Poor leadership is making Penang poorerPENANG Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s recent admission of turning down FDI (foreign direct investment) worth US$3bil (RM10.18bil) due to his inability to guarantee finding 1,000 engineers is a shocking case of poor decision-making and incompetence. In all my more than two decades of working in the high-tech manufacturing industry around the world, I have never seen a single instance where a state or country turned down such an investment for such a reason.
Any other country or state would have spared no effort in fulfilling the investor’s needs. What is even more alarming is the chief minister’s lack of knowledge of the industry as well as of the capabilities and resources available within his own state.
It is hard to comprehend how Lim can allow such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity slip away, as he had numerous options to find the required engineers.
It is inexcusable that the Chief Minister is ignorant of the fact that Penang-based companies like Intel, Altera, Renesas, AMD, Spansion, Osram, Bosch, Lumiled, Agilent, Motorola and many others employ tens of thousands of engineers. In fact, many of these companies have made Penang their global Research and Development (R&D) centre.
Firstly, local and foreign universities produce Electrical and Electronics (E&E) engineers by the thousands. Secondly, several thousand Penang (and Malaysian) engineers work overseas in places like Singapore, Taiwan and the United States. Many would jump at the chance to return home. Thirdly, Lim could have followed the example of some high-tech companies (Siltera, Infineon, etc.) by recruiting highly specialised engineers from foreign countries as an interim measure until local replacements could be found. A more competent Chief Minister would have been aware that countries such as the Philippines and India produce and export English-educated engineers at affordable costs.
Another source of technical resource is that of retired Japanese engineers, whom Korean firms have used in the past with stunning effect to bridge the technological gap with their more advanced rivals in high-tech industries.
Fourthly, Lim could have approached the Human Resources Ministry, public and private universities, professional bodies or even other states for their assistance. Unfortunately, he did none of these. Despite the alleged shortcomings, the previous administration under Tan Sri Koh Tsu Khoon did a remarkable job in attracting high-tech FDIs, transforming the state from being a low-cost assembly centre to a high-tech, high value-added design and manufacturing hub.
Lim is lucky. Koh’s good work has resulted in a record-breaking RM10.2bil in FDI for last year. However, as I predicted, FDI for this year had dried up and the result for 2010 is likely to be gloomier still. Other states like Johor, Perak, Sarawak and even Selangor have done far better and left Penang way behind.
Lim is without doubt the state leader who had made the most number of foreign visits to solicit for FDI. Sadly, he also holds the unwanted distinction of being the least productive. The reason is not hard to fathom, as the state agencies entrusted to bring in FDI are filled with political appointees with little experience or capabilities. Most of these officials seem to be more preoccupied with politics than investment-related tasks.
If Pakatan Rakyat and the DAP truly practise democratic principles, then their rightful action should be to ask Lim to tender his resignation for this unforgivable blunder.