The future of the post-oil Bruneian economy is mixed with a streak of optimism and pessimism in the general Bruneian psyche today. Such future brims with optimism because the current younger generation is being equipped in paving Brunei in the tricky waters of the 21st century; pessimism because there are no concrete plans on how to capitalise Brunei towards achieving the maximum amount of effort to sustain itself economically in the post-oil economy. Otherwise Brunei would have been diversified by now, but instead, the economy is still 95% dependent on Oil. It is, therefore, the aim of this article to drive home the message to decision makers today the need to introduce policies to help soften the blow once the Oil runs out. These policies are not necessarily popular nor will it help political score points in the short-run, but it is nonetheless policies that require immediate careful attention if we are ever to prepare Brunei in the post-oil era.n
The first policy that needs to be revived is the re-introduction and re-imposition of income taxes. Reflecting on a society that has been cushioned from hard work and has been spoon fed with welfare their entire lives, such a change may cause an immediate outcry. Nonetheless, it is still a vital policy needed to modernise our national system. To soften the blow, we should consider introducing a flat tax of 1% per year for everyone who is subscribed to TAP and SCP. The reason why 1% must be set is so that we can acclimatise and normalise the mindsets of the Bruneian public to pay their “due share in society”. Such amount can be progressively increased within the next few years once they are used to the system. In addition, it can serve as a starting ground for policy-makers to get a hold on the system. This means building the basic competence for our taxman and tax-related agencies the means to reform, carry out, and enforce the policy through this experimentation-based process. We do not need to look any further for expertise. We can always import professionals from UK, Qatar and Singapore to assist in drawing up the legislation and financial systems in place for the re-introduction and re-imposition of income taxes.
The second policy is to switch mass private motor usage to public transport. The government spent a whopping $400m in 2014 for oil subsidy alone, almost 15% of the national budget of 2016. This notwithstanding the carbon emissions being produced year on year – Brunei was the highest carbon emitter in ASEAN in 2012. The capital invested in the oil subsidy must be channelled towards building the public transport system instead. While the bus transport system is not to London standards or in high demand today, it would be unrealistic to say that Bruneians will continue to use their own cars one day when most of them no longer rely on government hand-outs and support. By then the Bruneian public would be using buses (or tuk tuks), much like its counterparts in this region such as Malaysia, Singapore, and Phillippines. At the same time, Brunei should strive to increase car duties and taxes, as well as to increase the complexities and fees of applying for a driving license so we can achieve the overall policy of switching mass private motor usage to public transport in the country. Such process must be intensified over the course of the next few years.
The final policy for Brunei to succeed is to opt for an ‘open-border’ immigration policy. It is a contentious issue that I know are discussed with hushed voices behind closed doors, but we must face the reality that this is the path forward if Brunei intends to succeed. An open economy that would embrace immigration in the region or the island should be the aim. We can start off by opening our borders to Malaysia and then Indonesia in Borneo, and then gradually in the ASEAN region. A passport-less entry into Brunei may evoke traditional racism by conservatives or the Trumps of our society, but the advantages of immigration tend to outweigh the negatives as it would generally lead to more trade and competition. These factors then contribute towards the improvement of our national productivity and development. Dubai has done the same. Out of its 5 million population, only 300,000 are locals. The other 95% are made up of foreigners. If Dubai can do it, Brunei can too. To those Bruneian Trumps who may be against open immigration, we have to realise that the Puak Kedayan were formerly Javanese skilled rice plantation workers who migrated to Brunei by Sultan Bolkiah the 5th’s orders. These people then integrated into our society and consequently enhanced the performance of our polity.
To conclude, Brunei should take precautions to prepare for a post-oil economy in order for our nation to capitalise on the changing global order. Three policy recommendations include the gradual re-introduction and re-imposition of income taxes, the switching of private motor usage to public transport, and to produce an open-border, passport-less immigration policy to drive up the population and market base in order to prepare the nation for a post-oil era. Either we take these hard steps to carry out these policies with all the resources that has been bestowed by providence today, or we can squander everything that may seem so sweet (i.e subsidy and welfare) in the short-run but would be most damaging to everyone in the long-run.
In the efforts of building a resilient economy, the state of Brunei should consider producing and publishing an economic charter that outlines the strategic improvements and recommendations that could be made in charting Brunei’s next phase of economic growth over the course of the next decade. The idea of making this report is inspired by the publication of the Singapore’s economic reports entitled “Report of the economic committee: The Singapore Economy: New Directions” (1986) and “Committee on the Future Economy Report” (2017) which seek to accomplish the goals mentioned in regards to the Singaporean economy. These reports make good reading for those who wish to understand the successful past and future developments that have and will take place for the Singaporean economy. To this, it will not hurt Brunei to borrow this idea from our Singaporean friends in producing a Brunei-centric economic charter as a step in helping Brunei make the grade in the current and future global economic conditions. This article shall outline some of the key components of that potential report.
The first component is to secure the right executive members who make up the committee in creating this charter. The individuals who made the aforementioned Singaporean reports are highly educated and have extensive professional experience with deep connections with international organisations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, United Nations and many others. Brunei should draw inspiration by recruiting its thick dynamic local talent pool – and we have many – in establishing the charter. The committee thus should preferably be made up of qualified and educated professionals with extensive international exposure in the field of academia, government, and the private sector. To add up to the dynamism, top civil servants from different ministries of government and executives from government-linked corporations and private sectors should also be engaged in making the charter. They must then sit down together for a one- or two months time frame to conceptualise the existing and future strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and improvements that could be made to the Brunei economy. The chair of the executive committee who heads this project must be an extremely seasoned person.
The second component is to carrying out a mixed top-down and bottom-up form of research which must draw ideas, recommendations, and feedbacks from the key parties that affect or are being affected the economic policy changes brought about by the report. In the latest Committee on the Future Economy 2017 report, the Singaporean government consulted and benefited from a contribution from more than nine thousand individuals, ranging from employers and workers, academics, professionals, students, private companies, public agencies, unionists, trade associations and chambers, as well as Singaporeans abroad. Having a top-down and bottom-up approach to securing ideas and feedbacks from the Bruneian public would be most vital in engaging and sparking our people’s interest in steering the direction of the Bruneian economy. Brunei did this approach of securing ideas and feedbacks successfully in the past with its BSB Masterplan back in 2005. The same approach should be replicated again for the publication of this report. And if there is one thing that the report can do, it is to intensify the people’s participation in the development of the Bruneian economy.
The third component of the report must involve an honest study as well as the specific recommendations to be made of the existing state of the Bruneian economy. The Brunei economy has been resilient over the years thanks to the strength of our country’s Oil and Gas resources, but it does not escape the fact that our country was negatively affected by the plunge in global commodity prices. We still have time. Our economy can be made more resilient to the changing external conditions facing the global economy by tapping into the strengths of the local talent pool to secure recommendations for the Brunei government in regards to diversifying the economy forward. We have a thick layer of talent, we have the brains, and we have the people to accomplish this goal. If the committee is able to secure an honest study to understanding the economic position of the Brunei economy and communicate the need to engage and integrate lessons gained from the citizens, then it will be a most productive report indeed. For it must be remembered that Brunei’s greatest resource is not its Oil or Gas, but its citizens. Our citizens have the ideas. Let them come up with the solutions and work with the government lock-step and in tandem in building the Bruneian story forward. In doing so the recommendations put forward must be an honest account to solve the solutions facing the nation today.
The report must be different from the five-year national development plans (NDP) published by the government or other think tanks by how it shall involve a top-down and bottom-up approach in securing ideas from the key influencers of the Bruneian economy as well as its peoples. The recommended name of the report could be “The Charter on the Future of the Bruneian Economy” or CFBE for short. Upon completion, the charter should be published both online (to be made publicly available for free) and offline, in English, Malay, and Mandarin. This to ensure our key partners namely the US, UK, China and our local populace have direct access and debate in regards on how the report has been formulated. The report does not have to be long. A hundred to a hundred fifty pages should suffice. May it be added that with the production and publication of the document, the constellation of government agencies will be steered towards the agreed direction. Compromises will arise, and that is okay. As the saying goes, there is strength in the diversity of opinions and ideas. And if there is a theme that would suit the report, it is that Brunei has to constantly work at plugging itself to the international cord of globalisation and work pragmatically in diversifying its economic base away from Oil and Gas, through fields such as entrepreneurship, finance, and logistics. These measures are key to solving our unemployment and deficit problems. Additionally, Brunei has to continue to inspire confidence in the changing order, and this report shall be one of the many steps to being about that confidence.
To conclude, Brunei should produce and publish an economic charter outlining the strengths and strategic improvements that could be made to chart the next phase of economic growth over the course of the next decade. It requires the right executive committee to spearhead the charter’s development, the infusion of a mixed top-down and bottom-up approach in securing ideas from the people of Brunei, and finally a charter that is honest and contains specific recommendations to be made on how the Bruneian economy should be shaped in the years to come. It must be different from the existing publications we currently have today in such that it will secure ideas and feedbacks from the key influencers of our society. The combination of the ideas set out in this charter may not guarantee automatic growth and development to the national economy, but it is a positive step towards creating the right conditions in the socio-economic fabric of the Brunei, that the people and to the extent the youths too can involve themselves in the success of their nation through the ideas they suggest in the production and publication of this charter document. If we are successful at this, we can continue to working together in charting the next course of our economic future and to carry on the Bruneian story forward.
Interview questions by Jacky Li Chun Leung, President of Southward Research Centre (Hong Kong) and answers by Abdul Malik Omar
How can we promote the Bruneian-Hong Kong bilateral relation in the economic field?
We have to look at the similarities of Brunei and Hong Kong first and foremost in their strategic paths to pursue development. Both are micro-states surrounded by mammoth markets within Asia. To punch above their weight in the changing global order, both are strategically positioning themselves as “gateways” to its neighbouring economies.
While Hong Kong serves as the gateway to China, Brunei is striving to be the gateway to Borneo. Borneo is the third largest island in the world, where Brunei and parts of Indonesia and Malaysia are located. The island has some over eighteen-million in population and has some of the richest primary resources in the ASEAN region; oil, gas, coffee, timber, rubber, coal, copper, tin, you name it, Borneo has it.
Brunei’s interest lies in securing a strategic economic foothold in Island. There are three key areas to help us attain such objective, namely by building up our financial, logistical, and manufacturing industrial base. Doing so we would then be able to capitalise on the profitable BIMP-EAGA bloc, an economic bloc made up of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Brunei which holds tremendous potential for growth and which so happens to be geographically dependent to Borneo.
Having this in mind, Brunei has yet to attain its goal of building a foothold in Borneo given its lack of experience, resources, and human capital in matters of regional diplomacy and economic development; while Hong Kong is, safe to say, well-equipped to position itself to capitalise on the rising tide of Chinese growth and development.
To promote bilateral relations in the economic field, Hong Kong, with its superiority and advancement in the financial, logistical and manufacturing industries, is well-poised to capitalise the opportunity to assist in developing Brunei’s capacities – financial, logistical, and manufacturing – as to ultimately enable Brunei to serve as the gateway to Borneo and subsequently win greater influence in the BIMP-EAGA Bloc.
What Hong Kong could do is to centre its ASEAN companies in geo-strategic Brunei. How can Hong Kong gain from this? First, by centring its Borneo-based companies in Brunei, it would enable Hong Kong and Chinese companies to secure a foothold in the eighteen-million population (or market) in the island.
Secondly, it would enable Hong Kong to have greater access to the island’s market primary resources that I have just mentioned. To access those resources, it may require a point of contact which Brunei can become and work on through the BIMP-EAGA bloc, effectively and literately opening up doors for HK and Chinese companies to operate in and access resources of the island.
Third, it would build up Hong Kong’s clout in the ASEAN region – its second largest trading partner – by playing an effective role in building up Brunei and having greater access to Borneo, the BIMP-EAGA bloc, and effectively the ASEAN market. It would ultimately assist in positioning Hong Kong in its second largest key market that it needs to continue to drive up economic growth and maintain its eminent economic global clout.
I think achieving these strategic goals together is how both Hong Kong and Brunei – both micro-states – can drive up bilateral relations with each other in the economic field.
Is it possible for the Bruneian government to develop a sustainable economic development with reference to the related examples in Hong Kong for the shortage production of oil in the future?
Hong Kong’s financial industry makes up 16% of its GDP; manufacturing 15%; logistical 23% (2013/2014 figures). Add them up, that is over half of HKs economic output. In the path to developing a sustainable economic model away from Oil and Gas, I believe Brunei should emulate the ‘HK model’ as well, namely by building up its financial, manufacturing, and logistics industries.
In terms of finance, Brunei already has a successful domestic financial bank, BIBD, which has consistently won many international awards. In manufacturing, Brunei is still in its infancy but is seeing a surge in FDIs US$6.9 billion alone in last year (Borneo Bulletin, 2016) serves to remind us that Brunei is in a stage of growth. In regards to logistics, trade is ever-growing because of Brunei’s position in the geographical map – its centrality of ASEAN – and its location at the third largest island in Borneo, home to Brunei and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia. The island also has some of the richest primary resources in the region.
In adding up to the logistical side, Brunei was once utilised by regional traders in the 14th century as a trading hub that helped ushered Brunei into its golden age. So powerful was that period Brunei emanated glory, wealth and influence in the region.
So based on the “Hong Kong model”, as well as Brunei’s recent and historical example, there are manifold opportunities of growth and development for Brunei in finance, manufacturing and logistics, as a path to developing a sustainable economic model in light of the shortage of oil and gas.
What are the opportunities? To capitalise on the next era of development Brunei requires help to develop these industries. Hong Kong has that, and while I may not speak on behalf of the government, I see from my analysis the need for Brunei to develop these areas. 90% of our GDP is dependent on Oil and we should take steps to build on a healthier economic position, and businessmen from Hong Kong can capitalise on these key developments.
On another note, I invite HK readers or businessmen to look deep into the opportunities presented by my nation to capitalise on our markets. I am sure Brunei is the right choice to invest in. I am open for consultation. Interested parties can contact me through email@example.com.
Historically, Hong Kong is one of the immigration choice for the Chinese people Brunei on or before the independence of Brunei, do you think Bruneian government can regain the support of these people?
The Chinese community in Brunei represents 11% of the total population today. I do not have access to the figures of migration, but there is indeed a prevailing public opinion that they are migrating out of the country. But without facts and figures to support this statement, then such declaration is unwise. Let us wait until the figures are available and then we judge.
But let me say first that the local Chinese community has been and always be a part of Brunei. This can be observed through our long shared history that can be traced back to Zheng He’s visit in the 15th century. In his records, he wrote of a substantial presence of Chinese community in Brunei.
There was also a Chinese admiral by the name of Ong Sum Ping, the Chinese admiral who founded Kota Kinabalu. He went on to marry a Bruneian princess and passed on his fleets and armada to the Bruneian kingdom. I believe the same fleets and armada is what is used by the Great Sultan Bolkiah the 5th to expand the Bruneian empire in the region back in the 15th century.
The Chinese community has also been instrumental in setting up fortresses in Kota Batu and Pulau Chermin, both key fortress in the 15th century that enabled Brunei to defend itself from enemies of the past. One is located on top of a hill adjacent to Kampong Ayer, another at the mouth of the Brunei river. These fortresses were also outfitted with cannons probably passed on by the Chinese. Without these fortresses, Brunei would have been easily invaded by foreign enemies a long time ago and our history could have been different without them.
Next, there is a tomb of Sultan Abdul Majid who in his visit to China passed away and was buried in Nanking. He remains one of the only two foreign rulers buried in China.
Also in the 20th century, when China faced struggles such as the civil war, world war, famine and disasters caused by the cultural revolution and the great leap forward, one has to consider that when they escaped the mainland, many of them passed through HK and some eventually landed to Brunei, one of the countries that embraced them.
Our late Sultan SOAS, for instance, was instrumental as a national figurehead of helping to turn the tide of public opinion from the Malay community to accept the Chinese refugees in those trying periods. Another way how he supported them – apart from allowing them to enter and live in Brunei – was the creation and preservation of the Chinese temple, which still stands at the heart of the city. It represents a mark of respect to the Chinese culture, religion, and way of life in Brunei. As a result, he is known to be a great benefactor of the Chinese community and from which he was greatly admired and respected.
Today, the subsequent generations of the Chinese community who passed through the 20th century are living peacefully in the nation under protection of the current ruler, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah. Today the community (such as the Hokkian, Hakka, Cantonese) have a stellar reputation for being entrepreneurial and possessing many business holdings, factors which are vital for our nation’s economic development and growth.
Why am I saying these things? First, both Bruneian and Chinese community have to acknowledge the deep, long shared history and contribution to each other, both in the past and present.
The Bruneian Malays are well aware of the assistance the Chinese community has contributed to our country’s history. We are striving to help them. And, yes, there are indeed many areas where Brunei can improve on. One area is the issue of Chinese stateless. Brunei is not perfect, but then again we are striving to change things.
But then again the Chinese community, especially, this new generation have to also to acknowledge the assistance that our nation has given to the first or second generation Chinese in Brunei in those trying periods of the 20th century. SOAS could have made the easy decision to capitulate to nationalist sentiment by blocking their access. Rather he stuck to his guns to allow them to stay here nonetheless.
It is like what we are seeing in Germany with the refugee crisis. It would have been politically easier for Angela Merkel to block the Syrians and other refugees from coming to Germany instead of striving to integrate them into society. That was the challenge of SOAS in the past. How can he reconcile politically charged domestic nationalistic opposition to the refugee problem? After all the Communist fear was ever present not just in the Brunei but all over the region. But as we can see, history has shown us that SOAS made the right decision to allow those who migrated to Brunei to live and stay here. Today they belong to the Brunei society. They belong to the country. Everyone has to remember this.
In fact, some of the Chinese businessmen in the capital whom I interviewed said how their ancestors came from the mainland and because of the turmoil faced had to escape to Brunei. One of my friends, whose grandfather was a former captain who led a hundred men against the WW2 Japanese forces in mainland China, is now studying at Oxford University under the Brunei government scholarship!
So in “regaining the support” of the Chinese community, I say that they do support us and will continue to do so. Brunei is not perfect but we are striving to help them by being more inclusive and open. Because the people know that the principles of inclusion is most vital in assisting the nation to strive ahead in the changing global order. This is how Brunei can intensify the support of the Chinese community. It applied such inclusive policies in the past, it will intensify it once again.
Any closing thoughts on building up HK-Brunei relations?
To conclude, I believe that so long as we have the right intentions, clear objectives, and a look back of our history from the very start in building up HK-Brunei relations then I believe that there is a path forward. I will lead the people I know to work towards building that relations and perhaps one day galvanise the machinery of state to intensify the process. But we cannot do this alone.
The Hong Kong people must also be pro-active in ensuring that the relations between our countries can be developed through effective policies, such as the ones I mentioned. We much like any other countries out there need assistance in terms of expertise, support, and development to pursue our developmental strategic goals. Two of them has been mentioned: By helping Brunei secure a foothold in Borneo and by developing the national industrial base in finance, manufacturing, & logistics. HK can help us attain these goals.
Then and finally then I believe we from Brunei and HK will have that chance of moving forward in building a bright future in the pages of history in the 21st century. Together we build, together we succeed, together we move forward.
Village Leaders refer to individuals appointed by the government to represent and lead their respective village communities forward. They are also tasked at responding and solving the problems faced by the community, and, if that is not possible, relay those problems to the relevant public agencies to solve them. They are, in a sense, a vital component of effective nation-building. The more effective they are at solving the problems of the village level (micro-scale), the lesser the issues the nation will face at the macro-level. Therefore the government should treat them as the basic building blocks of the nation, for the Village Leaders’ capacity of leading their communities forward would have a strong long-term impact on the socio-economic growth and development of Brunei Darussalam. This letter attempts at providing five suggestions on how they could be more pro-active in community building.
First, Village Leaders are advised to set up a committee of their own in steer their respective villages forward. No one can ever achieve meaningful or sustainable change without the help of others. Building up a committee of trusted, competent individuals bent in building up the community serve as a powerful asset that would enable the Village Leaders to shape and carry out ideas in improving the village. Building a committee composed at least seven people from different backgrounds or specialisations is already sufficient in enabling the village leader to tap into the expertise and diversity of ideas that they may bring to the table to pursue that vital objective. One has to remember however that while a committee may be present, it is the village leader who will ultimately carry the final burden and responsibility for actions of change.
Secondly, the Village Leaders should position themselves as the Point of Contact (POC) of their respective village communities for any problems that the people may face. Such measure would involve them to be more proactive in engaging and communicating with their communities directly. One suggestion include on how they could simply put their address and contact out in by the road side, signalling their opens and willingness to become a key person to go to for the public to find solutions to their problems. For instance, if there was a pothole by the roadside in Kampong Junjongan, the people can easily know who to contact to direct their complaints. The Village Leader would then have to professionally deal with the member of the community and subsequently correspond with the relevant agencies to fix the problem on the people’s behalf.
Third, the government should provide adequate training to build up the village leaders’ leadership potential. Lifelong learning is a vital component in human capital development that goes beyond the scope of youths, but the Ketua Kampong (mostly retiree) as well. These Village Leaders, much like any persons, also require assistance on how they can administer their villages effectively and efficiently. By having the government introduce leadership or management programmes, they would be on their way to deliver successful results for their communities. These courses or programmes must eventually be engineered towards building up their leadership capability to head, represent, and lead their communities effectively. In addition, the village leaders should also be given courses to understand where they stand at the bigger picture in nation-building.
Fourth, village leaders should more in tune with their communities. In a public lecture, Lee Kuan Yew was asked by a member of the public on what it takes to be a good leader. The statesman said how a leader should have that instinctive understanding of the community he or she leads, as well as to understand the varying contexts that may be required to build up trust and engagement with the community to lead them forward. Therefore, the Village Leader, in the effort to deliver good results, should aim to achieve these goals. Indeed, being a Village Leader is another form of statesmanship. It is a position of honour and privilege, that everyone who holds or will hold the post in the future should aspire to justify it by fulfilling their duties and responsibilities in the name of the building up the communities that they represent.
Finally, youths should be engaged in the village decision-making process. Being inclusive in the decision-making process of shaping a community forward should not just be restricted by close contacts of the Village Leaders. The youths themselves (probably their own children or friends’ children) must be given the opportunity to have a say in the decision-making table. In tandem of building up a Visionary Generation, involving the youths in village discussions and development would already serve as a basic step forward in preparing them for leadership positions in the future. There is a lot of things that a young person can learn just by observing their seniors or volunteering in community activities organised by the village leaders and the community. This, above all, can be a key to building up the human capital of the nation.
Village Leaders are a vital part in nation-building because they are entrusted with the important task to lead, represent, and shape their communities forward. To be more pro-active in community building, this letter recommends Village Leaders to set up a committee of their own, to position themselves as the point of contact, with the government providing them training to build up their leadership potential, to have the leaders to be more in tune with their respective communities, and finally to engage the youths of Brunei Darussalam in the Village decision-making process. The Village Leaders is an important facet of nation-building that must not be ignored. Rather their positions and their responsibilities should be enlarged, their change potential to be empowered, and their influence to be broadened to become the key assets who will be able to solve issues or pressing problems at the micro-level, and consequently the macro-level problems would be easily taken care of.
by Abdul Malik Omar
BSBs public bus transport system is a key component of a city’s development that requires attention by policy-makers and decision-makers in the country to enhance our nation’s capacity to innovate and compete in the 21st century. The ‘City in the Garden’ concept set out by the BSB Development Master Plan team years ago serve as a timely reminder of the key commitments made by the government in improving the livelihoods of the Bruneian people in line with the national vision of 2035.
With the pressure on our economy to divest ourselves from Oil and Gas, the need to launch a public transport platform that would reduce the dependency of our people on using private transport seems pertinent as ever. Although the urgency is not felt by wider society today, it will be felt one day nonetheless. This article shall write about the latest initiatives by the government, observations on the bus transport system, recommendations in realising the ‘City in the Garden Concept’, a case as why the fund allocation to this area should be increased in the years to come, and general recommendations in improving the system.
Firstly, the latest initiatives by the government highlighted in the media nowadays should be commended and applauded. These initiatives born partly out of the “Land Transport Master Plan and Land Transport White Paper” include having the bus design competition, the free bus transport for Lumapas residents, an increase in bus connectivity to key points within and outside the city, the opening up of contracts for the private sectors to operate new buses and new routes, and the increased investments in improving the standard quality of buses are reflective to the key commitments made by the public sector in ensuing the people in the city would enjoy better standards of transport.
Based on the personal observations made, the writer found positive review given especially by our elderly citizens on these improvements. The air-conditioned buses with improved seatings and friendly bus staffs has made our elderly citizens’ journey to the city to and from their Kampongs a lot more positive. They appreciate and thank the government for the improvements. As why the elderly are using these buses – to those who may be wondering – one has to consider that some of them are too old to drive themselves. Some of them also live on their own, meaning there is no one to drive for them. And with BSB considered their ‘Gadong’ or their place to hang out, socialise, and buy their groceries, these buses serve as their primary transport. The improvements made so far has made our local elderlies a lot happier and they appreciate such efforts.
Other major users of these buses include migrant workers who usually go to the city in the weekends to chill and hang out with their friends and/or family. Thus there is no surprise why in the weekends there is a lot of people gathered in the city’s central bus station. As for weekdays, some of these migrant workers use the buses to go to their workplace. Some of them even have the bus drivers’ mobile contacts to call them up to know as to when the drivers’ bus would arrive. They call them not just within the city sometimes, but on other bus stops outside the city, such as in Kampong Rimba or in Kampong Lumapas, where information of when the next bus are lacking. There is nothing wrong with this system. In fact it is a good idea.
According to the “Land Transport Master Plan and Land Transport White Paper”, the bus system in Brunei is formerly known as the ‘Purple Bus’. The buses are are now multi-coloured. The system consists of six routes around the Brunei-Muara district and is run by five private operators using a fleet of 105 buses (there are other buses operating in Beliat) as of 2014. The cost per journey within the city is $1. There are twenty to twenty-five seats per bus, and usually journey in rounds of 7 to 10 depending on the location it is allocated to. Each bus could potentially transport around 200 to 250 people maximum per day. And based on this writer’s interview with the bus attendant, a seven round journey for bus number 23 which travels from BSB to Lambak Kiri would only cost the bus $17 worth of diesel to fuel for the entire day’s travel journey.
Contrast this to the average car in Brunei which would cost around $5 (a rough estimate) per day, which means the bus could save up to hundreds of dollars if not thousands in transportation or fuel costs daily if the seat capacity is fully utilised by the Bruneian public. Notwithstanding the hundreds of millions that could been saved by the public sector every year in fuel subsidies if people choose to use public transportation instead of using private transport. According to a government report, it cost the government $470 Million per year for fuel subsidy in 2011 alone. Then there is also potential to reduce traffic jam in the city.
Given the cost-saving and efficiency potential, as well as the government’s initiatives in improving the bus transportation system, it would make sense that more of the Bruneian public would be using the transportation system. Unfortunately no. Speak to any youths today if take the public transport regularly, nine out of ten would say no. Based on my journey using the bus, I rarely find any youths in the buses – except few ones from Kampong Ayer going to Gadong who are already used to the system.
Most youths prefer using their own cars. I find this a major weakness in the system. For it is the youths themselves who would be using this transport in the next thirty years down the road, when Brunei’s fortune would be totally different than it is today. This is the area that needs to be addressed. The questions that need to be asked are as follows: How can we change the youths’ mindset to take the pubic bus system more often? How can we make it as if it is daily routine for them?
On another note, based on the reflections of my travels on many cities around the world, one of the drawbacks of the urban & city planning in Brunei is everything is too far away from each other. The major government agencies, schools, commercial areas, residential units, & postal departments are almost always not in walkable or cycling distance from each other. Everything is ‘spread out’ making not just bus transport but walking and cycling quite unattractive. In the effort to conserve our pristine green forestry and to reduce our carbon footprint in line with the ‘City in the Garden’ concept, may I suggest ‘concentrating’ every urban or city planning together into one or few areas of walking and cycling distance from each other?
In Paris, within a thirty to forty minutes walk radius from the Eiffel Tower this writer can already go to the major governmental departments, universities, major public parks, museums, and commercial complexes. In London, it is the same. Everything is in walkable and cycling distance. And if transport is needed, the bus and train transportation system is there in place to help the public to move around to point A to point B. The point is every major key governmental departments, commercial complexes, or famous or iconic tourist hotspots are concentrated together within a good radius. Every square mile is also utilised and maximised in the name of sustainable city development.
Next this article shall now give recommendations in the way forward in improving the general bus transportation system. First, it is about time for the government to create a new central bus station. The one in BSB is old and dark making it unattractive to our youths to use the public transportation system. Building a new central bus station would be best.
Next, may I suggest an increase in funds allocated to improving the public transportation system by 10% to 15% or more for next year. An increase in a few million dollars to improve the bus transportation system is nothing compared to $470 million already being spent on car subsidies in 2011 alone. This investment in improving transportation system which would ultimately reduce our dependency on Oil and Gas usage would thus be in the long-term interest of our nation and people. An investment in the form of securing new quality buses from the 105 figure to more than 200 buses would be a good example.
Next there should be an increase in awareness for our people to use the transportation system. First and foremost there is nothing to be embarrassed about using the bus. Even the Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan use the public transportation system to go to work. So experiment on using the bus. This goes out especially to the youths. Try it once. Then slowly you will build the confidence in using the bus and hopefully make it routine. The government can also hold public competitions which would involve participants to use buses or any of the other transport systems so as to build awareness on the usage of public transport.
Finally, there has to be an increase in knowledge or expertise exchange between Bruneian BSB officials with other officials from other major cities. Remember the advise from Sultan Bolkiah the 5th, go outside the nation to learn from the best and then come back with what you learn and bring those improvements into the nation. This advise applies to the youths, civil workers, and anyone who is interested in realising the ‘City in the Garden’ concept. We have the existing ASEAN networks we can tap into after all. Just go hold an appointment with the team in Jakarta or KL or Davao or any major cities we can learn from, send your delegation there, sign an MOU to exchange ideas or technologies, and bring that ideas or technologies back to improving the state of BSB city. There is nothing wrong to learn from one another. Any existing efforts in these areas should be intensified.
To conclude, there has been massive improvements made into the heart of the public transport system of BSB recently that should be commended and applauded. The effort should be intensified especially by involving and engaging the youths to utilise the public transport system. There is also the need to create a new central bus station to make it attractive and appealing for the youths and general people to utilise it. Brunei Darussalam has the finance to do it. Better to invest with the money we have today rather than thirty years down the road when things will be vastly different. Better to increase the allocation of funds to improve the bus transport system in the city. It will not hurt to shift the hundreds and millions of dollars spent on Oil and Gas subsidy into something like this system which will ultimately reduce our nation’s dependency on Oil and Gas, as well as to increase the competitiveness of the city and nation.