By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
These new developments offer opportunities for non-skilled labour rather than skilled. In due course, they will be filled by foreigners, instead of locals.
The balik kampong syndrome is not peculiar to the Malays only. It cuts across all races, judging from what I saw and experienced during the recent Chinese New Year holidays. The Malays would preferably return to their kampongs during Hari Raya. The Chinese, however, would rather return to their parents’ hometowns for Chinese New Year.
This annual migration is phenomenal. While other towns and cities experience a steady decrease in their population, Ipoh experiences a reversal in fortune. The influx of outsiders into Ipoh seems to increase with time. If the latest development is a yardstick to gauge growing trends, the number of Ipohites of Chinese origin, who live and work outside of Ipoh, is obviously huge. Based on observations, traffic volume in the city alone increases by over a hundred per cent. Moving about in the city, especially within the business districts of Greentown, Station 18 and Bercham is difficult, as the traffic snarl is horrendous.
This phenomenon points to only one thing – Ipohites are found everywhere, in and outside the country. Their numbers are most pronounced in cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Singapore. Most are from Singapore, judging from the number of Singapore-registered cars in the town and scores of jam-packed buses returning daily from the island republic.
Since the demise of the tin industry in the early 1980s, due largely to Mahathir’s obsession with cornering the global tin price, Ipohites, especially the young and the talented, left the city in droves to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Ipoh’s youths have become a highly sought-after commodity by our neighbour in the south. Singapore’s economic miracle has been in no small way due to its policy of attracting foreign talents to its shores. It offers full scholarships to those wishing to pursue courses of their choice in the republic. Upon graduation, the Ministry of Manpower gives them a year to seek employment. Which other developed countries in the world are so generous, especially to foreigners? According to the Singapore Straits Times, January 13, almost half of the Permanent Resident (PR) population in 2010 were degree holders compared to 18 per cent of Singaporeans. The mercurial rise of Singapore’s GDP is attributed to these foreign talents. And a good number of them are from Ipoh.
Have there been any concerted efforts to arrest the exodus? Sadly, there has never been any worthy of mention. Ipoh has remained stagnant since the tin mines ceased operations. The dearth of local institutions of higher learning offering degree courses in the 80s right to the early 2000s resulted in our youths moving to Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. And the absence of good-paying jobs, commensurate with the expertise these kids had acquired, prompted them to remain where they were.
Although attempts at stemming the outflow of Ipohites are being taken of late, they are too little too late. The state government insists that it has acquired a substantial amount of direct foreign investments. But there is little to show on the ground. Menteri Besar, Dato’ Seri Dr. Zambry Abdul Kadir, has gone on record to claim that the investment climate in Perak is healthy. He based this on feedback received on his wooing trips overseas. One suspects that these statements are made for political mileage.
The recent boom in the property market, as evidenced by the construction of high-end condominiums and the race by supermarket chains to out-perform one another, is a welcome relief, but are they remedies for our woes? For some inexplicable reasons, we are still trapped in a time-warp. These new developments offer opportunities for non-skilled labour rather than skilled. In due course, they will be filled by foreigners, instead of locals. As we seek an amiable solution, Ipohites will continue to head south or somewhere else more promising.