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Brunei Darussalam, Economy

Opinion: Curious Case of Unemployment

depression unemployment

There’s been a rising debate on unemployment recently sparked by Brunei Times in their article entitled “Chasing after Brunei’s runaway scholars“. Now it deals with the scholarship programme, one which I am indirectly associated with.

But really what has been touched upon really deals on job prospects. Many of whom says that the main reason it happened is because of the lack of career opportunity and lower salary offered compared to other countries. Hey the average working salary in Shell Brunei is lower than in Singapore or in Malaysia, and with the same qualification a student can apply for a working expat visa, fly off, work there without much hassle. So is that not an opportunity worth taking?

But most importantly: Who wants to work in an environment that do not provide the ‘right’ environment and ‘right’ salary for them to ‘grow’?

But since the scholarship award has strings attached to it students who are reluctant to be ‘bonded’ are poised to stand their ground. Those 20 students that did so stayed abroad in a passive aggressive manner. Thus the government is calling them, coaxing them, and even legally threatening them to come home and work.

Those on the board of education are not really happy with those running away from their ‘bonds’, and they have every right too do so: no one likes an ingrate. What is particularly infuriating for them is to read these honest comment section that would easily embarrass those in charge; alas they get honest feedback. And alas the power of the internet in front of our very sights.

Anyway a commenter sarcastically told how the government is to be blamed because of the current high unemployment rate; he then asked this question “Did JPKE actually keep track of the number of workers employed after every job fair?” Alas the comment got very popular.

But really what really piqued my interest is the fact that ‘many of the scholars who went home are still unemployed(I translated his sentence from Malay)’. I bet it is not only those scholar students but those studying in the local institutions as well namely UBD, ITB etc.

The question now is why is that? Why the high rate of unemployment in the nation?

It reminds me of J.Paul Getty‘s memoir “As I see It” how he scorn young Americans who would be all mad and aghast of not having the ‘opportunity to work’ when the local newspaper themselves have not ever stopped advertising employers for positions of work! Looking back at Brunei Times or Borneo Bulletin, have you ever seen a day without any jobs advertised?

It makes me sad too knowing how our young men and women are crying to get a hand-out from the government as if they are our parents. As if we have an entitlement over them. Grow and be self-reliant for God sakes!

When I was in Maktab Duli, in a time when my family have money problems do I go out to the government agency and ask for a job?

Meh not even once.

I became a waiter in Gadong to support myself to buy my own food. I went out around the neighbourhood to sell used DVDs and CDs, and make errands for my customers. I even sold foods during school charity events.

After the holiday I set up my businesses where I refurbished and rented my granddad’s house. Cemented his road with my ‘uncle-uncles’ so my tenants would have good parking space. Set up a spaghetti booth to sell in Yayasan, and became a freelance real estate agent(though I didn’t succeed in this one).

My family supported me in this and the money that was acquired through hard work and dedication taught me that there is no such thing as easy money. I had to work for it.

So coming back to those whose whining of not being able to get a job even though you are bonded that is actually a freaking good opportunity! To strike your own path and build your own businesses! I-centre and BEDB is giving you guys the support to launch your enterprise, so why not?

Or perhaps work or intern for a private company. A friend whose taking a real estate related course commented how he learned more in a private company more than his friend who worked in the government’s Ministry of Development.

Mind you if those labour expats now living and working in Brunei are doing their job dutifully for BND$300-BND$600/month then who are to complain about getting a job? They went outside the country and lived for pennies for a long day work man! Without those Indonesians, Indians, and Filipinos can Brunei’s service and labour sector work for itself?

Anyway, the idea of writing this article is just take upon the unemployables the initiative to take jobs and not depend to much on government’s help. They do have their own weaknesses but they have provided the opportunity for man and a woman to work for a days’ worth of pay to begin to work in whatever field they may choose; all within a secure environment.

To close this article let me bring to you a quote which I found in J.Paul Getty’s Memoir, a quote from Abraham Lincon:

“You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot help the wage earner by pulling down the wage-payer. You cannot further the Brotherhood of Man by encouraging class hatred. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn. You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.”


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9 thoughts on “Opinion: Curious Case of Unemployment

  1. yes,I support u dear, every one have to stand on their feet first before having comfortable job, but nowadays in Brunei some private sectors offer vacancies open to foreigners with out advertised in news papers with high salary 10k to 20k per month, free house,car and etc. become ceo, gm’s, consultants and do as they like to Bruneian, so is this fair and square for us, they think that they are brilliant than bruneians, so how are we going to go onwards 2035, anak Brunei Boleh……


    Posted by Airi ray | May 14, 2013, 6:45 am
    • Don’t blame the foreigners, they are hired because they have contacts and ( in general) a much better work ethic. While Bruneians are chained to regulations that stop them from pursuing professional qualifications without cutting off their figurative arms and legs, foreigners can get those easily and do things Bruneians simply cannot do here. As long as Bruneians think of themselves as leaders ‘by right’ they will not lead anything.

      Those jobs you mentioned- GM, consultant, CEO are NOT advertised because they are appointments, not applicable jobs. Someone went over their CV, got an introduction to them and was impressed by their record. Do Bruneians market themselves like this? Is there a corporate power broker out there with a Bruneian nationality? Can a Bruneian honestly claim over 20-30 years of experience in a profit-making, risk taking market? The only ones trying to be CEOs and GMs, as far as I can see are retired Perm Secs and ex-military officers.


      Posted by hamakraminus | May 28, 2013, 4:15 am
      • 20-30 years of experience?

        OK I just need another 7 years work experience and I’ll meet that criteria. So where should I send my CV? :p



        Posted by izamryan | May 29, 2013, 4:08 am
        • the above complaint is about why foreigners are appointed as CEOs and GMs of big private companies- the simple answer is because they have the required experience in business to do so (ability is another story). By contrast a lot of CEOs from Bruneian ranks seem to be people who spent their careers in government and then retired to take up the position at a company of their family/friend out of favor.

          I’d suggest getting those 7 years to be promotion years so you can lead properly in the future.


          Posted by hamakraminus | May 29, 2013, 7:34 am
  2. A different version of this response is posted in Brunei Times.
    I think you have mistakenly linked scholarship absconding and unemployment.
    We were discussing why people failed to return and how we may change that.
    Unemployment is a different issue.

    In terms of employment in foreign countries, you have forgotten to discount taxes. In UK, the income tax for a medical doctor would be 40%. Let’s say their salary is £40k per year. That would leave them around £20k (40k BND let’s say). They have to pay national insurance at 12%, council tax according to bands, VAT for goods and services, insurance and MOT for cars, £1.50 per litre for petrol, and countless other taxes and bills (oh, gas, electric and water could easily take £100 off monthly). Plus all the jams, stress, litigations, complains, and standards. This would be similar in any first world cities like Australia, US or Singapore.
    So no, monetary gain is negligible and even less sometimes compare the good life in Brunei.
    In terms of environment, is a hit or miss. Some departments are progressive and excellent, some at the other end of scale. But like I said, you have to be in the system to change the system. Running away won’t solve anything and don’t expect someone to solve it for you so you can come back someday and sit comfortably on the chair.


    Posted by Latteboy | May 19, 2013, 5:39 pm
  3. Two thumbs up!

    I think the crux of the matter here is … Brunei is blessed with mineral wealth, and for the next stage of our economic development, Brunei must step out of her comfort zone and focus on human capital development, innovation management and entrepreneurship. But policies which were developed in the past and worked well with developing our oil & gas industry may not work with the realities of this increasingly digital world he compete in.

    As a Bruneian living and working abroad I can say that … for sure it’s tough working abroad, compared with in Brunei. For sure, living in a world-class global city, you have to expect world-class living costs. Bruneians have some living cost advantages living in Brunei – that’s undeniable. But I also say that world-class global cities bring with them global opportunities. Over the last 2 years I’ve worked on almost $5bn in M&A transactions. Something which might be beyond my reach if I were to work in Brunei.

    And I agree with AMO’s main point in the article. There is opportunity – everywhere. The paths we take in life are littered with opportunities, we only have to stop and pick the gems up.

    At the end of the day – both absconding and unemployment are symptoms of the same problem – a local job market that is not vibrant. For Brunei to reshape herself as a knowledge-based economy, she needs to develop a vibrant local job market and promote the private sector.

    So how do we forge a way forward? I’d suggest that … if there are so many scholars who have global work qualifications, what initiatives can we start to make use of that talent? Does talent have to be “housed in Brunei” in order to “contribute to nation building”? If you agree with me, then … I am available to consult for your M&A deals, corporate finance strategy and innovation management projects 🙂

    Good job with the article – keep it up.


    Posted by izamryan | May 24, 2013, 1:46 am

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