KUALA LUMPUR, July 5:

It is more important for Malaysians to feel affection for their own country for them to return from overseas as most will not come back simply for incentives, according to Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) chief executive officer Wan Saiful Wan Jan.

“They must love the country. But before a country can be loved, it has to be lovable.”

He pointed out that the majority of emigrants were non-Bumiputras, a statistic which should speak for itself.

“If the environment is right, I don’t think we need these incentives.

“If we gave everyone equal rights, I think everything will change.”

While speaking at a forum, set up by the Penang Institute, discussing Malaysia’s brain drain, Wan Saiful also said that Malaysia’s returning expert programme (REP) discriminated against Malaysians who had chosen to stay in the country.

However, fellow speaker TalentCorp Malaysia chief executive officer Johan Mahmood Merican responded by saying that there was a need to implement temporary stop-gap measures to improve Malaysia’s economy to a point that would entice Malaysians to return.

The two were part of a four-man panel, moderated by Serdang Member of Parliament Ong Kian Ming, which also included Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM) chief executive officer Mark Rozario and Penang Institute chief executive officer Dr Lim Kim Hwa.

Lim presented a paper on who stood to gain from Malaysia’s brain drain and who stood to lose out from it.

Among the suggestions in the paper, which is available on the Penang Institute website, included cutting Malaysian income tax rates, thereby minimising the incentive to migrate by narrowing the net income differential.

However, he said the income tax reduction would merely negate the temptation of local talents to relocate.

He noted that in Taiwan, which had seen a brain drain in the 1980s, highly-skilled emigrants were willing to return despite pay cuts as the country welcomed them and its environment was conducive, with good career prospects.

“We also suggest that meritocracy be embraced wholeheartedly, given that the second top reason for emigration from Malaysia, according to the World Bank, was a sense of social injustice felt by some Malaysians,” said Lim.