The Perdana Fellowship is an experience that I value very much and will always hold dear to my heart. It is essentially an internship programme meant to provide youths with insight on the internal structures, working environment and challenges of the government. Being selected and placed under the Chief Secretary to the Government (KSN) and head of the civil service, Tan Sri Dr. Ali Hamsa, allowed me to gain such insights but the Fellowship experience was much, much more than just that.
I started my Fellowship at the same time as most of the Fellows would in late June. It was the best time to join since I got to take part in its orientation and meet the rest of the Fellows in my batch. I have to say, trying to network and make friends at the time was quite awkward because I was not sure how to actually talk to some of them. In some cases, I felt inferior especially as some of them were high-flyers in their own respective fields. It was, however, only at the initial stage because once we all got comfortable with each another, it became very much like a family.
Social sessions helped but the shared interest and passion we have for the country and its progress meant that we had a common topic of discussion. If we were not discussing politics today, we would be discussing governance and economics tomorrow. We would also attend events together and go for late night mamak sessions that would drag on for hours. I once went home at six in the morning (managed to get home before my parents left for work, phew!) because we just could not stop and say “that’s enough, goodnight.” Until today, the camaraderie of the Fellowship was the one aspect that I enjoyed most out of the whole experience.
Focusing on work, my Fellow-colleague Ravjit and I would clock in at the Perdana Putra complex, where KSN’s office was situated, at around 8.30 a.m. and start reading the news while waiting for our work assignments. These assignments would usually come in the form of research work relating to the civil service and attending high-level meetings between heads of ministries and agencies. We would sit in these meetings to take notes and minutes while also assisting with any presentations.
Tan Sri Ali was and still is a busy man, travelling between places to catch up with his fellow civil servants and attend high profile events. We would follow him around to see his conversations with civil servants on the ground as well as the public to gather feedback on improving the civil service. We would be around alongside his communications team to help raise awareness of his and the government’s efforts for the people through social media.
It was always interesting to see how Tan Sri worked and talked to people. He is a humble man, often jovial and sometimes seen joking with the people around him. Yet, his determination to improve the delivery of the civil service is second to none, as he would gather both positive and critical feedback from all sections of the rakyat and make use of them. He always had these “turun padang” sessions to get down on the ground and see the real problems first hand. You could tell that he enjoyed going for them than be constantly stuck in dull meetings. It is a testament to his drive and energy that Ravjit and I would usually come off these sessions more tired than he is. He was and is an admirable man and mentor to the both of us.
I went in expecting to get more involved with the ideation and formulation of government policies. I came out disappointed in that respect but that was more because of my own exaggerated expectations when I was, in fairness, just a lowly intern in the office. Despite that, Ravjit and I were allowed to attend high-level and internal office meetings. In the internal meetings, we were given opportunities to provide our own opinion and critical feedback on issues – something which I very much appreciated as I knew some of the other Fellows were not necessarily as fortunate.
By the end of my internship, my opinions on the government were different than when I was first placed at the KSN office. I had initially formed thoughts that the government was bad, too bloated, had no good initiatives for the people and was full of unqualified people. Fast forward to now, I still think the government has too many civil servants and have reservations on some issues but some of my opinions on its initiatives and the civil servants have changed to note that there are good, people-centric initiatives in place like the National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS) and that there are a number of good civil servants who have the same aspirations that I do: to help the country progress.
Overall, I fortunately had a great experience in the Perdana Fellowship and gained more than just insight into public governance and civil service. I formed new friendships with peers and colleagues who share similar goals and aspirations as I do, while learning that not everything about the government is necessarily bad. This government and our country have undoubtedly much more to do to progress given the current political landscape but at least I can be optimistic that there are patriotic, talented people who work hard everyday to improve the lives of every Malaysian.
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