December 16, 2013, by Guest Blogger

Perdana Fellows: the unofficial government spokesmen

“How would you maintain your professionalism if you were selected as a Perdana Fellow?”

“And by professionalism, I am referring to the fact that you may not necessarily be a supporter of the current government.”

That was a flavour of the sort of questions you would encounter in the interview for Malaysia’s most prestigious internship placement – the Perdana Fellows Programme.

Hosted by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Fellows programme is designed to groom future leaders and allowing the nation’s youth to bring fresh perspective to the workings of government.

A candidate must first submit a 500-word essay on a public policy issue which he or she considers as most pressing and providing suggestions on how it can be addressed. The essays will then be assessed by the Ministry before they proceed to another two rounds of interview.

meeting with the Malaysian Minister of Youth and Sports, Khairy JamaluddinI had the honour to serve the Minister of Youth and Sports – Khairy Jamaluddin who is the youngest member of the cabinet and, to my dismay as a Gunners fans, a diehard supporter of the Manchester United Football Club.

A total of 70 young Malaysians including myself served directly under a cabinet Minister and we had exposure to substantial policy work at the highest levels of government – therefore the world Perdana (or Premier), including the Prime Minister’s Office.

In fact, Prime Minister Najib Razak has called on the Perdana Fellows to become the unofficial government spokesmen, helping the government to reach out to young people so that the youth could benefit from the various public programmes and initiatives.

Perdana Fellow Zheng Zhou Lau helping with by-electionsOnline blogs, forums, and news portals have become the most preferred marketplace to trade juicy political gossips and grouses for many young people. They need to be empowered to contribute towards nation-building.

“We want to educate the youth to not just sit on the sidelines and criticise but to stand up and do something,” said Khairy.

I had known that the Minister meant business when he gave that statement judging by the work that he assigned to me: writing policy papers and project proposals. In other words, I was given the opportunity to put into practice my ideas of making a better Malaysia!

The Youth Parliament review paper was my favourite piece of work. How often would you get the chance to contribute towards establishing a new public institution? With my background in political science, I had provided recommendations to the design of voting in the youth parliament. For instance, I argued that a Senatorial assembly will be most suited to encourage discussion of issues at national level and the elections must be moved from constituency-based to national.

While tRiding on the back of a motorbikehe Ministry did not accept my views wholesale, I was satisfied enough to know that my views were considered by the Minister and were reflected in subsequent changes made.

Throughout my 3-month posting, I had also the opportunity to work alongside the Minister at grass-roots level including the by-election campaign in Kuala Besut – a fishing village located more than 400km away from Kuala Lumpur. Since I do not ride a motorcycle, I had to take the back seat of the Minister’s bike and travelled up and down the village canvassing for votes. It became something that Ministers laughed about the next time they met at cabinet meetings.

Politics in Malaysia (or indeed anywhere else) can appear nonsensical at times. It is easy to get frustrated and disillusioned. But if you choose to see yourself working towards a larger goal of nation-building, you give yourself a reason to grow and become inspirational to those around you.

This post was written by Lau Zheng Zhou, a former Perdana Fellow and UNMC student, BA (Hons) Business Economics and Management, 1st Class, September 2007 – July 2010. Lau is now a Research Analyst at the Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) and Vice-President of the Perdana Fellows Alumni Association (PFAA).

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