Incentives tailored to woo overseas Malaysians to return to the country are “discriminatory” toward locals, said a political analyst, adding that Malaysia should instead emulate characteristics of countries which attract foreign talents.
Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan said such policies will create another distinct class of Malaysians who get to enjoy special privileges that normal Malaysians who reside in the country would not.
“This is what the policies are doing. By giving preferential treatment including lower income taxes, you tell the rest of the country they don’t really matter.
“We will have different classes. The Bumiputera and those who return will get special privileges. And to me, this is unfair,” he said today at the public forum titled “Brain Drain: Who Gains? Who Sacrifices?” at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
A 2011 World Bank Report revealed that Malaysia was experiencing a huge brain drain compared with other countries, with almost a million of the country’s professional workforce reported to be working overseas.
The report said migration is caused by the imbalances of the New Economic Policy (NEP), with Indians and Chinese making up the highest numbers.
The World Bank warned that if the situation was not addressed as soon as possible, it would slow down the economy and halt the country’s development.
Following the report, Putrajaya set up TalentCorp and introduced programmes to lure Malaysian talents from overseas.
Numerous incentives were offered under TalentCorp’s Returning Expert Programme (REP), such as tax exemptions on cars the applicants would like to bring back to Malaysia, tax exemption of personal effects brought back, optional 15% tax rate on income for five consecutive years and PR status for spouses and children.
We need politicians to reclaim their brains first, step up their game and lead the way we talk. – Wan Saiful
Based on his own experiences, Wan Saiful who spent 16 years in the United Kingdom and returned to Malaysia in 2009 with his family under a similar programme, said incentives mostly do not matter much to those who had already made up their minds to come back.
“We cannot continue to use discriminatory methods to encourage people to come back. We should instead emulate the characteristics of countries that attract people to go and work there, there must be something right, they are open to talent and do not discriminate anyone.
“If the environment is right and welcoming with all the elements of meritocracy and freedom, we don’t need such incentives,” he said, in calling for Malaysia to emulate the characteristics of these foreign nations instead of coming up with temporary incentives.
Another issue for Malaysia to look into, said Wan Saiful, is the need to ensure an overall healthy political environment where discourse can be conducted freely.
In his message to politicians from both sides of the divide, he said they should not assume that the public only wants to hear about petty things.
Instead, politicians need to grow up, step up and talk about things that matter.
“We need politicians to reclaim their brains first, step up their game and lead the way we talk,” he said to laughter from the floor.
TalentCorp chief executive officer Johan Mahmood Merican said there is an effort to drive transformation at government level and many of those in the administration are committed to change.
“We want to move the economy to make Malaysia into a developed nation but to get there, we need to bring in the right talent and we need to use measures which Wan Saiful refers to as discriminatory.
“At the end of the day, we need to make tough measures to build up momentum,” he said.
He said its REP is to catalyse the return of Malaysians who do not necessarily want to be fully compensated with incentives.
“So some won’t come back no matter what, while some will,” he said.