Inconsistent policy practice will cost us talent

  • Malaysia needs skilled foreigners to plug gaps
  • Blanket bans will discourage foreign talent

Inconsistent policy practice will cost us talentTHE technology industry in Malaysia has benefited much from the influx of investments made by both multinationals and local companies into the local tech ecosystem in the past decade.

Part of the catalyst behind this vibrant development is the establishment of the Multimedia Super Corridor Malaysia (MSC Malaysia) some 17 years ago, with promises embedded into what is known as the MSC Bill of Guarantees.

Point two in the BOG states that MSC-status companies are allowed “unrestricted employment of local and foreign knowledge workers”, a policy that has served the country well in the past decade.

As a result of this, and the other points embedded in the BOG, there has been an increase in the number of knowledge-based foreign workers in the country, some of whom have successfully transferred their knowledge and know-how to local workers and the economy.

But despite the progress made thus far, Malaysia is still not able to fully stand alone in the technical arena like other more developed countries, and still faces gaps in various tech-based sectors of the industry.

Thus, the country will still have to depend on foreign skilled workers coming into Malaysia, as well as some Malaysian talents who have since come back, to advance it into a fully developed status in the years to come.

So it’s with trepidation that I note the developments that took place last week, in which a foreign ballet troupe was allegedly barred from coming into the country ostensibly because its performers would be wearing “indecent attire”.

This attire includes traditional tutus and other related dance costumes that may be deemed too sexy for those who would be in attendance during the planned shows.

There has been a lot reported in the online media about this issue with regards the back and forth between the organisers of the ballet and those in charge of approving the permits to the show.

Also accompanying such reports were substantial detractions decrying the authorities’ actions, expressed vibrantly on social media. But if one were to separate the emotional reactions and look behind the real issues, one would find larger worrying trends impacting the country as a result of this brouhaha.

For me, it’s about how such moves will impact potential tech talent coming into the country.

Given the fact that the country is still dependent on foreign and our own Malaysian talents that are based abroad, our ministers, policy makers and civil servants would do well not to send mixed messages in the things that they do, or in this case, didn’t do.

Besides having a competitive remuneration scheme to attract highly skilled labour to the country, which includes both foreigners and locals working abroad, talents who come to Malaysia use a holistic evaluation of the situation in Malaysia when deciding whether to make Malaysia a home for them or not, temporarily or otherwise.

They will judge for themselves whether Malaysia has an environment and ecosystem that are conducive enough to support their stay here. By ecosystem, I mean non-monetary issues ranging from anything to do with quality housing, cultural diversity, permissiveness and tolerance in society, quality education for children, and environmental safety, just to name a few.

If it is indeed proven to be true that the Singapore Dance Theatre was denied entry because of their “indecent” costumes and tutus, and not because of a mix-up in approval permits as alleged by the authorities, then the banning of an age-old accepted cultural performance like the ballet goes smack up against the practice of cultural diversity, permissiveness and tolerance in society.

These inconsistencies should not, and cannot be the order of the day. Why?

Because on the one hand, you have ideals as espoused by the BOG, which seeks to encourage talents to come into the country; while on the other hand, we have situations where performances such as the ballet — an age-old accepted part of the artistic world, fit even for children to watch — being banned.

Fact is, the talents coming into our country, be they foreigners or locals coming back, are humans, not robots. They have experienced the beauty of the arts, such as the ballet whilst overseas where they have been brought up or where they have spent many years of their lives.

As they settle here, they too will look for similar holistic experiences that would enrich their lives outside of just the hardcore cash rewards of their jobs. And going to the ballet is but one of the many activities that these people would like to experience as part and parcel of their everyday lives.

By banning the ballet, the authorities are not only sending a wrong message to foreign talents, and by extension our own Malaysian talents abroad, but will also handicap our country in the long run because such moves only turn people off, and make them think twice about making Malaysia their home.

And given that Malaysia is suffering from an ongoing brain drain, this kind of action is something the country can ill afford, especially in an increasingly competitive, globalised and tech-driven world.

Malaysian ministers, policymakers and not forgetting the civil machinery that runs the country must stop being so myopic in their worldviews and acting unilaterally like a law unto themselves, but instead embrace a more open approach to issues like this — for the sake of Malaysia.

If not, you can bet that skilled talent — including those in the tech industry — will give our country a miss in favour of those that have a better all-round remuneration scheme as well as a more holistic lifestyle ecosystem.

This article appeared previously in The Malaysian Insider

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