14 Nov 2018 02:47:56 AM

Former IMF economist returns home to serve

If you’ve had an illustrious career with a globally-recognised organisation abroad and were looking forward to a well-deserved retirement, would you return to your homeland to continue working for your government? 

Well, that was exactly what Dr. Lee Chee Sung, Advisor at the Institute of Labour Market Information and Analysis (ILMIA), did. He returned to Malaysia after 32 years of service with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington D.C., USA under the Returning Expert Programme (REP) in 2009 . 

“This is my way of giving back to the country,” Dr. Lee said during an interview at ILMIA recently.

Although he wanted to enjoy a slower pace of life after retiring, fate seemed to have different ideas for him. 

“When I came back, I got a call from the Prime Minister’s office. The call sounded something like: You’re coming to work for us,” he said, laughing. 

Dr Lee considers his work at the Institute of Labour Market Information and Analysis as a way to serve the country. Photo courtesy of Dr. Lee.

Returning to familiar shores

Upon returning to Malaysia, Dr. Lee was entrusted to work on the national economic development strategy for Malaysia in his new role as Executive Director at the National Economic Advisory Council. 

Subsequently, he was assigned to the Institute for Labour Market Information and Analysis (ILMIA) where he helped to draw up labour market indicators for analysis, develop workforce profile of industry sector and critical occupations, work on upskilling and reskilling programmes in the context of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and tertiary institutions of higher learning, and analysing issues surrounding the implementation of unemployment insurance and minimum wages. 

The REP made the transition home a positive experience, especially since it enabled his Salvadorian spouse to obtain resident status . 

He also said that it was not too difficult assimilating back into Malaysian society because he returned to Malaysia every two years throughout his tenure at the IMF.

“Every month, I get together with the people that I grew up with. When I was studying in VI, I was a member of the Boy Scouts. We – this group – get together every month and talk about the old days,” he grinned. “And, of course, I have my family. My brothers and sisters and cousins. We get together regularly.”

“Were there any challenges? Obviously when you’ve been away for a long time, there will be challenges,” he continued. 

“You need to adapt to what you thought was there but is not there anymore. Things have changed. The first thing that struck me the most when I came back was the lack of diversity in government offices and government-linked companies (GLCs). And looking at the population statistics, Malaysia is now an ageing population.” 
This is the whole point of looking at other countries – to learn from their conditions and not making the same mistakes in our country.
Dr. Lee has had three decades of experience with the International Monetary Fund.

Changing Malaysia

Dr. Lee also spoke about the urbanisation of Malaysia and the country’s issues with town planning.
“This is the whole point of looking at other countries – to learn from their conditions and not making the same mistakes in our country. We already have this advantage of learning from people in other countries. Digital-wise, we have also learned from others.”

“We have a lot of good labour market information. What we do not have is enough people to analyse and disseminate the information. We also have to move towards having better ways to collect data,” he said, commenting on Malaysia’s present labour market. 

One of the main projects that he’s currently working very hard on is to create real -time data. 

“For example, if a person is unemployed today, I will know about it the next day. And I will know where, which job, how much this person was paid and what qualifications he or she had. This will give an accurate picture of the current employment situation and help employees and employers with their future planning. 

“Nevertheless, to ensure the success of this project, employers need to update their complete information into the system instead of just focusing on updating payment information i.e. income tax and Employees’ Provident Fund contributions.

“I am also working on another programme called the ‘Warga Emas Programme’ where senior citizens can contribute to the country in various ways, either through the sharing of their knowledge or aiding through other means. I would like to accomplish these projects and call it my last hurrah’,” he said, smiling. 
Read about Dr. Lee Chee Sung's career in the IMF: Fixing economies

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