PENANG'S BRAIN DRAIN: The chief minister had set out to reverse a supposed brain drain only to see three handpicked investment officers leave
WHEN former Gerakan leader Datuk Lee Kah Choon left the party in 2008 after accepting key posts in the Pakatan Rakyat-led Penang government, many asked if he was committing political suicide.
Some even wondered if it was an opportunistic move on his part to continue playing an active role in politics, albeit from the other side of the political divide. To his credit, Lee did not become a DAP member after quitting Gerakan.
Before the March 8, 2008 election, which saw Gerakan wiped out of Penang and replaced by the Pakatan Rakyat coalition of DAP and PKR, Lee, who was then 44, appeared to have a promising future.
Apart from serving as Gerakan's deputy secretary-general then, he was also Jelutong member of parliament and the Health Ministry's parliamentary secretary.
Lee was one of the casualties who lost his bid for the Machang Bubok state seat on mainland Penang.
After assuming the post of InvestPenang's executive committee chairman in April 2008, he worked tirelessly in grasping the mechanics of how the heart of Penang's economy -- its manufacturing sector -- ticks.
Lee also kept his word that he had no political agenda in accepting the posts at InvestPenang and Penang Development Corporation (PDC), and maintained the hardworking and affable traits which many had associated with him when he was in politics.
The question which now begs an answer is: what line of defence is his boss, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, going to offer now that not only Lee, but two other top investment advisers in InvestPenang and PDC, who were supposedly handpicked by him (Lim), have quit their jobs?
In 2009, when former international banker and fixed income specialist Julian Candiah was hired to be special adviser to Lim and deputy general manager at PDC, Lim said the Cambridge-trained Candiah would provide suggestions and carry out programmes which would help the state chart new frontiers in attracting investments.
A year later, Candiah called it a day by stating diplomatically that his contract was for only a year and that he and Lim had mutually agreed that he would not be seeking an extension.
In an interview with the Business Times, Candiah, however, admitted than one of his challenges during the 12-month tenure was that he had no authority to make any decision and that every decision reached had a "political context".
He also stated that political considerations outweighed economic ones, "despite the pure economic solution being the most favourable".
Like Candiah, former InvestPenang general manager Wan Zailena Nordin rejoined the agency purely as a professional under Lim's watch (she had resigned in 2007 from her earlier role as its chief executive officer).
Wan Zailena was recruited in August 2004 to start up and lead InvestPenang after spending 12 years working for chipmaker Intel Corp in Penang.
She quit her job after being made to serve in a dual role as not only InvestPenang's general manager but also to helm PDC's property development arm.
It was clear for all to see that both Candiah and Wan Zailena did not have a political bone in them, while Lee had forsaken politics to serve the state.
For someone who is constantly harping on the fact that his government is one which walks the talk in administering the state and has -- without support from the Federal Government -- managed to rope in some of the brightest professionals to spur the state's economy, it would be interesting to note just how Guan Eng intends to justify Lee's exit from InvestPenang's top post.
Also interesting to ask would be this: just what kind of message is Lim and his administration sending out in tasking InvestPenang to promote a reverse drain brain for the state, when at least three of his top investment officers have walked out on him?