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.