Tham Zhi Kang Jansen

Public Service Commission

Name: Tham Zhi Kang Jansen
Year Awarded Scholarship: 2016
Scholarship Scheme: PSC Masters’ Scholarship
Undergraduate University: National University of Singapore
Undergraduate Course: Bachelor in Chemical Engineering
Postgraduate University: Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS
Postgraduate Course: Masters in Public Policy

1. Why did you take up a PSC scholarship?

I grew up blessed to be living in a country where security is a given, with access to first class education, healthcare and social support. But this did not occur by chance; it was the painstaking work of our founding Fathers and the Singapore Public Service that enabled us to enjoy the fruits of their labour. It is only right that I pay it forward to future generations of Singaporeans, and a career serving the Public was a natural choice for me.

2. What opportunities for development have you been given as a PSC scholarship holder?

I think the biggest development opportunity the PSC Scholarship provided me was the chance to interact with young and inspirational public servants from different Ministries/Statutory Boards, backgrounds and experiences, who like me, are determined to improve Singapore. Policy is never developed alone or in silos, and having like-minded peers as sounding boards helps to sharpen my analytical thinking and will help me develop better policies for Singapore.

In addition, scholarship holders are afforded access to senior government leaders and public servants who are more than willing to share their insights on policies and what keeps them up at night. These are higher order, strategic issues that are well worth keeping in mind when we develop policy recommendations and solutions. For me, it is important to know the ‘larger picture’ and the greater social good that policies should bring about, as we go about our daily jobs of developing and implementing policies for Singaporeans.

Lastly, the Public Service Division and Civil Service College offer in-service milestone courses, aimed at helping us understand the work of different agencies and pertinent wicked problems facing governments today. They also hold programmes in leadership development and management, which I find useful as officers take up higher appointments in the public service.

3. Share with us a couple of highlights from your scholarship journey.

I was given the opportunity to spend a semester abroad studying at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC, one of the premier international relations schools in the world. It was an eye-opening experience to be able to speak to renowned academics on the state of the world today, and gain insights on Singapore from the eyes of foreigners. The experience also helped me to contextualise what it meant by ‘punching above our weight internationally’ and ‘Singapore being a small country will always be affected by what happens globally’ – phrases we often hear in the media but may not really grasp its implications on Singaporeans’ day-to-day lives.

The opportunity to meet senior public servants and have no-holds-barred conversations has certainly been another highlight. I had the pleasure to have dinner with then-Permanent Secretary for Health and then-Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister on separate occasions, and their views on the strategic issues facing Singapore were thought-provoking. For example, how do we ensure affordable healthcare for all even as Singapore faces an aging population, while balancing the budget and ensuring that future generations of Singaporeans are not fiscally overburdened? There are no easy solutions, and these discussions helped tease out the fundamental dilemmas in governance and decision-making

4. What is your burning ambition for your Public Service career and how would you go about achieving it

I would like to see greater tri-sector partnership and collaboration among the public, private and non-profit/civil society sectors. In the age of social media, citizens and civil society have access to a wide range of information on policies, and want to have a louder voice in the policy-making process. It is imperative that they are consulted and their voice be accounted for in the government’s decision-making process, since the government and the Public Service are fundamentally accountable to the citizenry.

I think the Public Service can achieve this through institutionalised consultation and engagement mechanisms, which should be embedded in the policy and decision-making processes. This task starts with every Public Servant, including myself, in that we should make the effort to put our ear to the ground and listen with empathy to the problems and views Singaporeans have. It will not be easy for a variety of reasons, but I feel this is the next crucial step for successful governance in Singapore.