(File pix) Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi arriving for a dinner event for 300 Malaysian expatriates in Doha, last night. Bernama Photo

DOHA: Malaysia’s ability to embark on social stratification initiatives – such as expanding the size of middle-income earners in the country – is thanks to the government’s long-term heavy investment in the education system.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Malaysia’s sound education system has, for decades, been the foundation of the government’s push for social stratification transformation.

Furthermore, Zahid said the only way to assure long-term economic and social stability in Malaysia is by moving towards a ‘diamond-shaped’ social structure, wherein middle-income earners form the largest segment of the population.

"We must move away from the pyramid-shape social structure, where low-income earners and the poor make up the largest size of our population.

"Malaysia is able to make this leap because we produce semi-skilled, skilled and professional human capital, thanks to the government’s long-term investment in our education system," Zahid said in a speech while hosting a dinner for 300 Malaysian expatriates in Doha here last night.

The dinner was held as part of his four-day official visit to Qatar, at the invitation of Qatar Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah Nasser Khalifa Al Thani.

Zahid stressed that not many governments are willing to transform their social stratification shape, for fear of generating a backlash from the public.

"In our case, we are able to push for changes thanks to the education system, and the high level of tolerance among Malaysian society," he said.

Zahid said the Qatar Emir, Sheikh Tamim Ahmad Al-Thani, praised and recognised the contributions of the Malaysian workforce in his country’s rapid development, when he had an audience with the ruler yesterday.

"It is not easy for any leader or government to express high regard for other nationalities, but in this case, the Emir personally told me that the Qatar government truly appreciates the immense contributions made by skilled and professional Malaysians to the development in Qatar," he said.

He added that while the Malaysian diaspora is part of a brain-drain phenomenon that negatively affects the country, there is a silver lining, in that the expatriates are sending money back to their parents or families, which also contributes towards the country’s exchange earnings.

"The other positive side of this is that expatriate Malaysians get to work with the best companies abroad, and would eventually bring back valuable experience to Malaysia," he said.

Zahid later announced the most high-anticipated news among the Malaysian diaspora – that the Qatari government had agreed to a request to convert Malaysian driving licenses into official Qatar driving licenses.

"I must thank you, Qatar prime minister, for approving the request in just five minutes," he said to thunderous applaud.

In an immediate reaction, Qatar Malaysian Association president Ahmad Hasnan Mohd Zaki said it was great news, especially for Malaysians who are planning to come and work in Qatar.

"Under the existing law, we have to pay over RM2,500 to apply for driving license training here, and the process could take up to three months," he said.

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