By Mariam Mokhtar
He did his parents proud, his teachers are equally elated, his birthplace is euphoric to claim he is one of them, and his country would have been ecstatic.
His name is Tan Zhongshan and he was born in Ipoh. He chose to read law at university because he said, “Being in the legal line gives you a chance to make changes that have a far-reaching effect.”
In June, Tan received a first–class honours in Bachelor of Arts (Law) at Queen’s College, Cambridge, one of the world’s topmost universities. Cambridge, England’s second oldest university, usually contends with Oxford for first place in the UK university league tables. Tan excelled as the top student in his final-year law examinations, but he also won the “Slaughter and May” prize, awarded by the Law Faculty for the student with the best overall performance. In addition, he managed to bag the Norton Rose Prize for Commercial Law, the Clifford Chance Prize for European Union Law and the Herbert Smith Prize for Conflict of Laws. Tan distinguished himself and was a source of help to his fellow students, according to his tutor and the dean of Queen’s college, Dr. Martin Dixon.
Dr. Dixon said, ““He is probably the best Malaysian student I have seen in the last 10 years. He is the most able, dedicated and one of the most likeable students I have taught in more than 20 years at Cambridge. He works really hard, has great insight and intuition. He is a problem-solver, listens well and learns.”
However, the 23-year-old Tan shrugged off his accomplishments which he said was due to “consistent work and a detailed understanding of the subjects.” Tan, who plays classical guitar, was modest about his success, “It was a pleasant surprise as it is hard to predict the end results.”
Sadly, this brilliant, young Malaysian will not be working in Malaysia.
Tan, who has been in Singapore since August, expects to complete his Bar examinations by the end of 2011 and said, “I will also join the Singapore Legal Service in January”. After completing his A-levels at the Temasek Junior College, the Singapore Ministry of Education awarded him an Asean scholarship.
Tan will not be the first nor last Malaysian who we let slip through our fingers.
It makes many ordinary Malaysians quietly fill with rage that the policies of our government reward the mediocre or the ‘can-do’ types and ignore the best and the brightest. When will this madness end?
Our judiciary was one of the best in the region, but today, it is not fit for purpose.
Sadly, we have clowns and fools to dictate how our courts are run. The best comedy act was played out recently in the Teoh Beng Hock trial when Thai pathologist Pornthip Rojanasunand was cross-examined by presumably the best of the attorney general’s bunch of merry-men. If that is how Malaysian lawmakers prefer to project their image to the world, then they really need their heads examined.
We are haemorrhaging our best talent to countries that receive them with open arms. Record numbers of Malaysians are leaving – doctors, surgeons, nurses, lawyers, accountants, lecturers, engineers, quantity surveyors. We are experiencing the biggest exodus in our 53-year history. It is estimated that there are over 1 million Malaysians living and working abroad, many of whom are highly qualified personnel. If the government thinks that it is only the non-Malays who are leaving then they are wrong. If Malays are also leaving in large numbers then it should be obvious (which it is presumably to the ordinary man in the street but not to our government) that preferential treatment for Malays is not a major pull nor conducive to the normal thinking person.
What other countries do is to offer Malaysians opportunities – something which is not available, to the majority of Malaysians, of whichever racial origin. Our government fails to realise that people need to feel appreciated and thrive in conditions which stimulate personal development.
Government interference in the things that affect the personal lives of its citizens is what has kept many overseas Malaysians away. At the end of the day, most people value the things that have to do with their quality of life (not just for themselves but especially for their families), the laws, bureaucracy and tax.
Apart from having the best brains, those who left are probably the more assertive ones, the highly ambitious people who would have made good mentors, able and strong leaders. Their absence from our system only weakens us, as a nation.
Will these people return if the ISA is around? No. These people would probably find living in Malaysia under such conditions, like treading on eggshells. How about corruption, nepotism, cronyism, lack of transparency, limited civil service and educational opportunities, questionable performance-based promotion, lack of freedom of worship, expression and speech, unfair preferential housing, fear for their personal safety and lack of open tenders for government contracts?
These are some of the things that are due for immediate review, but only if Najib is serious about reversing the brain-drain and only if he wants to improve Malaysia’s economy and reputation.
At a time when the country needs to tighten its belt and take effective measures to build a quality nation based on its human capital, Najib seems to build pointless monuments in mega-projects. Why not channel the funds and invest in its best resource – its people? Malaysia is now paying the price for its crippling policies which our government feels unable, incapable or fearful of changing.
Najib recently warned us about the dangers of not embracing change. He is right. And we are all for it. Forget about directing Talent Corporation to search for these ‘overseas’ Malaysians. If Najib refuses to make the all-important changes in the country, they will not be swayed.
So when will he legislate for change?
And one last thing: We congratulate Ipoh-born Tan Zhongshan on his outstanding achievements and wish him a bright future.