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Preparing for a Post-Oil Bruneian Economy


Picture courtesy of BruneiHotel.com

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.

Make a Charter on the Future of the Bruneian Economy


An ariel view of BSB. Pic credits to Lowyat.net

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.

Suggestions to Fix the Allowance System in Tertiary Education in Brunei


(picture credits to: dreamstimes.com)

The essence of effective governance is how well an organisation is able to fulfil its role in carrying out its duties and tasks entrusted by higher authorities. Only by then an organisation will be able to progress ahead in enhancing its rank in the changing order of things. Our national educational bodies, as an organisation, is important in this context. With pronouncements by authorities having been made to ensure that our educational system progress in the world’s educational ranking, it requires the educational bodies itself to look and fix the problems that currently exist in order to fulfil such goals.

One problem that needs improvement is the continued and sustained inefficiency in the distribution of allowance money to students on a timely basis in the national territory bodies of Brunei Darussalam. The problem has persisted over the years and has peeved a lot of students, who either have already long graduated or is currently studying. Some took to social media and even the media outlets under anonymous names to publish their concern over delayed allowance distribution. It is high time that relevant authorities study and fix this matter, as such measures would not bode well in achieving its goals to rise up the global ranks of education. Here are some suggestions that can be made in order for us to take that step to make the grade.

First, the relevant authorities should study how the Brunei-UK system works in dispensing allowance. Never once, as a scholar who has studied in the UK for four years, have I ever received my allowance late. The only time is when there is public holidays (which is understandable). Myself and, I am sure, the 2000-plus students commend the past and current UPP team for the effective streamlining of allowance distribution. What is more the authorities who handled the allowance were only a handful of people (numbering less than ten) in charge of two thousand students spread out across the United Kingdom.

Ideas that can be secured here is that would it be possible for the Minister of Education to set up a specific department or agency to handle and dispense all the allowance of all territory students in Brunei who are eligible for the allowance? Not only would it potentially remove layers of bureaucracy – which often is the reason of the delayed payments – but it will make it extremely efficient and cost-effective, as only one agency is responsible that could be referred to whenever problems may arise and would help save cost in terms of auditing, staff salaries, and much more with the limited number of people stationed there.

Secondly, the relevant authorities must recruit and expand the number of qualified accountants, administrators, and managers responsible for managing and dispensing the money. None is more vital however to have more qualified accountants who have their ACCA, CCAs and much more. Yes, they may cost more, but given that they have achieved the progressional qualifications ensure that they are aware of the standards their progressional bodies demand them to fulfil, and that may result in a higher standard of efficiency and effectiveness in distributing the money on a timely basis.

Third, the government or the territory educational system must work with the banks to effectively produce and carry out strategies to dispense allowance like that in the UK. One of the reasons why I believe that my allowance was never late was because of the existence of the right system of Standing Orders from the banks that ensures that effective and efficient measures are taken place. The bank must follow suit in helping to consult the government in managing its own allowance financing, as a way to guiding and improving the system forward.

I would imagine this letter may result in responses saying that students already have privileges and that they “should not ask for more”. To which I reply, that this is not about privilege per se, but rather working ethics and effective governance. If I am tasked to do something, I must do it well and on time. If I do not then I may get into trouble and I should, because all my seniors and juniors are looking at my performance too, and unless I fix myself it will set a very negative precedent on how they should act in the future. So too that the educational bodies must ensure the allowance system gets fixed, as it can set a precedent of the level of quality of how our people (especially among the eyes of students) work and how we get things done.

On an extra note, students must in turn work hard to do well in their studies. The Brunei Government has given our people the basic foundation that would enable every Bruneian students to progress in achieving a Degree, Masters, and PhD. But such rewards do not come easy or automatically. It requires effort from the part of the student, and the only way we can pay back the privilege is to do well in our studies. 

To close, I would like to suggest that government to set up an agency responsible for all payments under the management of a number of qualified, professional accountants and managers, and to finally work with the banks to ensure the right system are in place. Doing so would contribute at enhancing the national territory educational system in the educational global ranking, as we need it to be in order that we succeed together as a nation and a people. Together we shall and must work at fulfilling the aims of Vision 2035 in building a better Brunei.

Village Leaders Should be more Pro-Active in Community Building


Picture courtesy of BruneiHotel.com

Picture courtesy of BruneiHotel.com

 

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

Education: An Investment in Brunei’s Future


Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 6.54.54 pm

(pics credit to isiconsultancy.com)

The ability of the country’s youths to excel and succeed in education is highly correlated to its long-term socio-economic success. This article shall focus on the youths, for their role in contributing to the nation could be measured as to how well they do in their formal education. Next this article shall give basic recommendations to parents and government in increasing the chances of the youths success in education. This article will also make the case as why the scholarship investment should increase progressively in the years to come as a pathway to secure the future of the nation-state in this increasingly competitive and complex world.

The main reason why education is vital for national development, first and foremost, is that it enables the state to secure the right human capital to feed the growing demands of industry, civil service, government, etc. Consequently, it will increase the likelihood for the nation to find individuals to secure the professions which would advance the cause of the nation-state. These professions could range from medicine to architecture, from engineering to researcher, from civil service to finance, etc.

Whatever these professions are, it ultimately demands from the youths – who are in the formal education system today – the need to subsequently acquire specialised knowledge and skills needed to form as a base requirement necessary to catapult the nation’s development programme forward. Make no mistake, every profession carries with it its own sets of responsibility and challenges. What better way for the youth to contribute to the nation than to strive in doing well in their field of study whilst in school or university before acquiring these specialised skills in the name of national development.

Whatever the professions the youth chooses, it would require from them the need to succeed in STEM-based education. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. These subjects are highly embedded in the secondary and tertiary based education system. The former’s importance is reflective to the efforts by the government in carrying out the SPN21 programme, a programme to innovate how teaching is done in the educational system to reflect the need to produce smart, capable, and loyal citizens in the 21st century; the latter in building up the capacities of UBD, UTB, Polytechnic School, etc. in their areas of competencies such as in medicine, policy-making, business development, economics, mechanical engineering, videography, etc.

With the rising tide of globalisation the youth are now ever pressed to succeed in their education. And in the modern era, we have to see these developments in place to prepare our people to create a better, brighter future for the nation.

Never in the five hundred plus years of Brunei history has there been such wide access of basic free education than this illustrious period alone. We, the youths, have to therefore appreciate the opportunities given by His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam. We have the privilege than many in the developing world would wish for. Let us realise our privilege and justify it by studying and doing well in our education.

By doing well in SPN, O-levels, A-levels, and Degree education, it ensures that whatever monies invested in our education will result in magnified returns.

For the parents who have their children taking SPN (PMB equivalent), O-levels, and/or A-levels it is highly encouraged for every parent to take their children’s education at the very core of one’s family policy.

There is this Kampong where my former high-school principal lives where most of the youths (now adults) got a degree. When I asked how come, he stated how the importance of education is drummed up in every child from a very young age in that Kampong. Today, those adults form part of the base of the expanding middle class of Brunei. Their education gives them opportunity to secure good paying jobs, such as being a pilot, dentist, civil engineer, lawyer, and architect. In return they place their specialised knowledge and skill sets in their work that invariably contributes to the development of the nation-state.

Securing and placing good education at the core of family planning for the child is one of the surest way to  achieve sustainable, resilient development of a nation-state. The success would build up the necessary human capital needed to catapult Brunei’s development forward. And that progress begins at home.

Sultan Bolkiah the 5th, the great Sultan who ushered Brunei in its glorious Golden Age in the 15th century, always give advice to his people. One of his most famous advise is inevitably about education. He said how Bruneians should go and study abroad, and come back with whatever the knowledge they have to contribute in Brunei’s development. It was a message he gave to the people whom he led in ushering Brunei to attain its Golden Age status.

The advise is true then, it is true now.

We stand at this moment in our unique history where basic education is provided en masse and for free (and/or subsidised). Let us, the youths, realise this privilege and justify it by excelling or at least doing well in our education.

To the youths who are struggling in their education right now and/or who are planning to quit because they can’t take school pressure, go read how-to-study guide books. Books by Adam Khoo such as “I am Gifted, So are You!” is a good start. You can borrow it from the public library in Bandar. I owe my academic success on that book, where I went from a D average O’level student to top in the class scoring As for my Sciences (Physics, Biology, Chemistry) and Mathematics.

And if you do have plans to quit school or college, probably due to school pressures, do consult with your school counsellor or trusted mentor immediately. Share your problems to them and see if a solution can be found. Truth be told, this writer almost quit school himself because of the immense school pressure faced in his A-level days. But because of a counsellor’s and mentor’s help, this writer was able to recover well and came back stronger than ever before.

To the parents, place education at the very core of your family policy. Ensure that the base requirement that one would ever accept from one’s child in terms of education is in attaining a degree level education. Getting them to secure a degree is the aspiration that has to be aimed by every Bruneian family in the 21st century. So give the child a good environment to study. Purchase them revision or exam books. Secure the best tutors for them. Make money no object in securing good education for the child.

To the government, in the midsts of lowering Oil and Gas prices, may this writer give a suggestion to the government that the youths are the greatest treasure that this nation have. They will be the one who would help to secure Brunei’s future. So keep on investing heavily on the education system, by means of securing better qualified teachers and to raise the standard of teaching in schools, especially in STEM-based education.

In addition this writer implores the government to increase the investment in scholarships. Many talented qualified students studying in the UK I know appreciate the scholarship they have been given and are subsequently putting those degree to good use in the name of nation-building. Some of them are now building businesses and I am confident they will be providing jobs locally in the years to come, effectively solving the youth unemployment issues facing the nation.

The investment in scholarships must continue and if possible be increased progressively in the years and decades ahead, and not the opposite. As stated, the youths are the greatest treasure that this nation can have. Let us invest in them, for our youths are the ones who would enable Brunei Darussalam to secure a brighter, better future one day. Therefore an increase in investments in scholarship is vital to the long-term interest of this nation.

To conclude, education is a vital part in national development. The efforts made by the government and the people must be combined in total to ensure that the monies invested in education leads to great results that would inevitably secure the future of the people and the nation-state in this increasingly competitive and complex world.

To the youths of Brunei, I say, study, study, & study! Never give up. Never give in. Continue on your educational path while you are at it. Do well in it. Do it for the nation. But above all, do it for your family, teachers, and all of those who have placed the effort and belief in you in being a person who would contribute positively to your community and society one day.

The AMO Times

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