved some form of recognition, let alone the huge salaries they earn.
Let’s not kid ourselves by believing that a mere change of slogan will create wonders. It is simply naïve, in fact stupid, to think so.
We need serious structural reforms to end institutionalised racism, euphemistically called positive discrimination, to show a semblance of fairness. No one is asking for absolute meritocracy here. However, no one possessing stellar qualifications and performance should be denied what they deserve in whatever they are doing or wish to do.
This is where Malaysia has failed to a great extent, making many Malaysians lose hope and look for greener pastures. The authorities must find ways to invest in home-grown talent and keep them at home to help the nation progress.
Reports of outstanding Malaysians making waves abroad are not isolated incidents any more. What about the thousands of others that we haven’t heard about? The Malaysian diaspora amounts to some 1.7 million people all over the world.
There has also been a reported rise in the number of Malaysians seeking more information from migration agencies, after recent political decisions.
The migration issue has been given a racial and religious twist, with the impression that it is mainly the non-Malays and non-Muslims who are migrating. However, the fact is some Malays too have left, or are thinking of leaving, for reasons best known to themselves.
This sudden surge could be related to the “green wave” at the recent general election, where PAS made some serious gains together with its Malay-based ally Bersatu after some race-baiting in their campaigns. It has reached a point where politics in Malaysia is now turning into a Malay versus non-Malay narrative.
Some fear that Malaysians will lose their basic right of choice if politics continues on its current trajectory. The ban on four-digit gambling outlets and alcohol controls in PAS-controlled Kedah is mainly meant for Muslims but many feel this is a start to the party’s open stand on making the country an Islamic state.
Honestly, to fear such a long-term outcome is definitely not a sign of Islamophobia. At current population growth rates, the proportion of non-Muslims among the general population will hit a real low in several decades to come.
In such a scenario, no one can be sure that the rights of the minority will be protected. I believe whoever is the minority in any society will naturally harbour such fears, especially for their future generations.
Under current circumstances, neither TalentCorp nor the government can assuage such fears without some real hard policies being put in place to keep our best talent home.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.