Monday, May 08, 2006

Wide Consensus: Nationalism just ain't enough

Look's like there's a lot of people out there who agree with this previous posting. Here are some highlights from a recent Star report in response to Tok Pa's speech in the UK.

“The Government cannot just expect these people to be nationalistic and patriotic and return to Malaysia when the time comes,” said UK Executive Council for Malaysian Students chairman Wan Mohd Firdaus Wan Mohd Fuaad.

MCA Club Australia president Chan Wei Ming said verbal encouragement alone would not be enough to draw home those working overseas. “A simple speech on nationalism and patriotism without any positive action is akin to baiting sharks with worms,” he said. (ouch!)

I couldn't agree more with the comments above (though I might have phrased it differently). Appealing to one's nationalism is not sufficient. I hope that politicians will take note of these comments.

So what are some of the proposed remedies?

The UKEC chairman proposed that said government-linked companies including Khazanah Holdings and Danaharta and corporations like Tenaga Nasional could be more proactive. Although the report didn't elaborate on how these companies could be more pro-active, one could perhaps think of some suggestions including overseas recruitment drives and marketing campaigns.

For example, the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) carries out annual recruitment exercises in London, Oxford and Cambridge. They also do not restrict their employment searches to just Singaporeans (I interviewed with them).

But my sense is that there are probably enough qualified people in the private sector not to warrant overseas job searches. When Khazanah decided to 'modernize' itself, it had no problems employing many qualified candidates from the private sector. The Khazanah example also goes to show that it is possible to recruit people from higher paying jobs to do 'national service'. The payback is an exciting opportunity to generate decent rates of investment returns from our national assets. I'm sure that the few ex-colleagues of mine from BCG KL took a pay cut to join Khazanah. I'm also quite sure that they were 'sold' on the opportunities offered to them. (How long they will actually stay is another question but as long as a majority of them feel that they are doing exciting things, I think they will stay)

On the other hand, unless old giants like TNB or TELEKOM restructure the way they utilize their human resource, there's no reason why they should recruit overseas. They don't have a 'vision' to sell. As far as I know, there's no specifically tailored 'management trainee' program that rotates new hires with great potential through the different departments in TNB in a structured way. If overseas recruitment does take place, it has got to be in a context of overall corporate restructuring at these state owned giants. Imagine how easy THAT would be!

When we talk about recruiting people back from overseas, I think we have to make a distinction between occupational sectors, something that I mentioned here. We have to weigh investment bankers and doctors differently because their 'rate of return' to society are different. The recent Bank Negara Special Scholarship Awards which were awarded to three students intending to pursue a Medicine degree in the UK were given, bond free, with the sole condition being that the reciepients have to return to Malaysia. The fact that Bank Negara would sponsor students pursuing medicine (in addition to those who are pursuing PhDs in Economics, for example) tells us something about the costs and benefits of the medical profession.

We also have to distinguish between those who go on scholarships and those who go using their own money. MCA international affairs bureau chairman Datuk Lee Hwa Beng
said that government-sponsored students were bound by their scholarships to return and work in the country. “It is their responsibility to serve the country which financially supported them. And they should be prosecuted if they do not come back,” he said. While I don't agree that they should be prosecuted if they don't return, I do agree that they should at least be forced to pay back their JPA scholarships or loans at market rates of interest. And JPA should be far more vigilant in pursuing those who break their bonds. They could also force future JPA sponsorees to have a guarantor who would then pay back the loans if the sponsoree doesn't return to Malaysia.

So what have we found out thus far?

1) Appealing to nationalism alone is not enough
2) The government or GLCs have to do a better 'sell-job' to overseas graduates
3) The responsibility of public scholarship holders to come back is higher than that of non-scholarship holders
4) Different occupational sectors need to be weighed differently
5) The GLCs have to clean up their acts before they can attract overseas graduates to work for them (Petronas is probably the only exception in this regards)

Again, to paraphrase Patti Smyth and Don Henley, 'oftentimes, nationalism just ain't enough'. Politicians take note.


Anonymous said...

I'm not quite sure how the scholarship system works, but how much is a scholar who breaks the bond supposed to pay? Is it like S'pore where one is supposed to pay a ~10% interest of the total value of their scholarship + an admin fee which can range from a few thousand dollars to a 5 figure sum, in 1 single payment?

The scholars are using public funds, and should at least contribute at least a few years of their life to the country. I feel the first thing the govt needs to do is structure a graduate program in the various govt departments for these new scholars to come back & serve the country. Most of my friends who were JPA/MARA scholars return to M'sia to join the private sector instead of the govt b'cos the govt has no proper procedure/program to nurture these ppl to become our future leaders.

Anonymous said...

There was a letter in The Star yesterday (16 May) from a student who attended the dialogue in London. Seems like there's a different perspective of what actually transpired, and what was said. Still, this point about nationalism not being everything is still valid, of course.