Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Malaysian Conumdrum

I've been following the discussion thread here at Mr Wang's. It's a discussion about why a Singapore PR/Malaysian citizen would not want to take up Singapore citizenship in order to enjoy the privileges here, and is instead asking for the Singapore Government to instead extend privileges to PR's.

Let me start with a couple of points - I don't think it's possible to generalise on whether a PR is here just to reap the economic benefits or whether they are here to stay. A lot depends on factors such as whether they own property back in Malaysia, and how badly they are being treated in Malaysia.

I just thought I'd share some of my experiences and hearsay that I've experienced. Hopefully it will give a new perspective on the situation.


Some Malaysian PR's are here because they want to earn in SGD and spend in Ringgit. I don't think this is in itself bad. If Singaporeans themselves are complaining what a low wage they are earning, I certainly cannot blame Malaysians for wanting to optimise their earnings. If they are depressing the local wage by being present here, it must be that they aren't earning all that much either.

I've heard some stories from Malaysian colleagues that Singapore employers automatically propose lower salaries on seeing that they are from Malaysia. In some senses this is a double edged sword - yes they do have a competitive advantage in wages, but the wages they make are lower overall as compared to a Singaporean in a comparable job scope and industry.


Some Malaysian PR's are here (or in other countries for that matter) because they are being victimised in their own countries. I've heard over the last year that the 30% ownership of companies by Bumiputra's have caused the Chinese business community to go into an uproar, to the extent of asking their children overseas to stay overseas, and slowly initiating a transfer of property over. Singapore, UK, America, Canada all feature heavily in places to "run to".

Apparently the Keris-waving incident has caused some problems among the Chinese community in Malaysia as well. The extent of that, I'm not sure.

What I do get a sense of in Malaysia is that minorities (i.e not Malay) are very skittish of their own homeland. Given a choice they would certainly not want to run to another country. However, the writing's on the wall, and they are certainly getting less and less welcome as Malaysia becomes increasingly unstable.


I wish to touch on the issue of owning property in Malaysia too. A couple of months back a friend developer asked me if I was interested in purchasing some property. I humoured him of course, but I had no intention of buying the property. What I found out surprised me. I, too, received the same advice - that I should put the ownership under a Malaysian's name where possible. I also noticed the difference in mortgage rates offered to Malaysians and Singaporeans. It was a 5% differential, which amounts to quite a bit of money.

I am also told that there are certain bank accounts and investments in Malaysia that pay preferential interest rates, but only to Malaysians. From what I've gathered the differential is a couple of percentage points higher than what bank accounts usually pay. I guess this must be Malaysia's version of pork barrel politics but I'm not entirely sure.


The long and short of these anecdotes is that I don't think the situation is as clear cut as what most netizens make it out to be. Sure, a lot of the reasons I've cited are economic and political, but I think these form a network of interacting wants, needs and emotions that make it the decision not to take Singapore citizenship very hard to untangle.

What really fascinates me is the fact that this PR, Adrian Gopal, would appeal to the Singapore Government on a public forum to make his life as a PR easier. What I do not understand is this - essentially, each person's problem is individual. What Mr Gopal is asking for is essentially a sweetener to make the decision to stay in Singapore easier.

I can only draw two possible conclusions from this (1) that Mr Gopal thinks he has a reasonable chance of success in his appeal and (2) that Mr Gopal is desperate, so even if he thinks he has no reasonable chance of success, he has to try to make this appeal.

If the first is true, then it exposes once and for all how vulnerable and dependent Singapore is on skilled labour, and the inadequacies of our own labour force in providing for Singapore's needs (for whatever reasons). If Mr Gopal thinks he has a reasonable chance of success, it must be because foreign labour has collectively got sufficient bargaining power to make the Singapore Government listen.

If this is the case, then there must be a failure of Singapore Government policy somewhere. If the issue is wage competitiveness, then the issue must be that the Singapore Government's policies in either education, labour or NS (or all three) does not make up for the differential in value offered by Singaporean labourers, as opposed to foreign labour.

If the second option is true, then this speaks a lot about the invisible plight of foreign labour in Singapore, and it behooves us, if we are to become a nation, to understand their plight and not dismiss them offhand.

Either way, there's more of a story to be told I'm sure.


Fargoal said...

Thanks, this is very interesting analysis. And yes, its pretty odd that a PR, i.e. a non-citizen would ask the government to make life easier for him.

I think both possibilities could be true. There could be high-wage PRs and relatively low-wage PRs.

Yu Sarn said...

Or maybe he is just an opportunist. There are plenty of those of all nationalities.

Another possibility is that Mr Gopal has truly assimilated to become a typical Singaporean, in character if not in citizenship. A typical Singaporean who whines and comprains about everything and expects the gahmen to spoonfeed him. A typical Singaporean who sees only the benefits of what others are getting and wants the same, but doesn't want to pay the price or take the bad with the good.