Name: Manickamalar Kayalvizhi Pillay
Year Awarded Scholarship: 2013
Scholarship Scheme: SGS (Open)
Undergraduate University: National University of Singapore
Undergraduate Course: Bachelor of Laws
1. Why did you take up a PSC scholarship?
Long before I even knew about the Public Service Commission (PSC) scholarship, I was an avid organiser of community service activities. It started when I was 14 with my school’s service learning programme. A group of friends roped me in and we volunteered at a home for people with dementia. That entire experience resonated with me and piqued my interest. By the time I was 16, three friends and I had organised a full awareness campaign for breast cancer under the YMCA Youth for Causes scheme and managed over a 1000 volunteers.
When I graduated from Raffles Junior College as a fresh-faced 18 year-old, I was unsure about many things in life. However I was rather certain about two things: that I wanted to study law and that if I took up a scholarship, it had to be one that focused on the community. With these goals, I was lucky that the PSC Scholarship proved to be a natural fit. As I was fond of telling my friends, even without this scholarship, I truly believe I would have applied for a job with the Public Service upon graduation.
At the end of it all, simply referring to the ‘Public Service’ as such may be a misnomer suggesting that it is a monolithic entity. Rather, a career in the Public Service allows one to craft his own path within it. One can specialise in a particular area, or be moved around the different ministries. It is a career path that develops and changes apace with one’s own interests and talents.
2. What opportunities for development have you been given as a PSC scholarship holder?
When you are awarded a PSC scholarship, you are given more than just funds to study; you are inducted into a community that constantly pushes you to question things. Being able to compete in overseas conferences is but one of the developmental opportunities that the PSC offers. I appreciate that the PSC is not solely interested in academic development. For instance, they help cultivate a sense of independence, encouraging overseas exposure, either by studying overseas or taking part in student exchange programmes. As a law student, I was also given the invaluable opportunity to meet with the presently serving Legal Service Officers (LSO) and intern at the Attorney-General’s Chambers. Such opportunities primarily allowed me to experience the life of a LSO and decide if this was where I wished to start my career. As a newly-minted public servant, I truly believe that the Public Service will continue to shape me and my experience in the coming years.
3. Share with us a couple of highlights from your scholarship journey.
One of my most memorable experiences was when I volunteered with the Innocence Project (Singapore). Being allowed to interview applicants in prison and make a recommendation was indeed a rare gem of an opportunity since I was only a student. Talking with the applicants taught me the plight of those who lacked understanding of the legal system and their lawyers’ duties to them. Simultaneously, it made me cautious of how some applicants attempt to outwit the very same system. Above all, it reinforced how vital it is to be conscientious and dedicated; to double-check and even triple-check the evidence, because a simple day’s work for me could mean a jail term for someone else.
This is not quite a highlight, but it drove home that the feeling of comfort and safety that we enjoy in Singapore is the result of the work of thousands and affirmed my desire to work in the Public Service. Last year, I went to Leuven, Belgium, under the student exchange programme, and was the only student there from the National University of Singapore. I had made a short trip to Italy and returned through the Brussels airport on 21 March 2016. The next day, I woke up early and headed for classes. It was halfway through the class that I heard about the bomb blast at the airport and train station which had occurred at exactly the same place and time that I had been in just a day earlier. It felt unreal and the feeling grew as people streamed in from Brussels to Leuven looking for a place to stay for the night etc. As Leuven was just a 5-minute train ride from Brussels, I had the unforgettable experience of being present for the aftermath of a terrorist attack.
Though Singapore is by no means immune to any such attack, I realised that I had never feared something similar happening at home. Upon reflecting, I realised that it was because the day-to-day running of Singapore was usually done so well that despite occasional complaints, people placed a high level of trust in the Public Service and felt that they were in good hands. This reaffirmed my desire to be part of the Service and help make my peers feel a sense of safety in their homes.
4. What is your burning ambition for your Public Service career and how would you go about achieving it
One thing I am very passionate about is making law accessible to all. The ‘how’ of this is more challenging. A possible method is to reduce the price of legal services for those who need it. Beyond that, I believe that significant strides can be made to improve the readability of certain pieces of legislation or even having a basic law course during primary/secondary school. The course can cover Singaporeans’ constitutional rights etc., and help people understand their own rights or even the general avenues of recourse open to them.