This category contains 34 posts

Young Bruneians Should Not Give Up in Their Studies

There has been a rising and damaging trend that has taken a lot of students in this country by storm in that many have become unwilling to pursue further studies out of the reasoning that it is just “not worth it” or they are “not smart enough”.

As a result, some of our otherwise bright students are dropping out after their SPN, O-levels, A-levels education. This demoralising idea has to be combated to the core by all parties involved, including teachers, parents, students, and all parties alike.

Why? We are living an age of a knowledge-based economy that necessitates us in this 21st century to continually upgrade our professional credentials, technical skill-sets, and formal education to create value in the world we are living in today. How else are we going to survive in this changing global order.

The days of doing hard-labor under the hot sun or doing repetitive work as evident in the construction, retail, and food and beverage industry are becoming all the more difficult for everyone in this day and age to securing a decent livelihood needed to raise and build up a family.

With intense regional immigration flow, coupled with highly productive workforce and their low wage price offerings will, as a result, reduce the general wage and salary price for these types of low-skilled work for economies in the region, including Brunei. Young Bruneians working in these low-skilled sectors are already being affected as we speak.

If Brunei and the youths are ever going to succeed, we have to continually produce a robust stream of highly-educated, highly-skilled professionals who can work and contribute productively in the areas of STEM and, even, in future sectors pertaining the fourth industrial revolution (IT, Robotics, A.I., Programming). Otherwise, our young people and our society are going to be in trouble.

To do so requires students in Brunei to play their inherent part in scoring great marks in schools and in universities, be they at the SPN, O-levels, A-levels and beyond. Getting a minimum of a degree education should be the north star affixed by every society in this country to attain. This has to be burnt in the minds of every parent who wants to prepare their future children a decent life.

Otherwise, the only jobs fitting for our drop-outs is going to be the labour-intensive, low-skilled work. Even then the job will not be long secured, as businesses can easily replace our locals with someone more productive and cheap from another country. Globalisation is real and unless we prepare for its impact, then young people are going to face the consequences.

To all the young people reading this, I implore you to just continue your studies. Never give up in your education. Do not follow your friends or other influence who wants to invite you to quit school or university. Associate yourself with those who have higher aspirations in life, because by the end of the day this is your life, and, your life’s future quality is going to affect mine and everyone in this society.

Let your degree education be a precursor for you to secure a knowledge-based and highly-skilled job. Do you part in becoming our country’s future lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects, economists, policy-makers, lecturers, journalists, pilots, and scientists that our country needs to advance itself in the 21st century and beyond.

It would be a tremendous waste if we are going to spoil the government’s investment in our education. A business lady I know from Limbang was envious that Bruneians has a good educational system that she wished that she had been able to send her children to be educated in this country. Let us not spoil the privilege that we all possess, shall we?

As we are ushered in this ever-changing global era, it is imperative that our students to study, study, and study! That was the advise given to me by a former Prime Minister of Timor Leste when I asked him what young students should do to make an impact in their community and society.

So if you want to change the world, the first act that you need is to get your degree education. The quality of your life and our society depends on you. As for the parents, educators, and government officials reading this, we have to play our part to inject that value of education in our children so we can all create a better, a prosperous, and secure future for all.


Human Rights and Business Report

by Abdul Malik Omar

as per the fulfillment of his part after being selected by DPPMB and sponsored by CSR Network to attend the Human Rights and Business Training programme organised by AIPHR in Bangkok, Thailand from the 13th to 17th November 2016

The Rana Plaza tragedy, the Volkswagen emission scandal, the modern slavery in fishery industry in Thailand, the corporate land grabs from rural villagers in the Philippines, and the decimation of the Borneo’s forests by companies are just some of the examples of the gross violation of human rights by businesses in the world we are living in today. If there is one key message that we learned from the forum is that there has to be a need to avoid such things from happening ever again. In the forum, the UN Sustainable Development Goals is affixed as the north star to aim towards, followed by the principles outlined by the UN Development Programme, and finally the tripartite pillars that should be inculcated and implemented by the public, private, and civil society organisations, namely the need for these organisation to uphold respect for human rights, to provide access to remedy for those whose rights are violated, and to promote the idea of human rights in this ASEAN region in particular.

Reflecting on the lessons on how DPPMB can capitalise from this report is the importance for DPPMB to align three of the seventeen objectives with the United Nations Development Goals, which is 1) to promote economic growth, 2) to provide jobs for all, 3) and to eliminate poverty by 2035. Next, DPPMB should work towards engaging with UNDP’s officials by inviting them over to Brunei Darussalam for a forum – based on my conversations with the head of UNDP Thailand, they are highly open to fly to Brunei to give a talk to use or even to schools in the country without any need for us to pay their flight, hotel, food, and/or transport bills. Finally, DPPMB should promote the idea of human rights through business by potentially giving me the chance to present to the board or to the team with what I have learned. There are cultural and, at times, political issues rooted in the concept of human rights, which may make it uncomfortable for certain stakeholders to listen in, but based on this writer’s understanding in the context of business, it is just a matter of giving individuals and society at large the impetus needed so that the tragedies mentioned above do not happen again.

The Government of Brunei can contribute towards promoting human rights in business by strengthening the rule of law. This involves offering a “bouquet” of and easy access to remedy for those whose rights are violated by businesses in the country. For instance, it is illegal for businesses as per the International Labour Standard to withhold passport of labour migrant workers – yet there a lot of businesses doing it in Brunei, arguably. Other examples include businesses forcing the migrant workers to work beyond the eight-hour work time-frame or even to work in a haphazard non-HSE complaint environment. The sad case is that some of these incidents also happen to our locals. Yet, these workers, more or less, have no power, knowledge nor resource to file an effective complaint nor have the ability to secure an effective remedy against their employers. Without the presence of an effective, rules-based, people-centered human rights legal framework, which is supposedly provisioned by the government, securing justice would almost certainly be unlikely for these people. Therefore, the government has to play its role by building an effective legal framework so that the migrant and local workers have the ability to secure the justice they need and so that businesses are deterred from committing acts that violate human rights. Only the Government has the ultimate prerogative and responsibility to shape the legal aspects of the country.

A critical area regarding the meeting that has to be considered is how seemingly theoretically- and academic-oriented the seminar was. This has the effect of putting some action-oriented businesspeople off, which is understandable in a way because every event organised by a body may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Next, there is the question of post-event implementation. How am I personally going to ensure that whatever I learned will bear fruit in Brunei except by writing this report, potentially giving a presentation to the DPPMB board, and inviting the UNDP people to deliver a talk in the country? The next question is will anyone even read this report and, subsequently, be ready to actively disseminate it to the relevant parties so that the recommendations will be followed through, or will this report be ignored, arguably, much like any other reports written by others that come before me? Next there is the question of whether the government will even consider sitting down with me in the same table so that I can present them what I have learned, because a crucial element of change demands the government playing its part too, otherwise it is only going to be a waste of time and energy spent in going to this event. Out of all the concerns, I believe that the most important question boils down to this: Will the government even be bothered to listen to people like me or will they just continue to ignore us?

In any case, advocating an idea is widely seen as a challenging process, one which I fully understand and embrace. Even more complicated is the call for promoting the concept of “human rights” in Brunei, an idea seemingly seen by the general society wrongly as a “Western concept”. No. Human Rights is a universal concept, not a “Western one”. Still, reflecting on the people I met gave me hope that change can be forthcoming if we demand it to be. One Indonesian delegate who works for his country’s government last year attended a seminar hosted by the same organisation, but focusing on human rights with a specific focus on people with disabilities. One of the things that resulted from that event is how it successfully injected theoretical concepts, know-how, networks, and evidence needed for him and his team to affect their country’s legislation pertaining people with disabilities. In the very same year, Indonesia, under his department, successfully enacted a legislation requiring every big business (of a certain size) to open and fill a 1% workforce quota to be filled by people with disabilities. In one way or another, attending the event really opened my eyes to the challenging but rewarding nature of advocacy. If Indonesia – a country of two and sixty million people – have the political will to shape its laws for the better, then there is a chance that Brunei can do. No.  Brunei must and needs too as soon as possible.

At the broader strategic context, I also learned to understand and appreciate the use of these types of meetings or events. Despite being observed as just yet another “business meeting” or another “academic forum” by society at large, in actuality, it serves as a catalyst for change that can have far-reaching ramifications to the general society if enough of the right people or the right influencers are on board. Promoting awareness of a particular issue, giving them the chance to voice out their concerns, to reflect their experiences from their own countries to the context of a given event’s theme, and to secure their promise to make a change based on what they have learned can have the telling effect of shaping their intellectual or philosophical development, which necessitates them to learn concepts, keywords, evidences, and a host of other things as a perquisite to advocate an idea or a group of ideas. Once their intellectual understanding and confidence level reaches a certain vantage point can there be a level of practical action plan  (or a National Action Plan) that can be developed by each individual to make a change in his or her communities. It is then a matter of when not if. A good example can be made out of a Thai government official (who was a speaker in the event) who promoted the idea of human rights and business over the course of several years, first at her department and ministerial level, and finally, one which culminates with the Thailand Prime Minister himself committing to the principles of human rights and business in a televised national address seen by the millions of Thai people. One person can affect change if he or she is persistent enough.

To conclude, human rights in the context of business is a very vital subject that has to be debated, reflected, and deliberated upon if Brunei is ever going to advance itself in the civilized world. The concerted efforts by the public, private, and civil society organisations in Brunei are crucial if we are going to implement the details in this report. Despite the misconception of what our culture may say about “human rights”, Brunei is actually doing it as we speak, such as by giving people education, healthcare, welfare and more. Still, we cannot be complacent in the context of business, as it may have been closed over as a light matter over the past few decades. And just because we are good at the aforementioned factors do not mean that we can rest our laurels, because by the end of the day, there are over a hundred thousand migrants and expats and over two hundred thousand people under the age of 30 years old whose lives are affected directly and indirectly by businesses, the government, and civil society organisations in this country. It would be foolhardy to claim that everyone is happy with the status quo. A certain percentage of them may require or are crying for the help they need when it comes to securing their justice in the midst of the gross violation of human rights in this country. Everything that has not worked in the past has to therefore change. And change starts by building our awareness on these violations. Next, we need to promote the idea of human rights. Finally, we have to affect change at the intellectual and at the practical level of the government, private, and civil society organisations in the country through persistent, never-ending advocacy for better change, for a better life for all regardless of their religion, creed, race, and ethnicity. To close, let me borrow the words of Mathama Gandhi, let us be the change we want to see in the world. It starts today, and it starts with you.

The report above is written by Abdul Malik Omar (abdulmalikomarblog.wordpress.com). The author would like to extend his deepest gratitude to the DPPMB team for the privilege of being selected as one of the Brunei delegation to attend this conference. The author is also indebted to the support of the CSR Network for giving him the golden chance to represent and speak on behalf of a group of professionals from a wide array of backgrounds from this region in one of the working group sessions. If there are any questions regarding this report, you may contact the author personally through his phone number +673-8605118 or his email at am.hajiomar@gmail.com

A Case to Reform the Legislative Council System for the Next Parliamentary Cycle

Picture credits to Roslan Rahman @GettyImages

There were errors made in this article regarding the workings of parliament, which I have now corrected and clarified in the best way possible. The wrong points have been pointed out using a strikethrough and the corrections and clarifications are written in blue. The errors made were regrettable. 

“Brunei shall be forever a sovereign, democratic and independent Malay, Muslim Monarchy…” was the pronouncement made by His Majesty in the eve of Brunei’s independence in 1984, a historical day marked with full promise and hope for the Rakyat and the country itself for re-assuming total control over its affairs after a long period of British colonial rule. Prior to national independence, the country’s foreign policy, defence, and internal affairs save those relating to the religious and royal aspect were controlled by the UK government under the long list of High Commissioners based in Brunei, who acted as the de facto “Prime Ministers” of the country, as per the agreement signed in 1906 that made Brunei a British protectorate. Since then the High Commissioners from Britain played a crucial part in bringing about modernity to Brunei, building its industries, schools, police and armed forces, airports, roads, telecommunication lines, electricity, urban centres, civil force, and most importantly the foundation upon which democracy is founded upon: the parliament (located at Lapau). The parliament is the platform where representative government is developed, taking in the form of elected persons whose duties are to debate, pass, and revoke national legislation to name a few. These people are called the legislative council members.

It would take a long historical discourse to trace back the development of the parliament and its effect on national politics. What can be said, arguably and according to research, is how effective the parliament was in securing support, accountability and transparency from the government in all of its affairs with the presence of these legislative council members (equivalent to Member of parliament), especially if they are elected by the people to the post. In 2016, HM made a bold and strategic move by appointing from the citizen body a few youth members as legislative council members. These individuals are by right meritorious and have proven over the years their loyalty and competence to the nation and the people whom they affect. Never has there been in this region, at least to this writer’s knowledge, such a situation whereby young individuals given the seats on the table, possessing equal powers as those of their seniors in national politics. Yes, other countries may have its “Youth Parliament” but in Brunei’s case, our young people are in the national parliament. This is indicative of HMs promise to Lord Chalfont in the biography “By God’s Will” that when the right moment comes then democracy will once again be implemented, so long as the political posts are held by those sincere and competent enough to steer the general community and society at large forward.

Where should Brunei go next? It is the opinion of this writer that in the next legislative cycle that a few reform has to be undertaken. These reforms include the introduction of selective elections to the legislative council post. This is not a revolutionary idea, but rather a simple and straightforward one. Here the government can introduce a quota for two posts that are up for grabs for those who want to fill in the post. To win it they have to context in a nation-wide election. Whoever gets the most vote, gets to be the next legislative council member. As such, in order for them to secure victory, they have to compete in an open national contest governed by multiple variables that include having the right mandates to back their words up. So if HS wants to be the next legislative council member he has to make promises to the people who would vote for him. Some of the promises may include 1) securing citizenship for the stateless, 2) introducing a minimum wage, 3) to strengthen the laws to protect worker’s rights in the country. If he can elicit enough vote in relative to his other opponents, then he should get the post. Once he is there, he should do all his best to fulfil his promise otherwise trust in his ability and competence will erode like the tears in the rain. With a highly educated citizen body in Brunei, we can find enough competent people who can fill in the post for the next cycle in no time. If the person fails to deliver or act in a way that is unbecoming of a legislative council member, HM can simply sack him.

There are two other changes that may be required of the parliament. First, is the need to allow people to speak using the English language. Malays should not be deterred over the use. Further, using English will boost the ability of the legislative council members to communicate his or her ideas effectively to the general society, not just Malays. This is a certainty because almost 30% of the country’s population are non-Malays. It would also be better off for us to use a neutral language so that we do not unnecessarily alienate the non-Malay minority. Sometimes taking the high road is important because marginalising others based on multiple factors such as race, language, ethnicity, religion and all the like may end up marginalising ourselves in the end, especially as we are operating at a changing global order.

While the English language may not be utilised as a working model anytime soon, the Legislative Council members are allowed to speak a mixture of English and Bahasa Malay (mostly BM, of course). And since Brunei is a predominantly Malay country, there is still that social aspect that would make it necessary to speak in the country’s official language. An important note that has to be considered too that people in attendance are given audio headsets during the parliamentary sessions, where they would get an immediate translation of what the YBs have said in other languages, including English and Mandarin. There are also mass media which can help disseminate information in other languages effectively for the public to read.

The next change demands legislative council members to speak out without any need of pre-screen scripts. It somewhat undermines the institution of parliament to the eyes of the general public knowing that the legislative council members are seen as to be “censored” or have their speeches controlled by others. The complaint that the parliamentary proceedings are just like a “wayang” or movie theatre is real and should not be glossed over. Having that level of impromptu communications would also enable the legislative council members to demand accountability to an otherwise standoffish public official and vice versa. That would give much-needed impetus for the public sector to be constantly prepared for questioning and to answer them when the legislative council demands them so.

The Legislative Council members, contrary to popular perception and as wrongly asserted in this article, DO NOT read pre-screened scripts. They also make their own speeches along the way. According to the YBs, they have the autonomy to speak and raise questions on different issues in the parliament. That said, there are two types of questions. The first is a fact-finding question which they can submit to the ministers or public officials beforehand, so as to give them ample time to prepare the right information to be given. The second type of question is the open-ended question, which can cover a wide variety of issues. Here the YBs (MP equivalent) have the autonomy to ask all sorts of questions. At times, they prepare these questions on the spot – which is good!

Another change to the system is the need to open up the legislative council quota to every citizen, regardless of his or her sexual orientation, race, age, religion, creed, ethnicity, and background. The spirit of inclusiveness must be introduced at the top-level of government so it sends a positive message that Brunei has always been an open, tolerant, inclusive society for all. The idea to exclude an individual based along the lines of the aforementioned social dimensions from public office is becoming an outdated model in current times. This has to change because Brunei is inherently a multi-racial nation, whether we ignore this fact or not. As a society, we have lived and survived in this region for over six hundred years and so such racial mix is inevitable. Therefore, inclusiveness has to be introduced. However, such inclusiveness is not a silver bullet in delivering result for a nation, for it must always be subordinated by the principle of meritocracy in order that “identity politics” or “tokenism” does not take root. The philosophy that can probably translate this approach is the need to create equal opportunities for citizens, not give them equal results.

The appointment of Legco council members was never made exclusive to just one social group. Rather it is indeed inclusive and can be open to “every citizen, regardless of his or her sexual orientation, race, age (so long as he or she is above 21 years old), religion, creed, ethnicity, and background” The important thing now is that we should all work towards encouraging more people from different backgrounds to be appointed as Legco council members, provided they are competent for the job and are citizens of Brunei. This will provide effective representation for other minorities (or other social groups) in the country and give more colour to the ideas that will be presented in parliament. 

To create a sustainable and robust ecosystem conducive to the development of the legislative council or necessitates that the government introduce programmes to develop the competencies of young people. As oxymoron as it may sound, young people is crucial in the development of the state. However, there has been lukewarm effort undertaken by the government in actually training young people for the post of leadership. What are some of the programmes that could be introduced and implemented effectively at the educational system? There are many but one notable aspect on leadership and competency-building is in debates. Debates are crucial for young people to get a hang-on, not because one wants to secure victory for the sake of victory through the un-relentless barrage of noise and unreason, which this writer is admittedly once guilty of, but rather to give them the proper training on the art of deliberation. To deliberate matters with fellow peers is such an important skill that must continue to be polished. If Brunei is serious, the MOE should make it mandatory for every school to have a debate society. If the students, by the very least, get the hang of debating, arguing, speaking publicly and discussing based on methodical research, and to deliver it with the proper emotions, and basing all his or her points upon reasoning then it would be sufficient in a way to prepare them for a legislative council post someday. Otherwise, they may just end up being a quiet, frustrated, and passive citizen who could have otherwise secured the strength to take his or her ideas openly to influence public opinion, be it through the newspaper or in televised debates. These people must also be willing to admit mistakes and be corrected along the way when they give out wrong information and wrong judgement. The important thing is that we keep the conversation going to help correct ourselves from any mistakes so we can keep on improving our society forward.

Moulding a society towards a better path demands change both at the bottom-up and top-down level. As one minister would say it that in order to transform a society, it takes a whole-of-nation approach. Nothing gives hope for the people other than the ability for the country to continually set pace the reform that is required for its parliamentary system. If Brunei is serious in its efforts to introduce democracy to fulfil the wishes and promise that HM made on the eve of independence, then we have to work hard indeed. I am confident that if the changes are done then we will move towards that positive direction, namely by opening up a quota for people to contest in elections to secure the legislative council post, to be able to use English – a neutral language – to communicate within the workings if parliament, the freedom of speech without the need to have pre-written or -censored scripts, the level of inclusiveness so that the best, meritorious, and brightest can fill in the important post of the legislative council, and the proper training that demands the MOE to introduce debates to every school, college, and university in Brunei so as to prepare the next generation of young people for the post of leadership. Touching on the aspect of inclusive development, let us take heed of HRH Prince Mateen’s advise that Brunei should work towards becoming an inclusive society. This probably results in my last although unrelated but poignant point that HRH Prince Mateen should be a legislative council member and appointed as defence minister (Mohammad bin Salman was 29 when was appointed as defines minister for Saudi Arabia) in the next parliamentary cycle, which would make him around the same age as MBS then. There is hope for change indeed.

Credits to YB Khairunissa Ash’ari and YB Iswandy Ahmad for their valuable feedback to improve this piece!

Fast-track and Review the Entertainment Permit System NOW

Bolstering Brunei’s economic growth serves as a key element in state policy. As Brunei propels forward, it is best for the government to review the current legislation pertaining the public entertainment law outlined in Chapter 181, and to fast-track the process of private sectors to secure an event permit from the government. There are now strong desire for change in this area coming from young people due to the legislation and permit process being seen as a major stumbling block to the growth of the creative (concert, parades, debates, comedy show, etc.) and event (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) industries in the country.

First, we must understand that the creative and the event industries are high growth industries that can contribute immensely to the growth of a nation’s economy. In the UK, creative industries generated £84.1bn or around £10m an hour to the UK economy and supported 2.8 million jobs in 2014 (UK Gov Report, 2016). In the US, the meetings (a part of events industry) industry directly supports 1.7 million jobs and contributes $106 billion to GDP, according to the study, The Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy (PwC US, 2011). To put it in a local context, a recent concert this writer organized saw Brunei gain $18,000 – $25,000 in general economic value. The potential to unlock economic growth is self-evident, thus the necessity that Brunei should update the public entertainment law and fastback its permit process immediately.

The main problem for the current legislation and permit system is that it has caused a lot of ventures (including concerts, conferences, trade fairs, and meetings) to fail or be canceled at the last minute. Many youths, including one of our youth legislative council members, have raised their concern regarding this issue. One youth I heard vented his frustration about the permit as a sole cause for his team’s performance being canceled. All the hard work he and his team put in went down the drain. Little wonder why he is bitter at the permit system. Unfortunately, despite their open calls for change, nothing has been done so far, which is disappointing, not mainly because a lot of young people felt like they are being ignored, but that the consequences of this outdated permit system continue to cause incalculable harm to these two high growth industries in our economy.

The details of applying a permit are as follows: First, the entrepreneur has to fill in a form to apply for the permit at least three weeks before the event. These events include musical concerts, performances, conferences, charity events, and more that involves selling tickets or general participation from the general public. Secondly, they have to pay between $100-$350 to apply for the permit. Next, a special censorship board must be present to “observe” a show or concert behind closed doors. Once a decision has been made by these board, then the entrepreneurs will be given the answer as to whether their events will be approved or not.

There are multiple reasons why this system is ineffective. First, the time period of applying a minimum of three weeks before the event becomes an unnecessary inconvenience for entrepreneurs to organise an event. It just takes too long and the uncertainty of whether the event is approved or not is always ever-present, making long-term plans generally ineffective. This affects especially first-time event entrepreneurs or artists that want to showcase their business and talents respectively in Brunei. By the time they learned of the permit system, it would have probably been too late and they may as well as cancel them. This is an avoidable tragedy.

Next, the cost of applying the permit is just too high for start-ups or Micro businesses to absorb. In addition, hotels and other meeting venues exploit the difficulty of securing the permit process by raising the prices of renting a venue, which adds to the general cost and complications of operating an event business. Moreover, the need for the government officials to be present to oversee the event beforehand is unnecessary, as it misdirects their time and energy, which they could have instead focused on creating economic policies that actually work.

What are the changes to be done? These include the need to reduce permit application process from three weeks to a day. The process should be made online instead of filling a paper form. Next, the permit should be free or cost less than $10 so as to save general costs for businesses planning to host an event/concert/meeting. To ensure that organisers do not cause problems, the government has to outline openly and transparency the can do and can’t do’s or the general rules in organising events in Brunei. Finally, the government could simply dispatch one or two security uniformed or trained personnel to be present during the entire period of the actual event to ensure that the guidelines outlined by the government are strictly adhered too, lest the organiser’s event canceled on-the-spot given the officer’s prerogative and responsibility to do so.

If the changes are made, then there will be a growing dynamism among our young people to organise many exciting and fun-filled events and activities across the city. This will empower young people to make a success of themselves in these two areas. With their help, Brunei can elevate its economic position towards the right trajectory with this simple change of this state policy. We must also understand that entrepreneurs are the sources of prosperity to a nation, one that can produce jobs and intensify economic growth to the economy.

Their growing ability to commercialise their ideas in organising concerts, events, performances, etc. would grow strength by strength and this would go a long way to “recirculate” the money that the Bruniean consumer could have otherwise spent abroad. In 2015 alone, for instance, Bruneians spend over $1.3 billion (RM3.7 billion) in our neighbouring country (Lyna M, 2017), partly due to the limited product and service offerings in this country. Giving our entrepreneurs the ability to capitalise the creative and event industries would help to re-channel that market spending within the economy. Even a 10% “capture” of that expenditure power would mean that our economy would potentially stand to gain around $130m in domestic sales annually. That is purchasing power that can seriously build Brunei’s economy up.

If the present legislation and permit process remain unchanged, however, then the country will continue to face mounting problems in the economy. Unemployment and crime rates will continue to climb up, while our economic growth will go down. If the law and process are changed, then it can help to reverse these damaging trend our country is facing today. Revising Chapter 181 of the Public Entertainment legislation and the process is, therefore, something that has to be dealt with immediately.

As I have prescribed in my past letter in Borneo Bulletin entitled “Revive Gadong Night Market to Boost Vendors, Jobs” (AM Omar, 2016), that the suggestion to relocate the entrepreneurs back to the Gadong night market would set up an economic boom and create jobs, which it did thanks to His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam’s caring and benevolent leadership and direct intervention; so too that if we change this policy that I am confident that Brunei will have an economic and creative boom which all of our society will stand to gain in areas of economic growth and job creation for our nation once implemented. Thus the need to immediately review Chapter 181, and to fastback the process of applying for an event permit now.

Abdul Malik Omar

Governing Bandar Seri Begawan in the 21st Century

It has been a few decades since we have achieved independence and our city, Bandar Seri Begawan, has failed to grow itself into a successful regional city. Yes, you may have the typical museum, historic buildings, and iconic monuments or landmarks, but decades of ineffective governance all has led to the city being overrun in terms of economic competitiveness by its other lesser rich neighboring cities, Miri, Kota Kinabalu, and, to a certain extent, Limbang.

If we were to go to the aforementioned cities, we are exposed to a different city development model that is able, time and again, to augment the lack of financial budget to shape their respective cities forward. This city model can be traced by its pro-democratic governance that enables the people to elect whoever is the mayor of the city. The person elected to office are more accountable towards the people’s demands and less willing to act on the whims of how he or she feels, one can argue.

The twin pillars that motivates mayors, among many, are the need to improve the general conditions of the people by intensifying growth and to reduce the unemployment rate of the country. Doing at the city level is perfect for this as it has been argued by the World Bank that cities generate 80% of economic growth. It is at cities too where the greatest number of jobs are generated and concentrated, among many other factors.

The economic dynamism can be fulfilled if there was a serious person who can work, without fear or favor, for the needs and interests of the people. The mayors of Limbang, Miri, and Kota Kinabalu have made it their mandate, backed by the people of their constituencies, to fulfilling the mission to bolster economic growth and job prospects for society. As a result, the laws of the country are always adjusted to meet the challenges of the 21st century, making the conditions that enhance the competitiveness of SMEs a reality.

I interviewed a business person in Limbang and asked her why she would not set up in Brunei. She replied how expensive operating in the country is. Therefore, it would be best for her to just stay put in operating in Limbang. It is understandable because that is the reality of the situation our country is facing. Our strong currency backed by the high real estate prices do dampen our competitiveness.

While it may be easier for the government to use these reasons to uphold existing laws, they serve no purpose but to solidify the government’s complacency of not making the city progress ahead. First, the real reason the real estate prices are high is that we have an outdated land legislation that should have been updated decades ago.

It is embarrassing for our country if foreign investors realize the byzantine process of applying, purchasing, and transferring ownership of lands take ages compared to other countries. This process has made our city somewhat less active, both in its economic and social dynamism, no matter how many lights or decorations you put around the city.

The result is that the few people who got into real estate early on in the 60s, long before the land laws were passed, are able to solidify their control over real estate in the city. Not only do these businesspeople profit at the cost of society, with soaring inflation making rents too high, but some of their grandchildren who subsequently inherit these properties mismanage the apartments and buildings leading to deformed and eye-soring buildings within the city.

The land laws that were meant to protect the poor end up protecting the rich, because the rich are able to protect themselves from upcoming competition under the guise of the law. More competition leads to economic dynamism that is at the heart of successful economic development. At the behest of the people’s interest, the mayors of Limbang, Miri, and Kota Kinabalu made sure that real estate laws were relaxed in order that SMEs and the people’s livelihood can be enhanced over any special interest that want to profit from bygone land laws.

The magical part is that the land laws that Brunei has can easily be updated. We have the human capital and knowledge access for it. With a single directive, we can transform and improve our city position in no time. Yet, after decades of complacency and ignorance, our city has failed time and again to take this step. It may prove to be fatal to the people’s livelihoods if the laws are not updated.

Some changes that should be introduced include reducing the land transfer and land type process to 1 day instead of six unnecessary months. Abolish the “council” that is supposedly responsible to approve these land changes and place trust in the market mechanism to make the right decisions in the aspect of real estate. To do so will enable Brunei to reduce its extensive bureaucracy that has for so long destroyed Brunei’s chances to succeed in economic development and create the jobs needed for our young people.

Bureaucracy has to be eliminated in key aspects of the government that has an impact on the market. Limbang, Miri, Kota Kinabalu have only a fraction of the labor force working for the government, as compared to the bloated civil service of Brunei, yet they are progressing mightily ahead. For one civil service in these cities, they can possibly do the work of “100 Bruneian” civil servants.

It also makes young educated and unemployed people in the country mad knowing the fact that changes are not forthcoming because of the failure to enhance labor productivity and effectiveness in government, despite the large salaries these government servants are being paid for. This can change by introducing the “psychometric tests” on every level of government. The failure to pass it would mean that these civil servants have to be thrown out of work or demoted, while those who pass it shall progress ahead.

If the government is demanding the young people of Brunei to take these psychometric tests today in order to secure a civil servant job, then it would only be fair if those in charge of government today take it too. Make their results public so as to satisfy the demands of young people on the need for transparency on those who govern the country. Are the policy-makers are as effective and smart as they are meant to be to take hold of important positions in government?

If these policy-makers fail, then sack them and give the post to young people. Pay them lesser if the government is in need of saving money, for the young people will not hesitate to accept the post and pay given that they are the hungriest and dynamic of people to contribute in city-development of nation-building. To do so can enhance our labor productivity by miles and it will be safe to say that within five years Brunei will progress mightily ahead too.

On the subject of these cities would invariably pique interest among the young people of Brunei on how they can demand accountability from their government. The failure of the development of the city can be attributed to people hiding behind paperworks and the bureaucratic procedures, thus another main reason why bureaucracy is in need of being eliminated as soon as possible. But what also brings to mind is the need to introduce democracy at the local level in city development.

But what also brings to mind is the need to introduce democracy at the local level in city development. Democracy entails having the people vote whoever wants the position of mayor, or the person who is responsible for governing the city. As of now, we have one called the municipal chairman, but many people express dissatisfaction of the office as being unresponsive to people and SME’s needs, as well as being too bureaucratic and ineffective for a changing global order.

Which is why there needs to be an advocacy of the idea of elections taking place by the people of the city to elect a mayor, whom the people can demand accountability and transparency. The office must, according to the principle of inclusion, be open to all Bruneian citizens or PR regardless of their race, gender, religion, background, or economic position.

He or she must primarily be responsible and accountable for the people who elect the mayor. Having the freedom to elect someone to the position of power in shaping a city have positive consequences. First, the people will be more engaged in city-building, knowing that they have the power to influence in policy-making. Second, the government will be actually doing real jobs, instead of being busy hiding behind paperworks. Finally, a meritorious individual coming from the rank and profile of the Bruneian society will finally emerge to lead the city forward, potentially.

So long as the person is competent, whether he is Chinese or Malay, PR or a citizen, male or female, a Sikh or a Muslim, rich or poor are secondary. Let merit be the principal criteria to which a person should be judged henceforth. Many racists, xenophobic or misogynists may oppose this ideal, but the arch of the universe shall and must bend towards justice and equality.

One prime lesson I learned from my experience studying in London is that I was never discriminated against my religion, race, gender or whatever social dimensions that come into play. What mattered to the Londoners and my classmates were the results I produced.Such ideal must be inculcated into our society as a core principle if we are ever going to rise in a changing global order. The elections of the mayors are one way to promote this principle.

The decades have passed since our independence and BSB still failing to accomplish the goal of being a dynamic hub peeves me. All of the failures have led the Bruneian people down, whether they realise it or not, and this has resulted in us being left behind in terms of economic competitiveness by our neighbouring counterparts, such as KK, Miri, and Limbang. Although city development is not an easy subject to tackle, the need to enhance the importance of city building as a key source of economic growth and job creation must be prioritized.

Solutions to fix the problems at hand include the need to reform the land laws of the country, to eliminate the vast swathes of government bureaucracy, the overhaul and re-formation of the entire civil force through the process of exams given to them, the installation of younger, more competent and hungry individuals in top positions of government, the introduction of elections for mayorship at the city level, and finally the inculcation of meritocracy at the core of government approach in city development are keys to achieving our goals into placing BSB into the top position in the global competitiveness rank in cities.

There is no escape from hard work, and, certainly, there is no escape from the truths that need to be told. Only if we are ever honest and, subsequently, correct ourselves with the stark reality we are facing now can we rapidly rise and survive in a changing global order. This can only be done if we reconfigure a different governance that would enable us to adapt our beloved city, BSB, successfully and mightily in the 21st century.

The AMO Times

Brunei Enterprise



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