Lee Kuan Yew on Sultan Omar Ali

Minister Mentor Dato Laila Utama Lee Kuan Yew gave the first Sultan Omar Ali Memorial Lecture at ICC yesterday. More than 3,000 people turned up. His topic was apt enough, it was about Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Saadul Khairi Waddien, Brunei's 28th Sultan and the Architect of Modern Brunei.

Did I learn much from Minister Mentor? Not much that I did not know already. He talked about the achievements of Sultan Omar Ali and how he brought independence and the survival of Brunei. For the younger Brunei generation, this is a revelation but for old people like me, this is something we know already. In some sense, I was hoping for a lot more from LKY but then given the sensitivity of certain information, I am sure LKY did not or cannot provide them. I was really hoping for something anectdotal as LKY and HM Sultan Omar Ali were very close and knew each other very well.

I remembered when I was still at Nurul Iman a few years ago, in preparation for the HRH The Crown Prince's wedding, we watched several videos of old Royal weddings. One of the things that struck us was that LKY was present in all of them. LKY was a very close friend to Brunei.

There were two bits of the lecture which I thought would be missed out by most of the audience.

One was a short anecdote that LKY mentioned when he came to Brunei with his wife for the first time in the early 1960s. They stayed at the newly extended palace and LKY found it too hot. LKY mentioned that there was no airconditioning in that extension. Sultan Omar Ali went through the second world war and knew the hardship he had to endure. He also worked at one time as a Forestry Officer where he had to go out and probably stayed overnight in some camps or other. He knew life was difficult. His frugality ought to serve us as an example of what we too should be doing. We may have all the wealth but it does not mean that we should spend it in a spendthrift manner.

Another was a short mentioned about the role of the Crown Agents. The Crown Agents were the agency which we placed most if not all our country's investments prior to us handling it ourselves. LKY mentioned that the Crown Agent was very careful in looking after Brunei's investment. I leave that there.

This is not the first time LKY has spoken publicly about Brunei. I posted last year his conversation during a dialogue with Allen Lai, chief executive officer of AsiaInc Forum at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies' 40th anniversary gala dinner. The article translated into English and reproduced here first appeared on January 9, 2008 in Lianhe Ziabao, a Chinese daily in Singapore. You can read it in my last year's posting here.

I have to admit LKY looked very frail. The last time I saw him was when he was talking about water in Singapore during the Water Convention. He was soft spoken and at times we had to strain our ears. Perhaps that has something to do with the sound system as well. But he has known Brunei, he watched it grow. I am sure LKY lend a helping hand now and then. But we are now 25 year old. We have to take it where we want to go ourselves. Nobody can help us with that.


LKY Protege said…
WELL SAID and written, BRo!

I knew it that you'd be the one person in the whole of Brunei or even the whole world for that matter to have subtly challenged (without fear of any consequential LEE-legal suit!) S'pore's MM DLU LKY's juxtapose position to the Late "Al-Marhum" when LKY was given the most esteemed honour of being the first 'Intellectual' or "Sifu" to deliver the inaugural SOAS Memorial Lecture the other day.

An elder statesman of MM LKY's stature and eloquence could've given a much more enlightening lecture than such an anti-climax kind of monologue at the ICC.

Overall, a great crowd turnout! Audio of MM LKY's microphone was a big let-down for the 3k people in the ICC Plenary Hall (including yours truly). That was the main 'LOW' of the auspicious event. The 'highs' were UBD VC, Dr Zul's resonant citation of MM LKY and most obvious impact was HRH the Crown Prince's Keynote Address.

HRH Crown Prince DPMM Pengiran Muda Hj Al-Muhtadee Billah has somewhat matured and has vastly improved his speech pattern. HRH can be categorised as a Late Bloomer in terms of maturity level and academic achievements but once he's getting the hang of things, HRH the Crown Prince will surely rise to the occasion! Keep it up, DPMM (likewise to DPMM FC, they will show true mettle in S-League).

With respect to the content of MM LKY's lecture, I can't blame the S'pore 'national monumental hero' for his lacklustre delivery last Wednesday (which was a far cry from his normal fiery rhetoric). Who would be so upbeat about another peer's strong wisdom when one had to swallow one's pride for having lost some Sing$50 billion in the looming global financial meltdown, BRo! As current Chairman of S'pore's Government Investment Corp (GIC), MM LKY's under a lot of pressure lately and obviously, it must've taken its toll on his frail health condition.

Outgoing Temasek Holdings' CEO 'Ironlady' (his daughter-in-law Ho Ching) is now passing the baton to a new 'angmo' top honcho. Temasek Holdings have been on a losing streak, as well, with almost two-thirds of the Fine City's foreign reserves having been wiped out in the last couple of years caused by the credit crunch in the US and elsewhere. So MM LKY's trip to Brunei this time around is sort of timely to negotiate with 'small but extremely wealthier brother' on maybe, just maybe, a Plan B (bailout contingency)?

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