National income accounts are fundamental for measuring and understanding the anatomy and evolution of economies, as well as for planning and managing them.  Study of long-run economic growth in Malaya over the course of the 20th century has been held back by the absence of a statistical series on national income for the pre-World War II period.

HRH was passionate and committed to get a deeper understanding of the long-run twentieth century economic growth and its drivers. This topic was seriously constrained by the complete absence of a statistical series on national income accounts for the period prior to 1947.  After receiving his doctorate from Harvard University, HRH with the support and encouragement of Sharil Talib, started a small research project in 2001 at the Asia-Europe Institute of the University of Malaya. The aim was to construct a century-long time series of the country’s economic growth.

Leading a small team of statisticians and up to 15 research assistants from the Asia-Europe Institute, at the University of Malaya, HRH was actively involved in collecting, processing and analysing the data.  In the early years of the project, despite his very demanding schedule and his many public engagements, HRH made it a point to meet with the team every other day to discuss progress, resolve issues and to provide encouragement.

Dato’ Gnasegarah s/o C. Kandaiya, formerly of the Department of Statistics, Malaysia, and his assistant, Mr Harbans Singh s/o Sohan Singh, recall the excitement and tensions of working long hours to construct the historical accounts. And they fondly remember HRH consideration in providing the team with a large screen television at the Institute so that they could watch the 2002 FIFA World Cup Japan/Korea football matches during breaks in their long days.

Data were carefully pieced together from a wide range of statistical documents obtained from the colonial historical statistical records located and accessed in the National Archives Office in Kuala Lumpur and the Public Records Office in London (renamed the National Archives Office and relocated in Kew, Surrey in 2004).  Early presentations  of the results were made at the 2002 and 2006 International Economic History Congresses in Buenos Aires and Helsinki respectively. And the project has and continues to benefit from insights and inputs from a diverse range of eminent national and international experts. 

Having derived estimates of Malaya’s GDP and its components for 1900 to 1939, and validated them, the next step along the way was to analyse trends and their interrelationships. The study helped break new ground in understanding the dynamics of Malaya’s economic performance during these four decades.  
The project entered a new phase in January 2016 and is now managed by Dr Richard Leete, with senior research assistance being provided by Cheng Fan Soon and Sharon Ng. As part of a roadmap for the outputs over the next two years it is planned that in addition to this project website there will be further research publications and an international seminar – details forthcoming.

c/o Asia-Europe Institute
University of Malaya,
50603 Kuala Lumpur

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