As we draw nearer to 2019, let’s take look back at The Scoop’s first full year in operation — indeed, it has been a news-charged 2018. From a surprise cabinet reshuffle to highlights of the Legislative Council meeting, and even features on famous local personalities, here are some of our most-read stories of the year.

10. Get to know the man behind Brunei’s beloved Babu Sinur 

The man behind Babu Sinur, Mohd Khairul Anwar Awg Japar. Photo: The Scoop

We all know him as Babu Sinur, a well-liked quirky local comedy star. However, behind his signature grin and wrapped towel upon his head, Mohd Khairul Anwar Awg Japar spoke candidly about his struggles as an entertainer.

“I didn’t want to depend on my parents because they also depend on me. I kept telling myself that I need to invest in my creativity,” he said oh his journey, which began three years ago after graduation from Universiti Brunei Darussalam.

“I want to portray the comedic life of Bruneians in our skits. That is why our videos are so relatable, it is because people see themselves in our videos.”

9. Teacher jailed six years for molesting students

File photo shows the Magistrates Court in Bandar Seri Begawan.

A lurid court case of a primary school teacher who sexually assaulted and molested three of his students elicited strong feelings from our readers, as court documents detailed a year-long pattern of abuse where the defendant molested his students, aged between 10 and 11, on school property.

8. HM: Cabinet reshuffle is of ‘vital importance‘ 

The 2018 cabinet sworn in on Feb 1. Members will serve for a five year-term. Photo: Infofoto

In January 2018, His Majesty announced a surprise cabinet reshuffle — among the newly appointed line-up were six new ministers and two women deputy ministers.

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The surprise shake-up came just two years after the last cabinet reshuffle of October 2015, with the sultan stressing that the changes were of “vital importance”.

During the cabinet’s first meeting later in February, the sultan gave a stern warning to new ministers: cronyism and abuse of power would not be tolerated in this new cabinet.

7. 47 Brunei scholarship students abroad diagnosed with mental health problems 

This year has seen a heightened awareness and empathy for mental health issues, with more youth being referred to medical services for mental illness and government plans to launch a suicide hotline.

During the Legislative Council meeting in March, the Minister of Education disclosed that in the last five years, 47 Brunei scholarship students studying abroad have been diagnosed with mental health problems.

“It is Important for this issue to be dealt with in an integrated manner. If there is a case of mental health problem detected, the Ministry of Education will take action according to the existing standard operating procedure,” YB Dato Paduka Hj Hamzah Hj Sulaiman said.

6. Brunei sportswear company being probed, accused of stealing designs from international artists 

A Headhunter Sport rugby jersey. The Bruneian startup has been accused of copyright infringement by several international artists. Photo: Headhunter Sport/Facebook

Once a darling of Brunei’s startup scene, local apparel maker Headhunter Sport was found to be lifting original artwork from international artists.

The designs used on the company’s line of rugby jerseys, were taken from the original artwork of Marc Allante, as well as other artists such as Justin Maller, Kerby Rosanes and Hope Little.

While Headhunter — the official apparel partner for the Singapore Rugby Union — apologised, claiming that management did not know its designers were taking work from other artists, the outcry provoked much online discourse on business ethics and Brunei companies failing to respect intellectual property rights.

5. Dato Steven Chong named chief justice of Supreme Court 

File photo: Dato Steven Chong (2L) sits next to Dato Hj Kifrawi (2R) at the Supreme Court during the opening of the Legal Year in Feb 2018. Photo: Rudolf Portillo/The Scoop

In June, High Court judge Dato Paduka Steven Chong became the first person of Chinese descent appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, replacing the long-serving Dato Seri Paduka Hj Kifrawi Dato Paduka Hj Kifli, who completed his term after almost nine years in the country’s top judicial post.

4. YMRM boss wins libel suit against Indian Chamber of Commerce 

Chairman of the YMRM Group Ramesh Jiwatram Bhawani (R) and his son. Photo: Courtesy of YMRM

In March, the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) was ordered to pay $950,000 in libel damages to owner of YMRM textile malls, Ramesh Jiwatram Bhawani, and another plaintiff, for circulating letters claiming Ramesh was involved in criminal activities.

The damages were the largest libel award in Brunei’s history, exposing the rivalries among the big players in the country’s textile retail sector.

3. Disgraced judges accused of stealing $7mn from court coffers 

This screenshot taken from RTB News shows Hj Nabil and Ramzidah, two judges arrested in an ongoing corruption investigation. Source: RTB

A case that gripped public conversation this year, two former judges were charged in court last July with allegedly embezzling more than $7 million from the High Court’s Bankruptcy Office.

The husband and wife duo stand accused of corruption, money laundering and criminal breach of trust by a public servant, for misappropriating court funds, which were allegedly used to buy $3.2 million worth of luxury cars and other high-value assets.

They pleaded not guilty to all 157 charges with a trial expected in new year, where the defendants will be seeking Queen’s Counsel to represent them.

2. $115,000 stolen from Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Foundation 

Chairman of YSHHB’s Board of Directors, YB Pehin Dato Hj Halbi (centre-L) walks with HRH Prince Abdul Malik (centre-R) prior to a meeting of the YSHHB Committee of Governors. Photo: Infofoto

In another corruption case, an internal audit of the Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Foundation revealed that $115,528 was embezzled by five staff members between 2004 and 2016.

“What is disheartening is that the offences were not reported to the police, nor reported to the executive committee and management of YSHHB,” HRH Prince Abdul Malik said while chairing a meeting of the committee of governors back in October.

The foundation’s board of directors later said action will be taken against the alleged offenders.

1. From humble farmer to retail tycoon: How Pehin Lau built the Hua Ho empire

Lau Ah Kok inside the first Hua Ho shop in Manggis during the 1950s. Photo: Courtesy of the Lau Family

Earlier in the year, Brunei saw the loss of one of its most prominent self-made tycoons — Pehin Lau Ah Kok — who was 98 when he passed away on January 7, 2018.

In remembrance of his inspiring legacy, The Scoop penned down his story: From humble beginnings to building the biggest retail business in Brunei. And it certainly wasn’t an easy journey.

At 17, Pehin Lau Ah Kok fled Kinmen, Taiwan during the Second World War, with just $10 in his pocket, in search of better opportunities in Brunei. He then began by starting a small farm and “kadai runcit” which over the years grew to become Brunei’s most recognisable supermarket chain.