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Make 50th Merdeka Anniversary really meaningful with government recognition that driving over a million talented, creative and enterprising Malaysians from our shores in the past four decades because of discriminatory policies one of our greatest nation-building failures and a national resolve to end the root causes of such continuing brain drain

Debate on the motion of Thank On The Royal Address (Part 1)       
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Dewan Rakyat, Wednesday) : I rise to express appreciation of the Yang di Pertuan Agong for his maiden Royal Address to the joint session of both Houses of Parliament yesterday. 

In keeping with the conventions of the Malaysian constitution and constitutional monarchy, the Royal Address is not the personal speech of the Yang di Pertuan Agong but the policy presentation of the government-of-the-day for the next 12 months � and this is illustrated by the formal presentation of the government policy speech by the Prime Minister  to the Yang di Pertuan Agong before the delivery of the Royal Address. 

This is why an amendment to the Motion of Thanks for the Royal Address � which is very common and frequent in other Commonwealth Parliaments whether in the United Kingdom, Australia or India - is not a personal slight or attack on the person or office of Yang di Pertuan Agong but a proposal of amendment to the government�s policy presentation contained in the Royal Address. 

This is also why two days have been set aside in the 10-day debate for Ministers in the winding-up stage to defend the different aspects of the government policy presentation contained in the Royal Address. 

As the Royal Address is the government�s policy speech for the coming year, it is most extraordinary for Cabinet Ministers to be indulging in self-praise and self-flattery in giving glowing tribute to the Royal Address after its delivery, as if Cabinet Ministers are ignorant about the constitutional convention of the Royal Address being the government policy presentation for the year.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak for instance commended  the Royal Address as �a comprehensive speech which reflects the aspiration and agenda of the government", the Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting said the Yang di-Pertuan Agong's speech is a reminder to everyone to continue to enhance to provide a more transparent public delivery system" while Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu said Yang di-Pertuan Agong's suggestion that the drainage and irrigation system be upgraded to prevent a recurrence of the monster floods in Johore reflected the government's aspiration in improving the standard of living of the rakyat.

I am not saying that the Royal Address cannot or should not be praised, but when Cabinet Ministers praised it, it is either self-praise or stems from ignorance of the Royal Address as the government�s annual policy presentation to Parliament.

I fully agree with the Royal Address that national unity is the most important issue for our country. Whether the country has succeeded in forging greater unity among the diverse races, languages, religions and cultures in Malaysia should in fact be the primary yardstick in the assessment of the success or failure of  half-a-century of nation-building and nationhood.

Fong Po Kuan, DAP MP for Batu Gajah, has a blog she named �Chamber of Thoughts� ( Her latest entry is a three-part blog, �My Friend, An American Now�. It is a heart-rending story in the continuing creation of a Malaysian diaspora which has happened to more than a million Malaysians in the past four decades � whether to uproot and migrate overseas and later to take up foreign citizenship.

Although human migration is a common phenomenon in human history and prehistory, the migration of over a million Malaysians in the past four decades was more because of push rather than pull-factors, with the country losing many of her best talents and human resources stunting and undermining Malaysia�s achievement of her full potential in national development and international competitiveness. 

Malaysia on her 50th anniversary would have been a more developed and more competitive nation if more than a million of the most talented, enterprising and resourceful Malaysians had not been driven away from our shores in the past four decades because of unfair discriminatory nation-building policies and measures by myopic politicians. 

After nearly four decades of such self-inflicted injuries, the heart-rending story which Po Kuan blogs should have come to an end with the abandonment of unfair discriminatory policies among Malaysians.   

But this is not the case. It would appear that the �Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish� reflex and mentality to the problem of emigration of Malaysians, though not publicly stated as in the seventies and eighties, is still quite prevalent today. 

There is not much that can be done about the pull-factors of human migration but a government which refuses to address the problem of the push factors, which are the result of the failures of just and good governance, cannot claim to be a good government. 

Po Kuan�s three-part blog should be a must reading for all MPs. Her blog, and my blog on Sunday which had drawn attention to the heart-rending account �My Friend, An American Now�, elicited many responses articulating the pain, agony and tribulation which had driven over a million talented, creative and enterprising Malaysians away from our shores only to benefit other countries. 

In the March 2004 general election, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi promised to lead a government which is prepared to hear the truth from the people. Parliament cannot do less to hear these genuine voices of Malaysians, for they represent not only the pain, agony and tribulation of over a million Malaysians who had been driven from our shores in the past four decades, but also tens of millions of Malaysians who had stayed behind.  

The first to comment on my blog was �carboncopy� who wrote:

My uncle left Malaysia in the 1960s. He graduated from MIT and did his PhD in Yale in Computer Science. I dare say, that was when Computer Science era was just starting.

He was a very patriotic man, a King�s Scout, graduated from Royal Military College. He came back to Malaysia after his PhD to serve his country. Looked for a job in University Malaya. They told him point blank, we have openings, but its only for bumiputera.

He left for greener pastures in United States. Have been a US citizen for a few decades now. He has contributed widely to the field of Computer Science and is still doing so.

He never forgave Malaysia for turning their backs to him. And I guess he never will.

The second comment, by firstMalaysian:

My son left the country to pursue his Bachelors degree in BioMedical Engineering and is currently doing his PhD in a foreign land, without any scholarship or any recognition from his own homeland. He was given every assistance and opportunity from a foreign university to pursue his PhD and he is in the midst of a breakthrough in his research. Certainly, a Malaysian born scientist in the making and his students and professors in the foreign land called him a Malaysian and he is proud to be one but whenever he steps down at KLIA, he felt the difference, he is a second class Malaysian. There is an identity crisis back home.

In the foreign land, he has helped many Malaysians irrespective of ethnic background to excel and he loved to see Malaysians excel, whether Chinese, Indians or Malays. He was Malaysian first in a foreign land but in Malaysia, it is ethnic origin first.

This brain drain will continue

Another comment:

Reports of ethnic-minority students with near-perfect STPM results not getting a place at the local university have become the norm, and yet objections are often ignored - the government claims that it is a fair game for all.

Personally, I had no choice but to go overseas to study and my parents had to spend their entire pension savings on financing my undergraduate degree in Australia. After graduation, most of my Malaysian classmates chose to either stay in Australia or work in Singapore, where equal opportunities and fair competitions give them better job prospects.

Before coming to the London I did my masters degree in Singapore, where I met many Chinese Malaysians in this situation. Most of us would like to return to Malaysia, but we know that research prospects for minorities are limited. No matter how talented we are, it seems we still have to travel outside our country to seek opportunities.

PWCheng wrote:

Well you and me knows all this and so is UMNO. From my experience with them and to those who has share the same experiences, they do not care two hoots about the non-Bumis migrating. In their mind as you and me know their myopic or shortsighted thinking is less non-Bumi the better and no non Bumi is the best, so that they can have everything for themselves. That is why they will keep on their discrimination policy which is getting worse as time goes by.

Their talk of national unity and some of the plans towards this are just a cover for them to tell the outside world that we are a model of a peaceful and progressive multi racial country. Unfortunately like America where at one time the blacks were discriminated legally there will be no unity as long as the non Bumis are discriminated legally.

For all these discrimination they had done, they had created a crater and they are trying to hoodwink the world by coming up with some silly plans or ideas which makes it looks like taking some tooth picks to close the crater.

Another posting:

My son was a straight A student, but when he applied for a scholarship, they didn�t even bother to reply. A foreign government gave him a scholarship and he went. Now I tell him not to come home because the unlevel playing field doesn�t look like it ever will be levelled.

Another posting:

remember martin luther king �s speech? � i had a dream�? Well we all have dreams and hopes for the future.. but unfortunately the chances of our growth in this nation is very much questionable and vague.. my sis who is a biotech graduate was previously excited because of the 8th malaysian plan.. biovalley by TDM.. whatever happen to that?? � apa jadi..?? Even if you guys google on that issue it brings u back to the date of 2003?? Ini manar boleh??? I was watching CNN and they were broadcasting the issue on India�s next generation, Vikram akula the founder and ceo of sks microfinance was one of the main speakers .. India being the next big thing.. What about Malaysia??
Which is why youngsters nowadays wanna leave this country ASAP... There is a proverb �Dont keep a dog and bark your self� we have so many intelligent, creative and innovative Malaysians, and yet some creatures insist on doing things their way... don blame the rakyat for brain drain then... Graduates... They want to be recognised in some way... they wanna succeed.. they want a job that reflects their education�and all the hardwork and sacrifices that they put into in getting the scroll.. should be appreciated .. FACT: the minorities are being discriminated.. we are still known as non-bumi,or pendatang..?? Precisely this is why the bird leaves the nest and migrates.. i�ve had friends who have personally told me that the only way they would ever bother to come back to MAlaysia is for weddings and funerals� as cynical as this might sound i don�t blame them.. i share their sentiments.. and that�s the FACT..

Richard Teo had this to say:

I dont see any hope for the B.N changing its policies in the near future.As long as MCA, MIC and Gerakan keep on propping this corrupt govt status quo will remain.And most likely B.N will just lose only a few seats. The rural malays although similarly marginalise will continue to support B.N because the latter will continue to play the race and religious card to win votes.Yes the future for all Malaysians are very dim, not only for the chinese and indians but also for the malays.At the moment the N.E.P only help the elite UMNO cronies and they are the sole beneficiaries of the NEP policy.

Po Kuan�s blog also evoked responses about real life trials and tribulations such as the posting by Taja Enjok:

1.    I know Mr. A for the past 9 years. He was a clerk and his wife is a general worker. They have 2 sons. It was around that time their eldest son failed to make it into any of the IPTA. His eldest son decided to join a private college for a twinning programme. Meanwhile he worked part-time to finance his studies. Then came the final year. Both father and son couldn�t save enough for the overseas fees and expenses. The father remembers what he learned during his school days.

Others give son chest full of gold.

I teach son only one classic.

Classic given a modern interpretation:

People give their children wealth.

I can only afford to give them education.

Mr. A went for optional retirement. This enabled him to obtain his gratuity and thus finance the eldest son�s final year. As he is still strong, he took up part-time job to support his younger son�s secondary education. Fortunately the younger son got a place in the IPTA. Otherwise it could have been his wife�s turn to make the sacrifice.

And this posting from K.S.Ong:

Malaysia�s loss is US�s gain. Not many people have the stamina to struggle against an entrenched system of discrimination. Yet, I believe there are growing number of people, especially young citizens of all races who are growing weary of our racially based political parties and the discrimination in the name of helping the majority race.

Weaker economically is highly debatable these days, depending on methodology used, yet supremacy is claimed, quite rightly when they are the only ones calling the shots.

Thanks to the internet, we have alternative sources of information which we can use to form our own opinions and decide on the future of our nation.

These Malaysian diaspora blogs led to another heart-rending tale in Lucia Lai�s blog,, from a Chinese Malaysian woman living in Washington, as follows:

I finished STPM with outstanding results from the prestigious St George�s Girls School in Penang. Did I get a university place from the Malaysian government? Nothing. With near perfect scores, I had nothing, while my malay friends were getting offers to go overseas.

Even those with 2As got into university. I was so depressed. I was my parents last hope for getting the family out of poverty and at 18, I thought I had failed my parents. Today, I understand it was the Malaysian government that had failed me and my family because of its discriminatory policies.

Fortunately, I did not give up and immediately did research at the Malaysian American Commission on Education Exchange (MACEE) to find a university in the US that would accept me and provide all the finances. My family and friends thought I was crazy, being the youngest of nine children of a very poor carpenter. Anything that required a fee was out of our reach.

Based on merit and my extracurricular activities of community service in secondary school, I received full tuition scholarship, work study, and grants to cover the four years at a highly competitive US university.

Often, I took 21 credits each semester, 15 credits each term while working 20 hours each week and maintaining a 3.5 CGPA. A couple of semesters, I also received division scholarships and worked as a TA (teaching assistant) on top of everything else.

For the work study, I worked as a custodian (yes, cleaning toilets), carpet layer, computer lab assistant, grounds keeping, librarian, painter, tour guide, etc. If you understand the US credit system, you will understand this is a heavy load.

Why did I do it? This is because I learnt as a young child from my parents that hard work is an opportunity, to give my best in everything, and to take pride in the work I do. I walked away with a double major and a minor with honours but most of all a great lesson in humility and a great respect for those who are forced to labour in so-called �blue collar� positions.

Those of you who think you know all about Australia, US, or the West, think again. Unless you have really lived in these countries, i.e. paid a mortgage, paid taxes, taken part in elections, you do not understand the level of commitment and hard work it takes to be successful in these countries, not just for immigrants but for people who have lived here for generations.

These people are where they are today because of hard work. (Of course, I am not saying everyone in the US is hardworking. There is always the lazy lot which lives off of someone else�s hard work. Fortunately, they are the minority.)

Every single person, anywhere, should have the opportunity to succeed if they want to put in the effort and be accountable for their own actions. In the end, they should be able to reap what they sow.

It is bearable that opportunities are limited depending on how well-off financially one�s family is but when higher education opportunities are race-based, like it is in Malaysia; it is downright cruel for those who see education as the only way out of poverty.

If you want to say discrimination is here in the US, yes, of course it is. Can you name a country where it doesn�t happen? But let me tell you one thing - if you go looking for it, you will find it. But in Malaysia, you don�t have to go look for it because it seeks you out, slaps you in your face every which way you turn, and is sanctioned by law!

Here in the US, my children have the same opportunity to go to school and learn just like their black, white, and immigrant friends. At school, they eat the same food, play the same games, are taught the same classes and when they are 18, they will still have the same opportunities.

Why would I want to bring my children back to Malaysia? So they can suffer the state-sanctioned discrimination as the non-malays have for over 30 years?

I have quoted extensively because the brain drain in the past four decades of over a million talented, creative and enterprising people � although there are those who would say it is double this figure � must be regarded as a national disaster and not just a personal or family tragedy. 

The world has moved into the knowledge economy where the foundation of a nation�s power are more likely to rest on brains rather than brawn, on the creativity, energy and talent of its people rather than on the size of its population and the extent of its territory. 

I submit that it is the brain drain of Malaysia�s precious human capital in the past four decades which had been the principal reason why the nation had failed to achieve the full potential of our excellent economic advantages and rich resource endowments at Independence. 

Malaysia achieved independence in 1957 at the same time as Ghana, when both countries were almost on par economically. Both countries are celebrating their golden jubilee of national independence this year, but Ghana is a failure in economic development, with its per capita income only about one-tenth that of Malaysia. 

Should Malaysia feel proud that we are now ten times better off than Ghana, as had been suggested by a Barisan Nasional MP in the last parliamentary meeting? 

This depends on whether we want to compare with the best or with the worst. There is no point in talking about� excellence, glory and distinction� if we are only proud to be compared with failed states and not prepared to compete with our equals. 

Malaysia was No. 2 in Asia after Japan in terms of prosperity and income when it achieved independence in 1957, despite having a per capita income of only US$200 per year. However, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore have caught up with us and gone ahead. 

Although during independence Malaysia led the other Asian nations, apart from Japan, in per capita GNP, it had started trailing behind Hong Kong and Singapore in the first decade of nationhood. This trailing behind multiplied many-fold after the launching of the New Economic Policy in 1970. 

Although Malaysia�s per capita GNP had started to trail behind Hong Kong and Singapore in the first decade after independence, we were still ahead of South Korea and Taiwan. Malaysia�s per capita GNP in 1967 stood at US$290 as compared to Taiwan�s US$250 and South Korea�s US$160.  

In 1967, Singapore�s per capita GNP was US$600 while Hong Kong US$620. 

In 38 years from 1967, Singapore and Hong Kong have  shot to register a 2005 per capita income  of US26,836 and RM25,493 respectively, South Korea to US$16,308 and  Taiwan US$15,203, as compared to Malaysia�s US$5,042.  

In the past four decades, South Korea�s per capita income multiplied about a hundred-fold, Taiwan by some 60-fold, Singapore by 45-fold, Hong Kong by some 40-fold with Malaysia lagging with an increase of only some 17 fold.  

The brain drain of over a million talented, creative and enterprising Malaysians in the past four decades must bear primary responsibility for Malaysia trailing so behind Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. 

I am not interested in any finger-pointing exercise. Let us own up to our mistakes and have the courage to correct them in the best interests of the nation and future generations. 

I am very concerned that in Paragraph 15 of the Royal Address, the government regards �excellence� as a goal to be achieved in 13 years� time in 2020, when it should have been a constant  and unbroken standard of both public and private service from Independence half-a-century ago. 

The most meaningful way for the nation to celebrate our 50th Merdeka Anniversary is for the government to end the denial complex and recognise that driving over a million talented, creative and enterprising Malaysians from our shores in the past four decades because of discriminatory policies is one of our greatest nation-building failures and  to summon a national resolve to end the root causes of such continuing brain drain. 

Let no one stand up to say that the over a million talented, creative and enterprising Malaysians who had been driven from our shores in the past four decades because of discriminatory policies are unpatriotic, disloyal and anti-national, for if such an argument is to be accepted, then those who had been responsible for the discriminatory policies which caused such a costly brain drain to the country would be even more unpatriotic, disloyal and anti-national. 

This brain drain problem must be given utmost importance and priority to stem a new exodus of emigration of Malaysian talents, both Malay and non-Malay.

I had warned immediately after the Umno general assemblies last November that a new exodus of emigration of Malaysian talents, both Malay and non-Malay, would be triggered by the rise of racial extremism and religious intolerance like the �fire and brimstone� Umno assemblies with keris-wielding and May 13 threats of bloodshed, amok and riots, with the biggest casualties being Malaysia�s global competitiveness, the success of the Visit Malaysia Year 2007 and the 50th Merdeka Day celebrations.

This was why immediately after the Umno general assemblies; I had introduced an emergency motion in Parliament on November 21, 2006 to debate the �fire and brimstone� Umno general assemblies, which I had described as �a most serious blot on Malaysian nation-building for over three decades� for three reasons:

  • undermining national unity and the Vision 2020 objective of achieving a Bangsa Malaysia;
  • undermining international competitiveness scaring away foreign investment; and
  • raising the question whether the 50th anniversary celebration for half-a-century of nationhood could be meaningful for all Malaysians.

Unfortunately, my motion was not allowed. My worst fears have now come to pass. There was a 2,000 per cent jump in inquries about emigration by Malaysians in the week of the �fire and brimstone� Umno general assemblies.

A migration agent in Kuala Lumpur had told the New Sunday Times that from an average of between 15 and 20 inquiries for migration a day, the phones have been �ringing non-stop� in the two weeks after the �fire-and brimstone� and �keris-wielding� Umno general assemblies last November.

For the week between Nov. 14 and Nov. 19 (the week of the �fire and brimstone� Umno general assemblies), there were about 6,500 enquiries for migration to Australia, 5,500 enquiries for New Zealand, 4,000 for Canada, about 3,500 enquiries for other countries, including Norway and Switzerland.

This works out to a total of 19,500 inquiries or 3,250 inquries a day for the six-day period � or some 2,000 per cent jump.

The callers were of all races � Malays, Indians, Chinese and others.

Malaysians would like to know whether the Cabinet had ever discussed this problem of brain drain and a new exodus of Malaysian talents emigrating abroad � and whether it has come up with any counter-strategy not only to stem any new brain drain to allay widespread concerns and fears about the nation and the future so that Malaysian talents will remain in the country but to reverse the earlier brain drain to help Malaysia achieve the transition to a knowledge-based economy.


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

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