Today my tenant is going to move out of my condo in Wangsa Maju. Like thousands of other Malaysians, she lost her job as a results of company "restructuring". What I really sad is not the fact that I am going to lose a tenant thus reducing my income but the fact that she is a middle aged single mother with two children with no family members to help and now, no job. I won't get into the details of her past as it is not the focus of this post. There are two issues I'd like to discuss here: 1) Can our country provide for it's citizens 2) the exodus of professional Malaysians. to me, both are inter-related.

As a follow up to her text message I went to discuss her predicament and she told me that she is thinking of moving to the UK, a country to which she has PR status. I asked why, and in short these were the answers:

1) She can not easily find a job in Malaysia for her skill set and experience and whilst looking for a job temping jobs in Malaysia can not sustain her and her kids.

2) Schooling in the UK is free. Her children only speak English and international school would be expensive.

I can sum up these two reasons into one life is better over there in other words in her case, "the grass is greener on the other side".

I think her predicament highlights how Malaysia is still very much a low income developing country. The vacancies for highly skilled labour in Malaysia is actually not as many as the number of skilled workers in Malaysia and if there are vacancies, the pay is not comparable with other countries. As demonstrated in the case of my tenant, the modern workforce is more mobile and are willing to move to greener pastures to find a better life. Malaysia's dreams of developed nation status will remain a dream if we cannot even retain our own skilled workforce. Governments invest in education and it's a shame that this investment cannot pay it's dividends, instead it is benefiting other country's economies. And it is not just in the pay department we are talking about here. It is the overall quality of life which has eroded here in Malaysia. How many Malaysians can afford a brand new car without having to sign off to 7-9 years of debt? How many times the annual salary of an average worker is the cost of owning property in the Klang Valley? What kind of benefits are we getting for the tax money we are paying to the government? How good is the education system in ensuring the future of our children? All this affect the quality of life one expects out of a living and in this age of globalisation and information technology. If this country can't offer this, then some people have no problems finding better pastures abroad. I know so many friends working abroad after graduating. I'm sure you guys know a few too.

Another point I'd like to make is the about the social safety net in Malaysia. Welfare in Malaysia is not the best there is. And it's understandable, we are not an industrialised nation. To become one though, we need to work on poverty eradication and enlarging the safety net for the unemployed and underprivileged. But we must be careful not to turn into a "welfare state" whereby there suddenly is a new social class of citizen: the "professionally unemployed 7 homeless". These people life off state hand outs and are uninterested to work so long as the government can give them free hand outs. But that's an extreme case. In the case of my tenant, for her free schooling for her children plus perks like job seeker's allowance and other child support benefits such as free milk among others help soften the blow of being made redundant. In Malaysia, if you have children and am not working and do not have family of friends you are basically "Royally Screwed". Who can you go to for support? Maybe there are places that I do not know of but it seems that help is not as easily obtained as in developed countries. Furthermore, the enforcement of minimum wages in these countries ensure that even with the most menial of jobs, one is ensured a certain standard of living. Of course some one has to be paying for this kind of social safety net and it is normally the tax payers. Tax in developed countries is alot higher. This however means that the taxpayer is more concerned with how the government is using their money and therefore government accountability is given higher weightage during any election campaign where people vote more on the issues a party or candidate represents rather than political gimmick of personalities. This is good. Also, despite the high tax because of free market and minimal government participation in the economy prices of goods are representative of their market value thus coupled with a higher income results in a higher disposable income and purchasing power for the citizens or residence.

So, as you can see we have a long way to go in terms of quality of life to becoming a developed country. We are not talking about increasing our GDP per capita as what Najib has been suggesting yet. Higher wages in a time when people are losing jobs doesn't bode very well indeed. I can't help but ask myself what I would do if I were to lose my job? What would you do?

further reading: (may require Malaysiakini membership)
M'sian talent in high demand overseas

'Why I left Malaysia' - emigrants tell their tale