Perdana Fellow For The Malaysian Prime Minister: Gold Mine Or Coalmine?

“Yeah, I interned for the Malaysian Prime Minister.”- One of the coolest statements anyone can ever say in their life.

I have always aspired to make a difference to the country, and enrolling in the Perdana Fellowship programme seemed like the perfect opportunity and stepping stone to fulfil that ambition. The Perdana Fellowship programme is perhaps the most elite internship programme in the country, enabling one to learn at any one of the Ministries of the Malaysian Government. I was already joyous as it was when my application was accepted and approved, but was especially ecstatic when I was told that I would be attached to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Fancy that – the Perdana Fellow for Dato’ Sri Haji Mohammad Najib bin Tun Razak!

Today, that job looks great on my CV and it works wonders in interviews. Yes, the bragging rights are endless. But is being the Perdana Fellow for the Malaysian Prime Minister (PM) really all that?

Here’s my experience.

Coal: You Are Working For The Busiest Man In The Country

Whilst your peers in the programme can share photos of them working alongside their assigned Ministers, you cannot do the same, and therefore cannot help but feel a little envious of them. Being an intern to the most powerful man in the country also means that you are the intern for the busiest man in the country. It goes without saying that he does not have the time to directly teach you about his job. Instead, you will most likely be placed under the wing of one, or several, of his special officers. Due to my legal background and experience in writing legal submissions, I assisted the special officers in the PMO’s Policy Division. My tasks were limited to writing speeches for the PM.

Interning at the Prime Minister’s Office allowed Fellows to see Malaysia from a whole new perspective.

The only time I ever had a decent conversation with the PM was during the inauguration ceremony. We talked about my background and aspirations, but that was basically it. The fact that my internship programme was only for 9 weeks did not help the situation. The PM’s special officers could not slot me into any of his meetings or events in that short period. I did not have the option to extend my internship term either, as I was due to begin my pupillage at the end of the internship. Thus, unless you agree to intern with the PM for a longer period than I did, there is a possibility that you could end up writing speeches for him throughout your stay at his office.

There Are Still Diamonds: You Are Working With The Best Minds In The Country

However, it should be noted that you are working with the special officers that make up the PMO, which not everyone in the country is qualified to do. Some of the special officers that I worked with have double degrees, double masters, and obtained multiple awards for academic achievement. I was indeed privileged to work with some of the most brilliant minds in Malaysia.

Before the Fellowship, the legal submissions I had to write were only addressed to judges and lawyers. However, as an intern at the PMO, one of the biggest challenges of writing speeches for the PM was that it could be directed at every person in the nation! Speech writing became a 50-page research task. Not only did I learn how to draft speeches, I also learned about the wants and needs of every constituency and every group in Malaysia. Is it a speech for the poor who needed more opportunities? Is it one for international leaders who needed Malaysian support? Or is it for the general public who look for hope and unity on Merdeka Day? Every interest, every issue and every minor news story had to be broached. At the end of the day, I was not just learning about how to write political speeches – I was learning about Malaysia and what it truly encompassed.

The people working at the PMO are wise, talented and most importantly, graciously kind. I learned from their experiences, tapped their knowledge, and made friends with them because some lessons are indeed more precious than gold.

Enjoy The Mine: You Are Where It All Happens

I also had the privilege of working at the place where some of the biggest decisions were made: for good or for bad.

My tenure with the PM occurred in 2015: a dark period in Malaysia’s political scene. Accusations were being hurled at the government by local and foreign media. The Cabinet reshuffle did not help matters. It was indeed a historic national moment and I was in the thick of it. I witnessed with sadness as the officers in the Deputy Prime Minister’s department packed their belongings, slowly leaving Putrajaya’s premises on the day the Deputy Prime Minister was removed. I watched in awe as the PM’s personal assistant tirelessly rushed through every department to control the bad press and correct any false news that were being spread. I talked and worked with the special officers who had to quickly reschedule meetings, re-draft speeches and organise press conferences to calm down the situation.

As I watched the whole PMO team scramble late into the night, I could not help but admire how loyal and proud they were to be Malaysians. Not a single one of them doubted their leader and they were all prepared to defend his honour, no matter what the world had to say. It just showed that a leader is nothing without a dedicated team. I am proud to lay claim to being a part of that team and played a small role to help our country overcome that period, one speech at a time.

So, Coal or Gold? More gold could have been mined if the programme ensured that even those who interned for a short stint for the PM could get more direct exposure to his work. Nonetheless, my experience still gave me innumerable valuable lessons I will forever take to heart. The programme had also introduced me to people whom I know will be life-long friends that I can always count on. Best of all, it allowed me to see Malaysia from a whole new perspective.

Oh, and it makes for a great conversation starter when you want to impress your future in-laws. Just saying.

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