Singapore's Kuan Yew says Malaysia bleeding talent due to race policy

Reuters file pic of former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew
Reuters file pic of former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew

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PETALING JAYA, Aug 6 ― Malaysia’s acute brain drain problem is due to its government’s insistence on promoting “one race” above all others, former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew wrote in his latest book.

Malaysia experiences a severe talent flight issue with an estimated 5 per cent of skilled locals exiting the country on an annual basis, with the main beneficiary being Singapore.

A World Bank report from 2011 concluded that 20 per cent of Malaysian graduates opt to quit the country, again with Singapore cited as the preferred destinations. Worryingly for Malaysia, the report concluded that these migrants were being replaced by unskilled and uneducated foreigners.

"They are prepared to lose that talent in order to maintain the dominance of one race," read an excerpt of Lee’s book, “One Man’s View of the World”.

"This is putting the country at a disadvantage. It is voluntarily shrinking the talent pool needed to build the kind of society that makes use of talent from all races,” Lee continued in parts of the book reproduced by news portal The Malaysian Insider.

In a report last month, British newspaper The Guardian cited analysts as saying the cloud of the New Economic Policy (NEP) race-based affirmative action may stifle investment and hamper Malaysia’s quest for developed nation status come 2020 and drag the bottom 40 per cent of its population into high-income status.

Born from the communal dissatisfaction that climaxed during the May 13, 1969 race riots, the NEP was designed ostensibly to lift the poorer sections of the Bumiputera Malay group in a bid to help it catch up to the economic progress of other communities.

Although technically defunct since 1990, the application of the NEP remains very much alive albeit unofficially.

The NEP and other policies in its vein have been blamed for driving the country’s non-Malays to find an exit, with Singapore being the destination of choice for geographic and cultural reasons.

"The Chinese made up 35.6 per cent of the population in 1970. They were down to 24.6 per cent at the last census in 2010,” Lee wrote in his book

“Over that same period, the Indian numbers fell from 10.8 per cent to 7.3 per cent," he said.

While saying “40 per cent of our migrants are from Malaysia”, Lee said the group were now casting their sights farther afield, heading for Europe, America and Australia.

“Some have done very well for themselves, such as Penny Wong, Australia’s current finance minister.”

But perhaps most damning of Lee’s assessments was why some non-Malays who remain, do.

"Among those who have chosen to remain in Malaysia, some lack the means to leave and others are making a good living through business despite the discriminatory policies. Many in this latter class partner with Malays who have connections."

Lee stepped down as prime minister in 1990, handing power to Goh Chok Tong, but remaining influential as senior minister in Goh’s cabinet and subsequently as “minister mentor” when Lee Hsien Loong became prime minister in 2004.

The elder Lee resigned from his cabinet position in 2011 after his long-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) stumbled to its worst electoral showing since independence in 1965.

During his time, the 89-year-old Lee shared rocky ties with contemporary Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

In their previous books, “Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going” and “A Doctor in the House: The Memoirs of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad”, the two traded acerbic remarks about one another.

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