Brunei Darussalam: Negara Brunei Darussalam: Marking Time


Dr AVM Horton

Although there was no overriding theme to the second quarter of 2002 in Negara Brunei Darussalam, important straws in the wind included moves further to modernise the economy.

On 17 May Dato Ahmad Jumat was confirmed as Minister of Development, having already exercised the functions of the office for the previous twelve months; Pehin Abu Bakar Apong, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education, was promoted to Minister of Health; whilst Pehin Abdul Aziz Umar, who had been acting in the latter capacity since 1998, continued to hold his substantive post as Minister of Education.

The death on 24 June of Professor Mahmud Saedon Othman, Islamic Legal Specialist, is a grievous blow: concentrating full-time at the time of his death on the development of Muslim jurisprudence in the sultanate, he will not easily be replaced.

In an address to the nation on 15 July, HM the Sultan 'underlined his commitment to lead his people to greater prosperity'. This could not be achieved without sustaining internal tranquillity along with friendly relationships in the international arena. His Majesty added that his government has expanded its short term economic recovery scheme for small businesses and has commissioned international consultants to devise a policy on developing the nation's human resources. An Action Plan on Statistics had also been prepared. The Brunei International Financial Centre was continuing to attract support.

GDP is officially expected to grow at the rate of 4.5% this year. The take-up of available funds under the Eighth National Development Plan is reported to have been very slow: of the B$1,000 million available in 2002, approval had been given so far for the release of only B$190m and it was expected that the total would reach not more than B$650 million. It was feared that this would delay economic recovery. (The Brunei dollar is exchangeable at par with the Singapore dollar).

In the hydrocarbon sector, 8 July was the closing date for expressions of interest in the Brunei Oil and Gas Downstream Industry Development at the Sungai Liang Industrial Estate. The Brunei National Petroleum Company Sdn Bhd. has invited bids from potential participants to manufacture ammonia/urea, methanol and similar products.

The Egret Field is due to go into production by August 2003. A new oil and gas deposit located north east of the Fairley field, Egret is expected to have a 'life' of fifteen to twenty years.

Brunei Gas Carriers took delivery in June of a new flagship, Abadi, with a capacity of 135,000 cubic metres of liquified natural gas (LNG). Built at Nagasaki by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the ship is to be used for delivering LNG to Japan and South Korea. These shipments are based on long-term contracts; it is hoped also to attract spot purchases from other buyers.

There were fears for the future of the garment industry (the second largest export-earner) following unrest among the immigrant Bangladeshi labour force. One or two factories, hit by falling orders from the USA, had reduced production and staff. Even so, it is still expected that exports this year would match the previous record (B$300m) set in 2000.

On 23 May the foundation stone was laid for the Aquaculture Development Centre off the Muara-Tutong Highway. The Centre is scheduled to be ready in 2003. Aquaculture contributes B$71m out of the fishing sector's annual output of B$200m.

The Telecommunications Department is to be corporatised by 1 April 2003. In anticipation of this event, the government-owned TelBru (Brunei Telecommunications Company Limited), was registered on 30 May 2002.

It was revealed that 332,844 persons were enumerated at the 2001 census. The national Islamisation programme is gathering pace. Since the beginning of the year the number of converts totalled 258, of whom 137 were from Brunei-Muara District. The homogenisation of religion in the sultanate will assist the preservation of national unity and political harmony.

Sources Borneo Bulletin Online Government of Brunei Official Website Pelita Brunei Sunday Times (London)

WATCHPOINT: Downstream expansion of the hydrocarbon industry; coming-on-stream of the Egret Field.


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