Malaysia, my only home?

(The Nut Graph) IN a July 2009 dialogue with Malaysian professionals and company representatives in Abu Dhabi, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak attributed Malaysia's chronic brain drain to uncompetitive wages for professionals. If he is correct, then so are scores of exasperated blogs and hackneyed news articles.

Nevertheless, his statement is deeply appreciated; a prime minister's words carry as much affirmation as they do executive clout. Najib's remarks were also in full agreement with decades of scholarship that prescribe a shift from labour-intensive to capital-intensive industries to help productivity keep pace with the rising gross domestic product or GDP here. As he pointed out, a base of intellectual talent is a prerequisite for the knowledge-based economy that we aspire to.

And if all of the above is correct, we have cause for hope. But after his economically grounded reasoning, Najib's follow-up comment — that we need to generate "buzz" about working in Malaysia — is perplexing.

Substance, not fluff

We don't want buzz. If nothing else, our education has taught us to seek substance — not fluff.

Buzz will only last so long when a young doctor returns home with a hefty education loan and is forced into a medical internship that pays a fraction of what she or he could earn elsewhere. Extending the internship to two years is unlikely to build excitement about working in Malaysia, notwithstanding the "strong footing" that the posting purportedly provides.

Buzz will not shelter a freshly graduated architect who finds himself or herself disqualified from both low-cost housing and the inflated real estate market.

Underlying Najib's suggestion is an understanding that the brain drain is not just about economics. This belief is absolutely true. The brain drain is also about how we are occasionally made to feel like pengkhianat (traitors), pendatang (immigrants) and penyebar budaya kuning (propagators of "western culture").

It is, however, definitely not about "buzz", and reversing the flow will require both sound economic policy and a demonstrated desire to welcome us home. We have pursued our education to be part of a symbiosis, not to serve as pawns.

Read more at: