Tribute to ‘Architect of Modern Brunei’ in SOAS Memorial Lecture 2010

By Azaraimy HH, BB8 Oct 2010


Dubbed as a legendary leader, religious scholar and a true intellectual thinker that is the late father of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien was a royal poet that had contributed to many turning points in Brunei history, leaving in his track legacies that earned him the accolade “Architect of Modern Brunei”.

Pengiran Setia Negara Pg (Dr) Hj Mohd Yusof bin Pg Hj Abd Rahim called the people to celebrate in remembrance of a person who put his position as Sultan and the fate of his people on the line. During his reign, said Pengiran Setia Negara, Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien initiated a long and winding road for constitutional reforms and suspension in order to save the country and its existence.

Speaking in Bahasa Brunei during the Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Memorial Lecture 2010 at the Chancellor Hall, Pengiran Setia Negara said the insightful monarch was able to drum up a heightened spirit of nationalism and sense of patriotism among the people in all four corners of the country during times of constitutional reforms.

Pengiran Setia Negara was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Law by the International Academy Vancouver, Canada in 1961, for his contribution and active involvement in public administration. He also attended Hiroshima University in 1945.

He was one of the seven-member delegation sent by the late Sultan during the process of constitutional reforms.

During the SOAS Memorial Lecture 2009 last year, Dato Laila Utama Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s Minister Mentor and long-time friend of Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien, in summary, emphasised that it was through His Majesty’s late father’s skilful statecraft in a then-turbulent region of the world, and with full knowledge of what was to happen with calculated risks, that he was able to save the nation from premature independence, keep the oil wealth and build the infrastructure needed to achieve statehood. By the 1980s, Al-Marhum had given the sultanate’s 200,000 people a high per capita income, enjoying good welfare and a subsidised economy, and transformed the people from inadequacy to being among the world’s most privileged societies.

This year’s SOAS Memorial Lecture by Pengiran Setia Negara mainly touched on the constitutional reformation, or rather the making of first independently written constitution for the country, whereby His Majesty’s late father sent a seven-member delegation into every Mukim and village in Brunei to basically listen to people’s aspirations on the writing of such constitution.

Later in the lecture, Pengiran Setia Negara also answered several questions from the invited guests.

One of the questions posed was on the reason why Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien decided not to join as one of the Malaysian Federation of States. While Pengiran Setia Negara did not directly address the question, he gave some reasons behind the decision.

Pengiran Setia Negara said that even though the idea was attractive to His Majesty’s late father, he did not accept the terms given by Tengku. When the Malaysia Agreement was signed on July 9, 1963 in London, by Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, Brunei firmly rejected the offer due to Al-Marhum’s “utter unhappiness over the terms”, as he was worried over the future of the country, the people and sovereignty of the nation, the distinguished speaker added.

According to Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, several accounts were also given to explain the reasons for Brunei’s decision not to join Malaysia. One account cited disagreement over oil revenues as the primary cause. Kuala Lumpur wanted Brunei to hand over control of its oil to the federal government after 10 years. Kuala Lumpur also wanted to immediately tax any new oil and mineral finds discovered after Brunei joined Malaysia, and make the Sultan’s contribution of $40 million to federal revenues compulsory rather than voluntary. The Sultan’s late father reportedly found these terms unacceptable.

Pengiran Setia Negara Pg (Dr) Hj Mohd Yusof in his lecture also presented a biography of Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien.

Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien was born on September 23, 1914 in Kampong Sultan Lama. He was the second son of the 26th Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam II.

At the age of 18, in 1932, Al-Marhum enrolled at the Kuala Kangsar Malay College, which according to Pengiran Setia Negara was a college for the Royalty in Malaysia.

In 1938, Al-Marhum entered the State Administrative Service and was stationed in Kuala Belait for a year, and lived and worked in the jungle of Ulu Belait. Al-Marhum later joined the Legal Department as a cadet officer, and learned the civil and criminal law matters. In 1938, Al-Marhum left the department and devoted his time to studying religion under a well-known religious teacher.

In 1941, Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien married Pengiran Anak Damit, the daughter of the then Pengiran Bendahara. Al-Marhum’s brother, Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin passed away on June 4, 1950.

Al-Marhum was crowned and proclaimed as Brunei’s 28th Sultan at the age of 35.