Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Migratory Patterns: Structural Problems and Lack of Opportunities

Written by johnleemk on 5:44:28 am Mar 6, 2007.

A reader with the pseudonym of kittykat46 responded to my list of defining events in Malaysian politics with a sombre discourse on the shrinking opportunities for reforming our country:

The window of opportunity for reforming Malaysia's political system faces a serious threat from our economic situation. For a long time, Malaysia has had a relatively easy ride in this region. Oil exports provided a continuing cash supply. Our neighbours (except Singapore) were at a relatively lower of development, so we were able to attract better quality Foreign investment.

These two advantages are eroding fast. Petroleum production probably peaked last year, and will drop rapidly as there have been no significant new discoveries. Our neighbours are fast becoming very strong competititors for FDI. As the economic outlook gets tougher, economic growth will inevitably slow down. Racial positions will harden as the economic cake shrinks or stops growing.
The crony style NEP is likely to get deeper entrenched.

I'm actually quite pessimistic about the country's long term future. I was educated overseas, and have worked as an expatriate before. But I love this country and I don't plan to move my home anywhere else.

I've planned my finances to ensure my children can get a University education overseas, in all likelihood, my descendants may not live in Malaysia...

I too, have a similar conundrum with regard to migration. My parents have encouraged me to migrate, and many of my best friends are already no longer in this country. Quite a number more are planning to leave the country as soon as it is feasible.

Few, of course, are motivated by long-term structural socio-political problems. I am probably one of the few who realises that our continued prosperity will be doomed unless we can sort out our poor educational standards, our inadequate and opaque governance system, and of course diversify our economy.

The reliance on petroleum is really this country's Achilles heel. I plan to explain in a future article just how much almost everything that matters in the economy rides on petroleum, but for now, suffice it to say that about half (!) of the government budget comes from petroleum-related revenue sources.

But of course, most individuals don't see these problems. They just know that this country is treading water with iron pants, and they want to get on the next boat or plane out of the country.

I understand this sentiment, and it's one I can most definitely relate with. The real trouble, I think, can be boiled down to a single phrase: lack of opportunity.

After all, that's what I would describe as the strongest motivating factor for me to flee. For someone like me, there are very few opportunities to make a difference in this country. If I was the social activist type, hell yeah, there'd be a lot of things I could do, but I'm not.

If I wanted to apply my talents to contributing to society, it would be very difficult to do so here. The government has its tentacles in every sector of the economy, except possibly those controlled by foreign firms, and the government is far from a meritocratic institution. In many cases, surviving in the business world depends not on what you know, or even who you know, but what political party you join.

I haven't decided whether I want to migrate yet. But at the present, for both the structural reasons outlined and the lack of individual opportunities, I would have to say I'm very much leaning towards migration. It's indeed sad, because I do love this country — I don't love it for what it is, but I love it for what it could be and for all (albeit the quite little) it's given me.

But pragmatically speaking, there's not really much else that a reasonable person can do. That's why, as you say, the window of opportunity for turning this country's fate around is very narrow, and shrinking fast. If we cannot steer this country away from the rocky waters its course is presently charted for within one generation, it is a guaranteed thing that by the next generation, almost nobody of calibre will be left in the country. And that will be the day when the country will be forced to wake up and confront the quagmire it is in — but by then, it will be too late.

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