Singapore Land Authority (SLA)
Features | Public Service

Developing Our Land

As a statutory board under the Ministry of Law, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) optimises land resources for the economic and social development of Singapore. Two SLA scholars tell us what drew them to the organisation, and the roles they play in land-use planning today.

In land-scarce Singapore, there is a crucial need to develop a strong civic consciousness. Every use of land needs to be considered carefully to prevent land wastage, and land policies have to be reviewed constantly to encourage and facilitate development.

This is why the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) dedicates its resources to ensure the best use of State land and buildings, and regulate an effective and reliable land management system. It also leverages on essential land information to elevate land management standards and in turn create new business opportunities.

It thus needs a body of competent individuals who possess a keen sense of social, economic and environmental awareness to address land administration issues. Two of these individuals are SLA scholars, Jaclyn Seow and Gordon Wong, who are both seconded to the Ministry of Law’s Land Policy Division. They talk us through their job responsibilities and regale us with accounts of their enriching scholarship journey.

What attracted you to your SLA Scholarship?

Jaclyn Seow: Having grown up in land-scarce Singapore, I was drawn to the prospect of working with SLA as I’d be able to gain insight into land policy and its interaction with the country’s prevailing economic, social, environmental and civic forces.

Jaclyn Seow Yanmei
SLA Overseas Undergraduate Scholar

Designation: Senior Assistant Director, Land Policy,
Ministry of Law (on secondment from SLA)

Studied: Bachelor of Arts in Economics
(Magna Cum Laude) and
Psychology, Cornell University, US

"We are constantly measuring and weighing trade-offs – between urban renewal and heritage/conservation, between consistency and nimbleness in policy formation, and between the interests of various stakeholders."

I was also keen to begin my career in an operational role, as being on the ground and working directly with individuals and businesses would help me build a depth of experience and credibility. I knew that this would bolster robust policy-making at a later stage of my career.

Gordon Wong: I have been interested in maps and urban development since I was young (besides mathematics, which I majored in). One of my favourite childhood games was ‘SimCity’ – what interested me about the game was not just the land use planning, but how tweaks in town ordinances, policies and taxes affected the desirability of my virtual town.

My home also had several hardcopy editions of the street directory and I used to compare maps of various new towns to see how they have changed over the years. Little did I know that they were published by the former Survey Department, which became part of SLA in 2001!

Tell us about some of the roles and responsibilities you have fulfilled with SLA.

Jaclyn: I’m currently into my third year of secondment to the Ministry of Law (SLA’s parent ministry). Here at the Land Policy Division, I address issues such as the foreign ownership of residential property by individuals and developers, lease extension policies (e.g. for golf courses), and the injection of vibrancy into State land / properties. We are constantly measuring and weighing trade-offs – between urban renewal and heritage/conservation, between consistency and nimbleness in policy formation, and between the interests of various stakeholders.

There is an atmosphere of continuous learning at SLA that extends far beyond one’s daily work. I have attended conferences/courses in Seoul and Quebec, and also organised a geospatial work trip in 2011 which took me to London and Ispra. At SLA, I was also Assistant Secretariat to the Board, which provided me with insights into how high-level strategic decisions were made. I have also been given plenty of opportunities to get involved in projects outside of my immediate job scope – for instance, I was recently part of an interdisciplinary, inter-agency team that sought to define the Government’s strategy for the HDB retail space.

Gordon: One of my postings was at the Revenue Tender team, which tenders State properties for interim use. It was an eye-opening experience as I got to meet owners and operators of SMEs very often. Many of them had stories to tell – about how their businesses began, the current operating environment and feedback on the Government’s policies. It made me realise how important sound practices and fair policies are to the business community.

I have also attended several conferences – the one which I learnt the most from was Urban Land Institute (ULI)'s Asia Pacific Summit held in Beijing in 2012. A Chinese professor, who was primarily sharing about Shanghai’s urban development, mentioned that Singapore’s policies (with regards to housing, water conservation, greenery within urbanised areas and application of subsidies) are things that China can learn from. I was glad that our Public Service is held in such high regard by our counterparts in other countries.

Tell us how your undergraduate years were enriching and fuelled your development.

Jaclyn: Cornell University offered a rigorous, broad-based education, which honed my ability to think critically and approach any problem from multiple dimensions. More importantly, the University espoused autonomous learning under the guidance of mentors – the College Scholar programme granted me the freedom to construct my own major by pulling together courses from various departments, and I spent most of my senior year running psychology experiments and conducting research towards my final thesis. Having to frequently and independently distill order from chaos has certainly made me more confident in dealing with complex problems in the course of my work.

Gordon: I was fortunate to have had a caring mentor who kept in contact with me during my university years and filled me in with the developments in SLA. I was also invited to SLA’s various activities, such as the D&D, where I got to understand SLA better even before I began my career there.

Gordon Wong Tsz Hong
SLA Local Undergraduate Scholar

Designation: Assistant Director, Land Policy,
Ministry of Law (on secondment from SLA)

Studied: Bachelor of Science (Applied Mathematics),
Second-Upper Class Honours,
National University of Singapore

SLA allowed me to pursue my interests as an undergraduate and encouraged me to gain multi-disciplinary knowledge in areas such as economics, geography and sociology. It became useful later at work as the concept of land is very broad. For us administrators and policy-makers, a breadth of knowledge allows us to see things from different perspectives.

What advice do you have for aspiring SLA Scholars?

Jaclyn: Consider your own fundamental strengths, weaknesses and passions, and how these may influence your long-term career plans. The scholarship you apply for should make sense in light of those plans. Compare ruthlessly across various scholarships, including bond-free scholarships and university grants, to make an informed a choice as possible.

Also, speak to as many people as possible from your scholarship provider of choice to get an idea of what the job really entails and what the company culture is like. Make your decision with both eyes open – pursuing a scholarship for a job you don’t genuinely desire is unproductive for both you and the organisation.

Gordon: Before scholars make meaningful contributions, they need some time to understand current laws and policies, and the rationale behind them. Patience and diligence are traits required of every scholar.

It is also important to stay abreast of current affairs and cultivate the ability to think and argue from different perspectives. Lastly, always be prepared to walk the ground and understand issues first-hand where possible. At SLA, your experiences will be invaluable.