Brunei Darussalam 50 Years Ago

[This article was published in Brunei Times on 20th September 2010. I ran out of material to write and then I saw the 1960 Brunei Annual Report and had a lightbulb moment.]

The Brunei Annual Report of 1960, exactly 50 years ago had a very short general review. Not only is it short, it was also toned-down despite the fact that the new Constitution was promulgated the year before. It stated:

“The year showed a steady decline in the revenue of the State, due no doubt to the fall off in the production of oil and partly to the trade recession as a result of there being no new development plan being introduced by the Government. Retrenchment of staff in the Public Works Department has caused concern and until a new development plan is introduced this situation will not improve. The Public Works Department has virtually ceased all large-scale activities, and the two new hospitals which it was hoped to build have not eventuated. Brunei, under the new Constitution promulgated in September, 1959 acquired internal self-Government, and is administered by the Executive and Legislative Councils. Meetings of the Executive Council are held fortnightly.”

How much was the shortfall in oil in 1960? According to the exports data, in 1958, the value of export was $326,877,860 of which crude oil formed around $300,429,129. By 1960, crude oil only contributed $240,065,782, a drop of more than $60 million in just two years. The total exports in 1960 were $255,388,011, a drop of around $74 million. Surprisingly there was a rally of rubber exports, increasing from about $1,717,960 in 1958 to about $5,067,140 in 1960 but even then that was not enough to overcome the lower oil exports.

What was not mentioned in the report was that throughout 1914 to 1960, Brunei’s only producing field was onshore in Seria. Between those years, 48 exploration wells were drilled. Prior to the Second World War, production had risen to 17,000 barrels per day in 1940. Despite the extensive damage to the field caused by both the British and Japanese Forces, post war production had peaked to about 15,000 barrels per day. 1960 was a worrying year in terms of oil production. It was not until 1963 that the South West Ampa field was discovered, thirteen kilometers off Kuala Belait’s shoreline.

Despite that, there were still surpluses and the savings were kept aside in the investments fund. In 1960, the government’s revenue was more than $127 million while expenditure was around $31 million giving a surplus of around $96 million. This was about $3 million lower compared to the previous year. By 1960, the government’s accumulated assets had exceeded $700 million.

The total population in 1960 had not even reached the 100,000 mark yet. There were 31,708 people in Belait District, 27,809 in Rural Brunei District, 10,710 in Tutong District, 9,702 in Brunei Municipal Area and 3,948 in Temburong District giving a total population of Brunei Darussalam of only 83,877. About 39,109 or around 46% of the population were below the age of 15.

In terms of racial division, the Malays make up 45,153 people, the Chinese 21,795 with the rest of 16,047 made up of the various indigenous groups. More than 4,105 births were recorded in 1960; however 284 of these babies died before reaching the age of 1. Of these 284 deaths, 56 were from Tutong. There were still a number of deliveries which were not delivered by the government midwives. The annual report noted that there is still ‘a hard core of refusals, with the result that there is a high maternal mortality rate.’

At the same time there were only 27 doctors throughout Brunei. In 1960, there were no private medical practitioners; all the doctors were either employed by the government or by Brunei Shell. As for the number of hospital beds, there were 160 beds in Brunei Town, 75 beds in Kuala Belait and another 120 beds in BSP Hospital. Despite the growing interest in nursing, the number of Bruneians willing to become nurses was not up to expectation.

Tuberculosis (TB) was still a worrying problem in 1960. There were 3,722 cases in 1960 alone. In the meantime, Malaria has almost been eradicated with the number of cases dropping from 3,062 in 1953 to only 16 in 1960. Typhoid fever was still endemic with most cases coming from Kampong Ayer. While in Tutong, there is an appreciable incidence of measles and gastroenteritis and filariasis. Whilst today we worry about the Bird Flu and the Swine H1N1 flu, in 1960 it was the Asian flu which was a concern with more than 3,665 cases.

In terms of education, the government invested a huge amount of money. By 1960, there were 16,679 students registered. There were almost 70 Malay Primary schools open throughout the country but only 3 government English schools. Private schools abounded in those days with 8 mission schools and 8 Chinese schools. In April 1960, the first Lower Sixth Form was started in SOAS College. The report noted that this was ‘an event of momentous importance as the hitherto the highest level of instruction of any school in Brunei was Form V.’

Brunei’s Supreme Court in 1960 was still the combined Supreme Courts of Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei consisting of the Court of Appeal and the High Court. There was only one High Court Judge (sitting 5 times in Brunei) and one Stipendiary Magistrate (from Singapore). Unfortunately there was no resident lawyer and anybody who wished to have legal representation was dependent on visiting counsels from outside Brunei.

There was still insufficient police force in Brunei then. They had to be assisted by a Volunteer Police Force (Oilfields Security Force), one platoon from the Sarawak Constabulary Field Force and a detachment from the Royal Federation of Malaya Police. The Police Force then also managed the registration of vehicles and the fire brigade.

Water supplies were still insufficient. In 1960, the water treatment plant at Sungai Basong was commissioned. The plant employing a microstrainer was the first of its kind to be used in South East Asia. Piped water finally reached Serdang, Katimahar, Kulapis, Mulaut and Delima. Many other areas beyond Brunei Town were still without piped water. Kampong Ayer too finally had treated water.

The Brunei Legislative Council formulated under the new 1959 Constitution met three times in 1960 whereas the Executive Council met about 30 times. The new Constitution meant that four important positions had to be filled namely the Chief Minister or Menteri Besar who was Pehin Dato Haji Ibrahim Jaafar, the State Secretary was Wan Ahmad bin Wan Omar, the Attorney General was Inche Ali bin Hassan and the Mr. MDB Graham was the State Financial Officer.

Most importantly, 1960 was the first full year that Brunei had internal self government. The British Resident post had been abolished and Great Britain appointed Mr. DC White as the United Kingdom High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam. Despite the rather somber general review to the 1960 Annual Report, 1960 can be said to mark the beginning of the modern history of Brunei Darussalam.

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