08 Nov 2018 05:13:48 PM

TalentCorp returnee talks about his career as an "economy fixer"

Dr. Lee Chee Sung had spent over 32 years of service with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington D.C., USA. His job? To go to various countries to help fix their financial problems.

However, if you thought that a job at the IMF was a glamourous one, Dr. Lee, who returned to Malaysia in 2009, said his experiences will prove otherwise. 

“I went to various countries to help them fix their financial problems. I was in charge of helping post-conflict countries like Rwanda, East Timor, Haiti, West Bank and Mozambique rebuild their banking systems and economies,” he said. 

Dr Lee at the Institute of Labour Market Information and Analysis office. Photo courtesy of Dr. Lee.

“Yes, we were in dangerous situations but we were trained to handle them. Ironically, in the many security situations that I was in, I was actually more afraid of the government forces than the guerrillas’ bullets because the IMF team travelled under the United Nations (UN) and these governments did not like the UN. 

“I had a colleague who didn’t make it during one of these incidents. I also had colleagues who were taken prisoner, robbed, stripped off their clothing and injured from bombs.  I was also shot and bombed at but luckily, I escaped unharmed.”
Humble beginnings 

Dr. Lee’s luminous career abroad had modest beginnings. 

“I was born and bred in Kuala Lumpur,” he said. “I grew up in the Pudu area and went to the Pasar Road English School and then to Victoria Institution (VI). From VI, I became an undergraduate at the University of Malaya where I studied Economics.”

Dr. Lee’s strong interest in Economics spurred him to go to England in 1972 to do his post-graduate degree. He studied at the University of Lancaster and the University of Manchester where he graduated with a Master’s degree. Dr. Lee then went to the University of Kiel in West Germany where he became an Assistant Professor while pursuing his Doctorate degree in Economics. 

“The professor that I was assisting suggested that I apply to the IMF and World Bank, which I did,” he said. “At the time, they were trying to diversify, to include more Asians. So, I applied to both the World Bank and the IMF.

“The IMF asked me to go for an interview in Paris and then gave me the job. By the time I finished studying in 1977, I went to work at the IMF in Washington DC. I stayed there for 32 years.”

I had a colleague who didn’t make it during one of these incidents. I also had colleagues who were taken prisoner, robbed, stripped off their clothing and injured from bombs.
Working in ILMIA is Dr. Lee's way of contributing to Malaysia.

Globe trotter

Dr. Lee diligently worked his way up through the ranks at the IMF. He started his career under the Young Professionals Programme, after which he became an Economist/Senior Economist in the Western Hemisphere Department where he monitored and reported on macroeconomic developments for countries in the Caribbean region. 

Subsequently, the multilingual Dr. Lee who also speaks German, Spanish, French and Japanese worked in various parts of the world. 

He was IMF’s Resident Representative to Jamaica and Chile, Deputy Division Chief for the Southeast Asia Department, Advisor for the Office of the IMF Managing Director, Technical Assistance Secretariat, Division Chief/Advisor for the Monetary and Financial Systems Department and finally Assistant Director for the IMF Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in Tokyo, Japan, before he retired in 2009. 

Explaining the IMF’s work, Dr. Lee said: “There are two things that the IMF does for countries experiencing financial problems: lending money and lending expertise to correct the problem that came up initially. 

“In addition to analysing and evaluating as well as lending money to a country, the IMF also has a large programme which builds the capacities of countries to implement economic policies.”

After retiring and returning to Malaysia in 2009, Dr. Lee was eager to take things slow. However, a fateful call changed his course. 

Now, he is Advisor at the Institute of Labour Market Information and Analysis (ILMIA), contributing his deep experience to improve Malaysia.

To him, it’s a way to contribute to Malaysia. And he’s only happy to do so.

Many Malaysians have returned from abroad under TalentCorp's Returning Expert Programme (REP). To learn more about the REP, visit our website at rep.talentcorp.com.my