(Picture credits to http://www.inspire-thinking.at)

There have been talks now in the need to promote youth participation in Brunei society. I welcome the remarks especially made by our youth YB when it comes to the increasing involvement of young people into village and mukim consultative councils. Without their participation, how else can we create a robust society? It is the young who will inherit the nation and assume the greatest challenges in Brunei’s Post-Oil Era after all.

On this note, I fully agree with his notion. I myself have championed the idea back in 2018 with the article ‘’Get youth involved in Village Consultative Council institutions” (2018). But, whereas the need for youth participation is indeed paramount, these institutions should be evolved too. I propose three changes. Done properly, they can create a “Big Bang” in participation.

Before I begin, I am a currently Treasurer for MPK Junjongan. Since I was elected to the post back in 2017, I have made strides to helping the MPK break donation records for our orphans and needy year-on-year. I have even written an economic report titled, ‘Kampung Junjongan: From Village to Town in 5 years?’ (2018). In short, I have first-hand experience in the institution, and I do not just speak out of lofty theories or ideals.

The first change that should be done is for the government to provide financial incentives for MPK members to do their work. I have never taken a single cent of pay when I served the MPK over the years. In fact, I operated at a loss, if I took into account the fuel, food, and opportunity cost for serving the institution. Therein lies the problem, in that there are zero financial incentives given to people to participate in the MPK. For this matter, no one wants to seriously work for free.

Ministers, parliamentarians, government officers, freelancers, and even the Village Head himself get paid. Even the local council members in Southend-on-Sea, the town where I studied for my degree are paid for their service. But for the MPK executive members here in Brunei? None, except for the Village Head. I am not alone in sharing this frustration. I met an MPK senior who has served for more than ten years who never gets paid a dime at all. This has to change. In order for Brunei to attract and retain talent, Brunei has to pay for them to stay. There is no such thing as a “free lunch”.

As Lee Kuan Yew said when asked about the high salaries of Singapore’s cabinet ministers and senior civil servants, “We cannot underpay…and argue that their sole reward should be their contribution to the public good.” The same logic should be extended to MPK institutions. Unless talents are attracted and retained in the local communities, it will not result in genuine and effective participation.

 (Lee Kuan Yew in defense of the high salaries to civil servants, etc. I concur!)

Secondly, it is about time that our MPK members get the public recognition they need for their service. I am not talking about just youth here, but rather the elderlies who have served over the decades and who have sacrificed their countless time, energies and efforts to contribute to their respective villages. The same elderly person remarked to me that if Pingat Indah Kerja Baik (P.I.K.B) were given to government officers, so too should MPK members be given that award for their longstanding and meritorious service.

Indeed, there has been a lack of public recognition given to MPK members, and this has made it unattractive for young people to join the institution. No one wants to do a ‘thankless’ job. To remedy this problem, special medals should be awarded to MPKs who have served more than ten years, among many criteria that can be introduced. To those who think recognitions are ‘useless’, consider that Napoleon has a strong and loyal army, dubbed the Old Guards, who were given both incentives and colored ribbons (a symbol of recognition) to help him in his epic Napoleonic conquests in Europe.

Finally, nation-wide elections should be introduced and popularised at the village level across the country, with the Village Head positions equally open for all regardless of their background, gender, age and more. The institution should be robust to allow an election to be made every five years, so as to incentivize citizens of this country to compete for the leadership posts available. Certainly, we should avoid the Village Leaders holding onto their posts for more than five years, as this could make leaders complacent with their duties and responsibilities, unless if they are re-elected. Competition should be continually introduced.

In matters of elections, it goes without saying, that there is a difference between being ‘appointed’ and being ‘elected’, with the latter denoting the most genuine of participation there is. When a person is elected by the people of his constituency, he is channeling the trust of the people into his hands the great responsibility to make a change on their behalf. This is key if we want to build an institution ‘for the people, by the people’.

The failure to enact these changes to the institution will only result in the increased apathy of young people towards society. In other words, it is Business-As-Usual. Whereas young people can be ‘artificially’ made to participate, also called ‘Tokenism’, such public spirit usually fizzles out when incentives, recognition, and competition are absent. This has to change.

To draw up plans for these changes require policy-makers to think hard on the policy solutions regarding MPK-related matters. Certainly, we have the talent and brains to make these changes. After all, we have sent thousands of our Bruneian students to the UK for their studies over the past decade. Perhaps some of them have ideas to pursue these changes. I certainly would and I am open for consultation.

I say this because in 2018, I spoke to an international friend who works in a successful country in the region. I asked what his job responsibility was. He replied, “I help shape my country’s urban development plan for the next 100 years”. 100 years! Think about it! No wonder his small country is successful! To succeed, we must have a similar mindset. To think bravely, creatively and to think long-term not just for Wawasan Brunei 2035, but Brunei Post Oil 2050.

To conclude, it is my judgment that if the above institutional prescriptions are to be applied, then Brunei can see a meteoric rise in participation in no time. Our communities will become more robust, social solidarity will increase, and economic development will be unlocked. We will also be preparing our people for leadership positions, so when great challenges come, we can successfully face and overcome them to ensure our survival as a polity, as we have done in the past 600-plus years in our Bruneian history.