Welcome to my private journal generally on Brunei issues. Any opinions expressed are in my personal capacity. All rights to the articles are reserved.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Growing Industry in Brunei

The Oxford Business Group on 3rd November 2009 published the following article:


Brunei Darussalam: A Growing Industry

3 November 2009

Ensuring domestic food security and developing a viable export sector are at the heart of Brunei's efforts to establish a strong commercial food processing industry, though the country has to balance its staunch commitment to environmental protection with the need to achieve self-sufficiency in basic staples.

At present, Brunei Darussalam's agriculture only partially meets the country's food needs, with a small contribution to both employment and the economy, something that may well change in the near future.

Last year, the total output of Brunei Darussalam's domestic food sector was just $158m, though under a new strategy developed by the Department of Agriculture this is to increase to $430m in 2013 and $1.9bn by 2023. While the strategy aims to improve yields from farms, the emphasis is on growing the agri-industry.

Speaking at the launch of the new strategy on October 10, the industry and primary resources minister, Pehin Yahya Bakar, said the challenge was to develop sustainability.

"I wish to stress that the basis of agricultural development for the next two decades will be directed at efforts to strengthen the capacity in the agricultural sector, not only in increasing primary agricultural commodity production sustainably, but more so in the development of the capacity of the secondary sector, food processing, which will invite more agri-business opportunities, locally and internationally," he said.

One of the cornerstones of Brunei Darussalam's ambitions is the Agro Technology Park to be located near the capital, a project being developed on a 260-ha site to cater to the needs of the industry. When operational in 2011, the park is expected to create up to 8000 jobs and combine research and logistics hubs alongside a processing cluster. With the state contributing $140m and private investors expected to match that, the project is one of the largest industrial developments outside of the energy and petrochemicals sectors.

The other building block on which the Sultanate's food processing sector is to be constructed is the state policy of supporting the halal food industry, promoting the production of fresh and processed foods that comply with the requirements of sharia laws.

Brunei Darussalam officials have identified the growing demand for halal products, a market that already represents around 12% of global food sales and which is expected to increase to 30% by 2025, as an industrial niche the Sultanate can help fill, both through testing and certifying products from overseas through the Brunei Halal Brand and by expanding domestic production.

Though Brunei Darussalam wants to boost its agri-industrial base, along with the primary industries needed to support it through the growing of raw materials, there are a number of constraints that may restrict the scope of development. One of these is a shortage of land.

Though the Agro Technology Park and other smaller-scale projects are being developed to serve the food industry, there is only a limited amount of land available for extending agricultural production.

According to figures released by the minister of development, Pehin Abdullah Bakar, on October 17, just 5% of Brunei Darussalam's land is listed as accessible for housing or industrial purposes, with housing having the priority.

There are only some 28,825 ha of the country's total landmass of 576,500 ha that has not been marked for preservation or that is already being utilised, the minister said.

With some 17,000 applicants on waiting lists for state housing, a figure that is expected to rise to 30,000 by 2012, the minister said care had to be taken to manage land resources.

"So far, the nation's housing scheme requires 5000 ha of land, which is 17% of the land available," Pehin Abdullah said. "This shows the need for us to use land more wisely."

To combat the lack of wide open spaces, Brunei Darussalam officials are promoting the better use of what land is available, both through utilising improved technology and techniques, and by focusing on crop strains that are best suited to local conditions. One example of this is the introduction of a specially developed high yield rice variety, Bera Laila, part of the campaign to meet 20% of domestic rice demand by 2010, up from the current single-digit levels.

Another way that Brunei Darussalam is looking at overcoming its deficit of primary produce for processing is through imports, a strategy outlined by Abdul Latif Sani, a senior official with the Department of Agriculture's Halal Development Division.

Brunei Darussalam was considering forming partnerships with foreign firms to provide bulk raw materials to be exported to the Sultanate where they could be processed so as to meet halal standards, Abdul Latif told the Borneo Bulletin while attending the sixth China-ASEAN Expo in late October.

"Basically the objective is, as a Muslim nation, to provide halal food to Muslims worldwide," he said. "The second objective is that we are tapping into the lucrative halal global market, which is believed to be worth billions of US dollars. The third is that we want to take the small and medium-sized enterprises' products to explore the global halal market."

While it will take time for Brunei Darussalam's agri-industry to fully get off the ground, having identified a potential growth market, the government is putting in place the necessary capital and infrastructure to sustain the sector's development.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Boeing 777 for RBA

According to The Indian Express on 28th October 2009, RBA will finally get its Boeing 777. I hope this will materialise soon:-


When the Sultan comes to the rescue of the Maharaja

As Air India's woes multiply on account of deliveries of new aircraft which it now wants to trim, help may come from an unexpected quarter — from the Sultan of Brunei. Orders for six Boeing aircraft which the airline wanted to scrap, and Boeing remained adamant on having it delivered, may now find a taker in the Brunei royal palace.

Senior officials told The Indian Express that the Brunei Sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah, has expressed interest in taking on dry lease at least two-three of these aircraft — Boeing 777s — for his oil-rich country's national airline, Royal Brunei. The airline, which operates a fleet of six Boeing B767-300s, two Airbus A320s and two Airbus A319s, has been adding aircraft to its fleet over the past few years.

Source: The Indian Express

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Brunei with the Big Players

The Oxford Business Group reported the following on 26th October 2009:


Brunei Darussalam: Diving In at the Deep End

26 October 2009

Brunei Darussalam is steadily building on its reputation as an Islamic financial services hub, making up for lost time and developing a credible sharia-compliant banking and financial sector.

Though the Sultanate has long offered Islamic financial services, operating in tandem with conventional banks and institutions, the lack of a broad-based regulatory environment meant that until recently the sector struggled to gain the recognition it deserved.

However, over the past few years there has been a rapid shift, thanks in part to reforms that established rigid guidelines to ensure banks offering Islamic products were fully compliant with sharia financial law requirements. As a result of these and other measures, Islamic banking sector has been equipped with a regulatory platform equal to or in advance of most of others operating in the industry.

These developments have in turn generated greater interest in Islamic financial services in Brunei Darussalam itself and have fuelled the drive to expand the sector's horizon far beyond the Sultanate's own borders.

One of the leaders in this push is Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam (BIBD), which is fast making a name for itself in the international arena as a successful financier, while at the same time bolstering Brunei Darussalam's own banking and finance credentials.

In July, BIBD was named along with BNP Paribas, CIMB, Deutsche Bank and HSBC as one of the co-managers of the Islamic Development Bank's (IDB) latest sukuk issue, which was held in September.

Such was the success of the issue, which was more than twice oversubscribed and raised $850m, well above the minimum target of $500m set by IDB, that BIBD managing director Javed Ahmad said it was likely similar projects would be coming the bank's way in the near future.

By surpassing the Islamic bond sale target Brunei Darussalam had been put on the international map in terms of Islamic finance, Javed said in late September. BIBD's participation in the issue had opened up new opportunities for other local Islamic finance institutions, which could further boost Brunei Darussalam's bid to become an Islamic finance hub, he told the Brunei Times.

"This is a positive achievement for Brunei Darussalam's image and has allowed us to be involved with customers outside the country," Javed said.

Another to broaden the base of the financial services sector is the Brunei Investment Agency (BIA), which has been stepping up efforts to internationalise its operations. In early October, the Sultanate's sovereign investment arm announced it had become a shareholder in a newly launched Islamic financial services firm, Fajr Capital. Other stakeholders in the Dubai-headquartered firm, which has an initial capital of $600m, include Malaysian sovereign investment fund Khazanah Nasional Berhad, the Abu Dhabi Investment Council, and the private Saudi-based firm MASIC.

Fajr's shareholders have said the company will focus on financial services and complementary opportunities in the broader economy in key Muslim markets including Brunei Darussalam.

According to Dr Amin Liew Abdullah, the managing director of BIA and one of the members of the new company's board, the investment in Fajr is part of BIA's strategy to increase its exposure in the Islamic financial industry.

"Fajr Capital is well placed to help develop Islamic financial markets and we look forward to a mutually beneficial partnership in the years ahead," Dr Amin told local media on October 6.

This increasing international profile is also generating overseas interest in Brunei Darussalam as a financial services market. On October 12, Datuk Mohamed Azahari Kamil, the chief executive officer of Malaysian-based Asian Finance Bank, said his institution was considering establishing a representative office in Brunei Darussalam as a result of the rapid expansion of the market there.

The bank was also looking at possible collaboration with Brunei Darussalam government agencies to establish an Islamic fund in the first half of next year, which will be jointly distributed and managed by Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam, Mohamed Azahari said while attending a financial road show in Doha.

While Brunei Darussalam has made great strides in recent years in developing its Islamic financial services sector, it still has work to do, especially given the increasing competition it will face in the future, both from regional rivals, other Muslim countries and even the conventional banking and finance industry, which is becoming more attracted to the potentials offered by sharia-compliant products.

According to Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Dewa Major General (Rtd) Dato Seri Pahlawan Awg Hj Mohammad Hj Daud, the Sultanate's minister of energy and the acting chairman of BIBD, the growth of the Islamic financial services sector in Brunei Darussalam and beyond has been supported by a rigorous and well-developed legal, regulatory and sharia framework, thereby ensuring its stability and sustainability.

However, crucial to the development of Brunei Darussalam as an Islamic financial services hub will be ensuring that there is a sufficient pool of talent and expertise, he told a seminar on creating awareness of Islamic finance, held on September 27.

Currently, that pool may be small, but by diving into international waters, Brunei Darussalam's Islamic financial services sector is learning to swim with the big fish.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Happy Bruneians

This was posted on the Philippines Daily Inquirer on 10th October 2009:


What makes people happy?

By Rafael Castillo, MD
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:53:00 10/09/2009

Filed Under: Travel & Commuting, Tourism, Research, Health

BRUNEI DARUSSALAM is not really a popular tourist destination in Southeast Asia, but we were treated to a pleasant surprise after a short visit last week. Probably one of the world’s smallest states, it’s one of the wealthiest and has a high human development index, second only to Singapore in this part of the world.

But what is also most striking and palpable as one mingles with the people there is the sense of tranquility and happiness in the Bruneians, and those who have decided to call Brunei Darussalam their home. That includes around 22,000 happy overseas Filipino workers.

“I’m proud to be Filipino, but my family and I are happy where we are now,” said Bing Salazar, a 41-year-old tour organizer who has been working in Brunei for the last 18 years. “We work hard, yet out stress level is very low here. We also rarely get sick here,” Bing added.

Healthcare system

Crime rate in Brunei is hardly existent. Prevalence of diseases is one of the lowest in Asia. Their oil wealth allows the Brunei government to provide the population with one of Asia’s finest healthcare systems. You pay one Brunei dollar or around P33 for hospitalization or any surgery.

Despite having a lot of mangroves and swampy areas, malaria has been eradicated, and many other common infections in our country are virtually nonexistent in Brunei. There are only five general hospitals and other general health clinics but considering the relatively low disease prevalence, there seems to be no need to build more hospitals.

One is tempted to conclude that the Bruneians’ affluence is mainly responsible for their happiness and good health. “Probably to some degree yes,” Bing argued, “but I think Bruneians are generally simple and happy people who find happiness in even ordinary things in life.” He was suggesting that even if Bruneians were not naturally endowed with oil wealth, they would likely still be a happy people.

Health and happiness

“Bruneians put a premium on relationships,” Bing explained. And during the few days that we stayed there, it was quite evident that they not only nurtured family relationships but also friendships. We were there during the Hari Raya celebration and they welcomed to their households even strangers like us, akin to the Filipino hospitality during town fiestas. They were lavish with their hospitality, and even strangers would feel so much at home.

Indeed research has shown that people who value and nurture relationships and social interaction are likely to be happier. It has also proven that positive feelings and emotions in happy people increase their coping mechanisms to stress, build up the immune system, get sick less and make them more efficient and effective in the workplace. This is so because happy people tend to think more holistically and creatively, are more open to new ideas, and solve problems more quickly and intelligently.

But I guess the greatest dividends happy people get is their better health. And this is not mere coincidence. A study published last year in The American Journal of Health Promotion reported that of 9,981 Australians included in the study, those who reported a high happiness and life satisfaction are more likely a few years later to report good health.

About 63 percent of the study participants said they were happy most or all of the time. More than 90 percent claimed life satisfaction. These people were significantly more likely to report good health a few years later. The authors reported that those who were satisfied with life were 1.6 times as likely to report excellent, very good, or good health at the follow-up survey.

According to lead author Mohammad Siahpush, PhD: “Everything else being equal, if you are happy and satisfied with your life now, you are more likely to be healthy in the future. Importantly, our results are independent of several factors that impact on health, such as smoking, physical activity, alcohol consumption and age.” Doctor Siahpush is a professor of health promotion at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

Previous studies

This study is not isolated. Previous other studies on health and happiness reported similar conclusions. One of these is a study on nuns in the United States which found that those who reported happiness, hope and love in journals kept in their young adult years were likely to live longer lives.

Happiness is truly a state of the mind. A slum dweller may be happier than some people who live in mansions and carry with them heavy professional, social or political titles. Happiness is a decision one makes and is influenced more by a consistent happiness-seeking behavior.

That’s why happiness experts say that intentional activity, such as getting immersed in activities which make one happy, is a more significant major determinant of happiness rather than circumstances, which includes one’s wealth, position and education.

“Filipinos may not have the natural wealth the Bruneians have, but I’m sure we have the wealth of heart and mind that can make us also a happy people,” Bing said as he bade us goodbye at the airport. I smiled, silently hoping he was right.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Brunei is No.1

The Oxford Business Group on 9th October 2009 had this report about Brunei:


Brunei Darussalam: Praise and Pointers

9 October 2009

Brunei Darussalam's economy has received somewhat mixed reviews in two internationally recognised reports, having been rated by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as the number one country globally in terms of macroeconomic stability but also well down the rankings when it comes to ease of conducting business.

In the latest WEF Global Competitiveness Index (GCI), released on September 9, Brunei Darussalam's economy climbed seven rungs up the ladder from its position of 39th last year out of the 133 countries assessed, beating regional powerhouses such as India, Thailand and Indonesia.

Brunei Darussalam's unrivalled performance in the area of macroeconomic stability was a result of its large budget surplus cited by the report, which was assessed as being equivalent to one-third of its GDP, the fourth highest in the world; the high level of savings, rated second; and controlled inflation, which at 2.7% was the sixth lowest globally.

Overall, Brunei Darussalam recorded an improved showing in nine out of the 12 categories or pillars assessed by the WEF, while falling back slightly in three, infrastructure, goods market efficiency and technological readiness. Significantly, the study said that the Sultanate was continuing to do relatively well in all the categories that matter the most given its stage of development.

According to Pehin Yahya Bakar, the minister of industry and primary resources, Brunei Darussalam's climb up the rankings was due, in part at least, to the co-operation between government ministries and other relevant stakeholders in the business community towards improving the various pillars of competitiveness in the midst of the many difficulties and challenges that the country is facing.

The WEF too referred to those difficulties, saying that Brunei Darussalam faces enormous challenges in its efforts to diversify its economy away from its dependence on oil and gas as its foundation. In particular, it cited the need to bolster competition in the goods market, higher education, technological readiness, business sophistication, financial markets, and innovation in order to make the economic environment more conducive to doing business.

"Addressing and overcoming these challenges is a condition that must be met to further widen the economic base beyond oil and gas, which together account for half of Brunei Darussalam's GDP," the report said.

This need to further improve the business climate was noted by Dato Paduka Timothy Ong, the acting chairman of the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB), who described the report as a useful tool to assess what additional measures had to be taken.

"The overall ranking is good news but we should use it as an opportunity to review areas and scope for improvement," he said in an interview with the Brunei Times on September 10. "This means that the country is in a very strong position to implement the current National Development Plan."

Underscoring the need for a further opening up of the economy and maintaining the pace of reform in order to achieve this objective was the World Bank's latest "Ease of Doing Business" study, which was also released in early September, and saw the Sultanate fall back two places to 96th out of the 183 countries covered by the report.

One area that the report highlighted where reforms were needed was in the time it takes to start a business, with the 18 separate procedures taking a total of 116 days, compared to the regional average of 8.1 steps and 41 days.

According to Fauziah Dato Talib, a member of the APEC business advisory council and managing director of consultancy firm IQ-Quest, Brunei Darussalam should be able to streamline its bureaucratic processes, as has been done in other regional countries.

"If we analyse these areas, we can improve, and these are low-hanging fruits, such as cutting down processes for businesses to better serve the public," said Fauziah told local media on September 10.

However, while Brunei Darussalam may have slipped slightly in the rankings, this is not a sign that it has become harder to conduct business in the Sultanate, rather that other countries have picked up the pace of economic reforms, in part prompted by the global recession. There were a record number of reforms enacted in the past year, a reflection of governments' understanding of the need to facilitate the doing of business in troubled times.

While Brunei Darussalam may have fallen back slightly in the overall rankings, it showed a strong improvement in one important category, implementing reforms to reduce the tax burden on entrepreneurs, including reducing the time devoted to dealing with taxation processing and the number of payments required to be made.

Though further measures need to be taken to strengthen the country's business environment, as well as to broaden the base of the economy, Brunei Darussalam's fiscal and political stability will allow it to build on already well-established foundations.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Brunei and MILF

Manila Bulletin on 2nd September 2009 had the following news:-


Top Brunei officials hold talks with MILF, other rebel leaders

COTABATO CITY – A delegation of top-ranking government officials from Brunei Darussalam visited Camp Darapanan of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao for a meeting with MILF Chairman Al-Hajj Murad Ebrahim and other rebel leaders on Monday.

The Brunei officials’ visit, led by Deputy Defense Minister Yang Berhomat Pehin Datu Singamenteri Dato Seri Paduka Mohd Yasmin Bin Haji Umar, came amid calls from various foreign and local sectors to resume the collapsed peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the MILF.

On the other hand, Senator Rodolfo Biazon asked GRP to suspend immediately the resumption of negotiations, which floundered in August 2008, because of the some MILF members’ participation in the Basilan clashes last August 12.

The meeting of the Brunei officials and MILF leaders focused new developments surrounding the Mindanao peace process. Brunei joined the defunct International Monitoring Team (IMT), a mechanism monitoring the ceasefire, rehabilitation and development aspects of the 2001 Tripoli Agreement on Peace between the GRP and the MILF.

As this developed, Dato Yasmin renewed Brunei’s support to the Mindanao peace process.

While Murad expressed the MILF and the Bangsamoro people’s “utmost gratitude and appreciation” to Brunei, its “great leaders” and their people “for the assurances of strong commitment and continuing support to the peace process.”

“As a matter of ideology and policy, the MILF believes that the most civil and practical way to resolve the conflict in Mindanao is through peaceful and democratic means,” said the MILF chieftain.

An article on the MILF’s Web site said “Dato Yasmin cited with high notes the declarations of SOMO and SOMA and the GRP-MILF Special Meeting, even as he emphasized the unwavering commitment and support of the government of Brunei and its people headed by His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah to the peace process between the government and MILF.”

On July 23 President Arroyo declared a suspension of military offensives (SOMO) which Murad reciprocated on July 25 with a suspension of military activities (SOMA).

Dato Yasmin’s delegation in the visit to Camp Darapanan included Puan Yang Terutama Malai Hajah Halimah Binti Malai Haji Yussof, Brunei Ambassador to the Philippines; Pengiran Haji Maidin Bin Pengiran Haji Said, defence attaché of Brunei Embassy in the Philippines; Sitti Binti Othman, assistant defense attaché; Colonel Pengiran Zulkifli bin Pengiran Haji Ismail; Colonel Muzri bin Haji Moksin; Lt. Colonel Haji Abidin bin Harris; and Capt. Haji Fadzly Bin Haji Abdullah.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Brunei Weaver

Zhang Jin of the China Daily wrote this on 2nd September 2009:-


Brunei weaver keeps skills alive
By Zhang Jin (Chinadaily.com.cn)

KAMPONG AYER, Brunei: At a time when machines can do the job, Hajah Siti Aidah Pengarah Dato Paduka Haji Othman still weaves and sews by hand.

The fifth-generation heiress of the traditional weaving skills deems it her duty to keep the diminishing art alive and kicking.

Operating a wooden spinning wheel, she swiftly separate cotton spins into threads ready for her co-worker to weave into pieces. They were performing to the wow of a group of foreign diplomats visiting the Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery in Brunei on Wednesday.

“My family has been using this kind of wooden spinning wheel for more than a century, and the technique is carried on from that time,” Hajah Siti Aidah said, who will hit 60 on Oct 30.

Hajah Siti Aidah had a great feeling of the gallery, because it was built exactly on the place where the largest primary school in Kampong Ayer stood.

“I became a teacher of the school in 1967 and I took over the family business only after I retired,” she said.

Brunei weaver keeps skills alive

“The business is good because people still love traditional hand-made goods,” she said.

Sometimes orders are so many that they have to work extra hours, because a worker can only make 2 m of brocade a week.

Hajah Siti Aidah said she has never specially learned the skills from her parents. “I was born into a family of handicraft in Kampong Ayer. I mastered the skills by watching my parents working.”

Kampong Ayer, the world’s largest water village on stilts, was a trade hub for centuries in Brunei.

Handicraft products were among the most traded goods in the country until oil and gas took the front seat decades ago.

In modern times, Hajah Siti Aidah said, crafters have to publicize their products to preserve the traditional skills. Therefore, she would perform at the gallery at the invitation of Tourism Development Department.

And she is talking with the department to make this a daily show. The back-breaking handicraft job may appear less attractive to youngsters, but Hajah Siti Aidah is not bothered about finding a successor for the family business because some of her six daughters are very interested in it.

If the industry is considered, however, she was a little bit worried. Young people can learn skills at Brunei Arts and Handicraft Training Centre, but some may have little chance to practice after the courses are over.

“If the skills are not practiced, the art cannot be relayed to the next generation,” she said.

The best way to keep the skills alive is to commercialize them, Hajah Siti Aidah said. “The government should earmark more capital to help young crafters start their business,” she said.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Brunei 40 Years in 4 Days

Lynett A Villariba wrote for the Philippines Daily Inquirer on 29th August 2009 about her visit to Brunei:-


Bonding in Brunei: 40 years in 4 days

By Lynett A. Villariba
Philippine Daily Inquirer

THE EXPEDITION was hatched during a reunion lunch when an overseas call came in as we were digging into our oysters and foie gras and dips and taro chips at Felix in Makati.

It was Philippine Ambassador to Brunei Virginia Honrado Benavidez expressing regrets in having resurfaced only recently in our e-group as she asked us: Could we come over before she ends her tour of duty in the “Abode of Peace” that Darussalam means?

Before we could settle for our dessert, we had already settled to go girl bonding in a land we hadn’t been to. We thought travel would be a delightful way to gain a fresh perspective on events and relationships, if not to test a 40-year sisterhood interrupted by career and family.

So with $420 worth of gold and vacation time, off we went.

Final five

Our delegation of five golden girls finally arrived at Bandar Seri Begawan airport lugging each one’s tale of transformation since we resolved in our college youth that nothing could make us quit in pursuing our dreams.

Marife Butalid Zamora took a respite from her Convergys command post to join us even as she remained wired and on call as country manager of the largest call center in the country. She would get a better appreciation of the well-liked work ethic of the 22,000-strong overseas Filipino workers in Brunei.

Former VP for a top Filipino fast-food chain, food technologist Reme Baclig was seeing Brunei again, this time for leisure, after having overseen her former company’s overseas expansion that has grown to 11 Jollibee outlets (serving halal food and no pork) in the capital city alone.

We had a doctor on board with us whom we fondly call Baby Doc. Elisa Baby Allado was an MBA (Masters in Business Management) graduate who made a 180-degree career shift at age 50 to become a doctor specializing in hospice care catering to terminally ill indigents.

For this, the UP Sigma Delta Phi Alumnae Association awarded her the Mariang Maya, given to distinguished member-achievers in social service and the cause of womanhood, for the sorority’s 75th year.

The instigator of our travel is one who could say yes as quickly as she turns her financial success into philanthropy that is as silent as the Pink Sisters in prayer. (I know she’d rather not reveal this but then she is half a globe away in New York City marrying off her only daughter Alarice.) The private Mona Lacanlale waived flying first class to join us in economy.

From the moment the embassy protocol officers facilitated our airport arrival, we were treated like royalty at every turn. Underneath the diplomatic cover is a discovery of an affluent land of no pollution (confined to abundant gas and oil installations); no typhoon; no tsunami (away from the Pacific rim); and a culture of no pickpockets, the 375,000 subjects loyal to their Sultan, fearful of God and the justice system.

To be affluent

You would want to be a wage earner in affluent Brunei if only for the fact that the government found no need to tax personal income. Talk about a tax haven for our overseas Filipino workers.

As for us, to prove how cautious and prudent we were at taking out Philippine money, we would spend only B$2 (about P66) buying from the champoy store of indigenous pickled fruit preserves whose names were unfamiliar but whose taste was exotic.

By the second day we were sampling the King’s gold up close at the 180-hectare, six-star Empire Hotel and Country Club, swimming at a portion of the beachside pool, and taking Dorchester high tea at Asia’s most opulent hotel Lobby.

Not only did we find gold-plated Roman columns and furnishings everywhere, we were also transformed into Midases touching gold-plated bathroom taps and toilet cleaning brushes, which we have had to squint lest our eyes turn jaundiced.

Our discovery tour progressed to the source of the kingdom’s wealth as we motored to Kuala Belait Oil town one hour away. Ambassador’s daughter Bianca and cultural officer Monette Garcia guided us past well-appointed recreational parks to the Billionth Barrel monument and then through an interactive science tour of the Oil and Gas Discovery Centre.

Not only were we lying on a bed of nails or experiencing an Intensity 8 earthquake, but Mona, who has taken over her late husband’s interests, was keenly observing the miniature presentation of the oil-gas production process that made the tiny sultanate a major world oil producer and fourth largest producer of liquefied natural gas in the world.

Mona ticked off the numbers that titillates: The average 180,000 barrels of oil a day and around .3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year turned out from oil fields and offshore sites amount to more than 90 percent of the country’s exports, assuring a well-to-do economy – the highest in Asia – secured from the global meltdown.

40 years in 4 days

Over breakfast and dinner of home-cooked food at the Ambassador’s residence named Ang Bahay, we lost no time catching up on 40 years in four days. Banters and serious laughter shook the stately house in a quiet suburban neighborhood with juicy retelling of the lives of six sisters: two married, two separated, one widowed and one single.

We reveled on the mundane, too, sifting fact from rumor on the colorful lives of royalty and Philippine celebrities within the 1,700 rooms of the world’s largest residential palace. However, the discreet diplomat made us swear on her Bible that what was spoken in Ang Bahay stays in Ang Bahay. For her sake, we complied.

But what can be said was that the Ambassador’s kitchen diplomacy extended all the way to Istana Palace as its residents’ reported favorite dessert is baked in Ang Bahay, aptly named Chocolate Cake Royale. (Could this be the secret ingredient of RP-Brunei close ties, aside from hitting the right notes with Philippine Magic Sing that make up the royal ladies’ past time?)

Our last lesson was on Brunei’s culture with visits to its National Museum and Malay Technology Museum. By evening, we joined the dinner that Ambassador Benavidez was hosting for the Muslim Filipino Association officers.

Capping more than a decade and a quarter career stint in Brunei – from Consul-General to Charge d’ Affaires to Ambassador – the outgoing Dean of the Diplomatic Corps for the last three years gave us the best education on Brunei and diplomacy in a blitz.

And, oh yes, about the treasure we came here for? We have taken it home with us.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Air Force use BAE Flying Militiary Systems

Defense Professionals on 17th August 2009 reported the following:


Royal Brunei Air Force becomes first customer for BAE Systems military flying instructor training

BAE Systems has expanded its unique military flight instruction program at the company’s Tamworth Flight Training Centre with the announcement that the Royal Brunei Air Force (RBAF) has become its first customer for flying instructor training.

Two pilots from No 3 and No 5 Squadrons of the RBAF graduated at Tamworth on 7 August as Qualified Flying Instructors after attending an intensive, specially designed six-month course.

According to Lieutenant (U) Ak Mohd Zulhusmi Bin Pg Mohd Roslan from No 3 Squadron, “The Qualified Fixed Wing Course which I have undergone here at BAE Systems Tamworth has been of the highest standard.”

The RBAF has engaged BAE Systems to train its flying instructors, a move welcomed by John Quaife, General Manager of Aviation Solutions.

Mr Quaife said today that BAE Systems was the only private company capable of delivering this military instructor qualification course.

“Most air forces, including Australia’s, train their own flying instructors from within their own resources.

“For smaller air forces that require limited numbers of Flying Instructors, maintaining the overhead of a Central Flying School can be difficult, hence they often look to their allies and partners for help. The more usual solution is for military to military arrangements to be employed using the Central Flying School of the larger air force.

“However, at Tamworth, BAE Systems has been able to develop a capability to deliver a complete Qualified Flying Instructor training program for the RBAF.

“BAE Systems also trains Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) qualified instructors to obtain their CASA Commercial Pilot Licence and Instructor ratings.”

“We are able to offer a turn-key solution – delivering all ground training, flying training, accommodation and messing arrangements, backed up by our experience as a military flight training provider to the Australian Defence Force since 1994.

“This unique training package is another good example of the depth of capability offered by BAE Systems at our Tamworth facility and also reflects well on the abilities of our instructional staff,” Mr Quaife concluded.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Brunei Darussalam: Ready for Take-Off

The Oxford Business Group on 18th August reported the following:


Brunei Darussalam: Ready For Take-Off

18 August 2009

Brunei Darussalam has long harboured ambitions of becoming a major transport and trans-shipment hub for the East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), as well as taking an increased slice of the trade from regional giants such as China and Singapore.

To this end, Brunei Darussalam has been developing its transport infrastructure as part of its long-term programme to expand and diversify the economy. While much of the focus of this programme has been on the $1.5bn Pulau Muara Besar port development, the Sultanate is also looking to capitalise on its central position in the region to build up its air freight capability and tourist-handling capacity.

There had been speculation in the local media in the preceding months that the government might construct a second international airport in the Belait district, though with the minister's announcement it now seems this proposal has been shelved in favour of expanding the capacity of the existing Brunei International Airport (BIA).

In late March, the government ruled out a proposal to build a new airport to cater for the growing airborne tourism and freight traffic, with the minister of communications, Pehin Dato Haji Abu Bakar Haji Apong, saying there was not sufficient space to devote to constructing a new facility.

"A consultant was assigned to monitor the situation recently but due to the amount of land needed to build a new airport, which is 8 km by 5 km, the plan was set aside, and a plan has been handed over to a local consultant for the expansion of the existing airport," the minister said on March 23.

Rather than build a new airport, the focus of upgrading Brunei Darussalam's air transport infrastructure would be on the BIA, he added.

And this capacity is in need of building, at least in passenger-handling terms, with the BIA having reached its planned limit of 1.5m arrivals and departures in 2007. Under a master plan drafted over the past two years, BIA is to undergo a $363.5m facelift to upgrade it to the status of an airline and cargo hub, giving it the capacity to process 4.5m passengers a year by 2024, with the potential to expand to 6m by 2030.

Just as importantly, the plan also includes a major expansion of the BIA's freight-handling infrastructure, which unlike its passenger processing facilities is currently underutilised.

The move would be a timely one if Brunei Darussalam is to achieve its ambition of being an airfreight hub and could help revive the dwindling air cargo export trade, which has seen volume drop by more than 50% in the past six years.

According to a report issued by the Brunei International Air Cargo Centre (BIACC), the company established in 2001 to handle air cargo activities into and out of the Sultanate, outgoing freight levels have fallen from 2869 tonnes exported in the 12 months ending March 2004 to 1260 tonnes in the April 2007-March 2008 period.

Though levels of cargo imports only registered a minor fall, easing 1% from the 7719 tonnes flown in during the April 2003-March 2004 period to 7627 tonnes in the year ending March 2008, this flat line contrasted with the steady expansion of Brunei Darussalam's economy over that period.

Among the reasons cited by Ariffin Hj Emran, the general manager of BIACC, for the downturn in cargo movements, especially exports, was the decline in the country's once-vibrant textile sector and the shift by national flag carrier Royal Brunei Airlines (RBA) to using smaller aircraft in 2003 and 2004.

"Since 90% of air cargo is handled by RBA, their refleeting programme definitely had an impact on cargo throughput," Ariffin said in an interview with the Brunei Times on July 8. "In the past, bigger planes like the 767s were used for regional routes but RBA has downscaled its fleet."

This downsizing has reduced RBA's cargo-carrying capacity, with the airline's newer fleet, consisting of six Boeing B767-300s, two Airbus A320s and two A319s, having less space for freight, he said.

While RBA's own cargo-carrying capacity may have been reduced in recent years, a new firm has stepped in to fill at least part of the gap. In mid-June, Syabas Aviation, a newly formed local company, began cargo services out of BIA, flying twice a week to Singapore using two leased Antonov freight haulers.

Sheikh Abas bin Sheikh Mohamed, Syabas' chairman, believes that the airline can tap into a growing niche market, saying there is an increasing demand for quick movement of special cargos.

"Petroleum exploration, for instance, requires logistical products such as drilling parts," he told local media on June 12. "Certain work at the oilfield needs to be speeded up and faster delivery is required."

Though stressing that Syabas was not competing with the existing air cargo flights, merely complementing existing services, Sheikh Abas said that for the first time in 30 years, Brunei Darussalam now had a dedicated air forwarding service.

As is the case with maritime cargo services, Brunei Darussalam will always face stiff competition across the region as it seeks to gain a greater slice of the airfreight market. Both Thailand and Malaysia have embarked on projects to expand the freight-handling capacities of some of their major airports, while Singapore's Changi Airport has a total airfreight capacity of around 4m tonnes.

With improvements and upgrades in the works, BIA's cargo-handling capacity is expected to boost the local economy and allow the airport to service the freight needs not only of the Sultanate itself but also of the nearby Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, and further across the BIMP-EAGA.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sailor on Brunei flagship

From the Lakeland Echo of United Kingdom, we get this news on 23rd June 2009:-


A BARROW IN FURNESS sailor is playing a vital role as part of a Royal Navy task group leading a major multi-national land and maritime exercise in and around Brunei, known as Exercise Commando Rajah.
It is the first time in more than a decade that such a series of exercises has taken place between the Royal Navy and Brunei's military and it forms part of the navy's task group deployment known as Operation Taurus. Logistician Carla Macaulay, 24, is an administration and pay expert onboard HMS Bulwark, the flagship for the deployment.

HMS Bulwark, an amphibious assault ship, is leading the task group of helicopter landing platform HMS Ocean, Type 23 frigate HMS Somerset, multi-role survey ship HMS Echo with embarked divers from the Fleet Diving Group and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker RFA Wave Ruler.

Speaking as the task group arrived in Brunei, Charlotte, a former pupil of St Bernard's RC High School, said: "This exercise will give us all really important training in amphibious warfare, essentially that's moving our landing forces ashore from our ships and then pushing them further into the jungles of Brunei where we will continue to command and support them from the sea.

"It's important for the sailors to maintain this capability as we never know when we'll be called upon to use it for real.

"It's key for our Royal Marines because they've become much more used to operating in very different conditions such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. So again, it's vital for them to gain and maintain those sorts of skills.

"This is a great phase of the deployment for us all as the Royal Navy doesn't come to this part of the world very often."


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Relative Calm in Brunei Darussalam

The Oxford Business Group reported on 22nd May 2009 as follows:


Brunei Darussalam: Relative Calm

Brunei's real estate sector appears to be little affected by the global recession, with transaction levels remaining stable and prices relatively flat, though it is unlikely the property market will experience strong growth in the short term due to a number of issues limiting investment activity.

According to Lim Poh Yeh, the general manager of White Castle Real Estate and Development, demand for residential property continues to be high, though this can depend on the location of the home offered for sale.

"It depends on the budget of the family or individual, but the demand for housing in Brunei is there, it's just a matter of what is available in the market," Lim said in an interview with local press at the end of March.

A large part of that demand comes from the lower-income segment of the community, those eligible for state housing support and who are unable to buy on the open market. Latest figures put the waiting list for subsidised housing at around 17,000, though this will be cut under a new programme announced in late February by the Brunei Economic Development Board.

As part of the state's National Housing Scheme, 2000 new houses will be built on a 180-ha greenfield site at Kampung Pandan in Kuala Belait, with the project to be completed within two years.

Though the market as a whole has not been negatively affected by the international economic crisis, there remains an oversupply of stock in some segments, especially in mid-range retail properties and the high-end residential segment. With fewer expatriate workers coming to Brunei, the call for more luxurious accommodation has dropped off somewhat, while more recently constructed commercial and residential properties built during the oil price boom - a time when the costs of construction materials were at a premium - are struggling to find takers willing to pay a price that will cover the building cost.

There are also a number of factors that are holding back the real estate sector's rate of growth according to local experts, with one of the main issues being the restrictions on foreign investment and ownership.

Though Brunei has approved legislation allowing foreigners to buy property within the Sultanate, it has not as yet come into force. This may soon change, with Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar, the minister of development, telling the Legislative Council in mid-March that, while complexities of one of its regulations have delayed its implementation, it was hoped the legislation would be enacted in the very near future.

If so, this could stimulate the local property market, as well as encourage overseas investment in residential and commercial developments.

The shortage of land for development is also a limiting factor for the sector, with less than 10% of land privately owned, mostly along Brunei's coastal strip, with a further 8% held under temporary occupation licences. A further 35% of Brunei's territory has been declared as virgin forest, and is strictly protected from development, while the remaining land is in state hands.

The lack of prime development sites and the slow pace at which freehold land is made available does impact on the sector, said Lim.

"Sometimes we have to wait for a very long time for the landowners to decide whether they want to sell their land or not," he said.

Some in the industry are also concerned that a newly instituted property tax may take some of the heat out of property sector, with local media citing real estate professionals as saying the new tax will slow down market growth and discourage prospective investors and businesses.

Announced in December last year and implemented as of April 1, the tax levies a 12% charge on the annual rental fees of commercial and residential properties in the greater Bandar Seri Begawan area, while buildings used by their owners for commercial or residential purposes are assessed at a standard rate of $3.60 per sq metre.

However, while there was a general consensus that commercial sales and rentals may be affected, the demand for residential properties would help sustain the market.

If, as expected, the property market in Brunei remains stable throughout the global financial crisis, it would have a sound platform to build on when the local and regional economies return to higher rates of growth. This platform will be further strengthened if more land is made available for private development and restrictions on foreign ownership are eased.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Fuelling the Brunei Economy

The Oxford Business Group issued the following report on 17 April 2009:


Brunei: Fuelling the Economy

Brunei is looking to maximise its hydrocarbon reserves in order to extend the working life of its energy sector, while at the same time expanding the country's industrial base to make best use out of its oil and gas fields.

The energy sector is the bedrock on which Brunei's economy is built, representing around 90% of exports and more than 50% of GDP. However, within a generation the economic balance is expected to change. Brunei's identified oil reserves, estimated to be around 1.3bn barrels, could be exhausted within 25 years at present rates of production, while the Sultanate's gas reserves of 335bn cu metres mean existing fields have a production life of 40 years.

This reliance on energy, especially on oil exports, for revenue means that Brunei's economy is exposed to price fluctuations on the international market. Though Brunei cut back production in the past two years to below 200,000 barrels per day (bpd), it easily made up any shortfall due to skyrocketing prices. Now, with the rate for crude having dropped to below $50 a barrel from its peak of $147 in July last year, earnings are expected to be down in 2009.

At the beginning of April, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) predicted Brunei's GDP would shrink by 0.4%, following on from an estimated contraction of 2.7% in 2008.

Though predicting the economy would rebound in 2010, expanding by 2.3%, the ADB warned this was contingent on Brunei's energy production declining by no more than 1% this year and the next.

"The main domestic risk to the growth forecasts is the performance of the oil and gas sector, as well as the level of progress in the Rancangan Kemajuan Negara 2007-12 - the national development plan," the report said.

Even though its reserves are dwindling, Brunei is still looking to develop its downstream energy sector to obtain added value from its natural resources. These include a proposal to build an aluminum smelter to be powered by local natural gas and a large oil refinery, planned as a joint venture between the private sectors of Brunei and Kuwait, and which would use Kuwaiti oil for feedstock.

One project that has long since got off the drawing board and is nearing completion is a $400m methanol processing plant at Sungai Liang that is scheduled to be fully operational in April 2010. The facility, a joint venture between the Brunei National Petroleum Company, which holds a 50% stake in the project, and Japanese firms Mitsubishi Gas Chemical and the Itochu Corporation, will produce 850,000 tonnes of methanol annually, with Petroleum Brunei committed to supplying 14bn cu metres of gas to the plant over a 22-year period.

While this represents a fraction of Brunei's total gas reserves, there have been warnings that while seeking to maximise the returns on its energy wealth projects should be carefully considered, least they drain away a disproportionate amount of reserves.

A recently published study assessing the methanol project, written by finance expert Jefri Salleh, said that the development could have the effect of optimising possible export return from natural gas. However, he also warned enthusiasm for similar projects should be tempered with caution.

"This is not to say, however, that the country's natural gas reserves should be made readily available for more projects like this one, given the risk of accelerating depletion of the country's natural gas reserves," Jefri said.

The energy sector received a boost in mid-March when long-running negotiations between the governments of Brunei and Malaysia finally resolved a dispute over offshore territorial demarcation. This will now allow for exploration of new undersea blocks with potentially rich oil deposits.

The dispute, which had been the subject of talks for more than six years, centred on delineating maritime territorial boundaries. Both Brunei and Malaysia had awarded exploration and production rights to overseas firms in 2003 in the same area off the coast of the island of Borneo.

The two countries have agreed to collaborate in the exploration and exploitation of the contested blocks, though no timeframe has yet been set for work in the region to begin. While there are no guarantees in oil exploration, a 440m-barrel field had been identified at a nearby block in 2002.

Similar successes in the new fields could help extend the life of Brunei's oil industry and see the energy sector continue its role as the mainstay of the country's economy into the middle of this century and possibly beyond.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Maulid in Mekah According to Muslim Historians

[Photo: Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. house in Mekah before it was demolished.]

In his book Akhbar Makkah, Vol. 2, p. 160, the 3rd-century historian of Makkah, al-Azraqi, mentions as one of the many places in Makkah in which the performance of salat is desirable (mustahabb), the house where the Prophet was born (Mawlid an-Nabi). According to him, the house had previously been turned into a mosque by the mother of the caliphs Musa al-Hadi and Harun ar-Rashid.

The Qur'anic scholar al-Naqqash (266-351) mentions the birthplace of the Prophet as a place where du`a by noon on Mondays is answered. He is quoted in al-Fasi's Shifa' al-gharam Vol. 1, p. 199, and others.

Earliest Mentions of the Public Mawlid

The oldest source that mentions a public commemoration of the Mawlid is in Ibn Jubayr's (540-614) Rihal ("Travels"), p. 114-115:

"This blessed place [the house of the Prophet] is opened, and all men enter it to derive blessing from it (mutabarrikin bihi), on every Monday of the month of Rabi` al-Awwal; for on that day and in that month was born the Prophet."

The 7th-century historians Abul `Abbas al-`Azafi and his son Abul Qasim al-`Azafi wrote in their unpublished Kitab ad-durr al-munazzam:

"Pious pilgrims and prominent travellers testified that, on the day of the mawlid in Makkah, no activities are undertaken, and nothing is sold or bought, except by the people who are busy visiting his noble birthplace, and rush to it. On this day the Ka`ba is opened and visited."

Three Tenth-Century Accounts of the Mawlid

The following description consolidates eyewitness accounts by three 10th-century authorities: the historian Ibn Zahira al-Hanafi from his al-Jami` al-latif fi fasl Makka wa ahliha, p. 326; Imam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami from his Kitab al-mawlid al-sharif al-mu`azzam, and the historian al-Nahrawali from al-I`lam bi-a`lam bayt Allah al-haram, p. 205.

Each year on the 12th of Rabi` al-Awwal, after the salat al-Maghrib, the four qadis of Makkah (representing the Four Schools) and large groups of people including the fuqaha' (scholars) and fudala' (notables) of Makkah, shaykhs, zawiya teachers and their students, ru'asa' (magistrates), and muta`ammamin (scholars) leave the mosque and set out collectively for a visit to the birthplace of the Prophet, shouting out dhikr and tahlil (LA ILAHA ILLALLAH). The houses on the route are illuminated with numerous lanterns and large candles, and a great many people are out and about. They all wear special clothes and they take their children with them. Having reached the birthplace, inside a special sermon for the occasion of the birthday of the Prophet is delivered, mentioning the miracles (karamat) that took place on that occasion. Hereafter the du`a' for the Sultan (i.e. the Caliph), the Emir of Makkah, and the Shafi`i qadi is performed and all pray humbly. Shortly before the salat al-`Isha', the whole party returns from the birthplace of the Prophet to the Great Mosque, which is almost overcrowded, and all sit down in rows at the foot of the Maqam Ibrahim. In the mosque, a preacher first mentions the tahmid (AL HAMDULILLAH) and the tahlil, and once again the du`a' for the Sultan, the Emir, and the Shafi`i qadi is performed. After this the call for the Salat al-`Isha' is made. After the salat, the crowd breaks up. A similar description is given by al-Diyarbakri (d. 960) in his Ta'rikh al-Khamis.

source: http://www.sunnah.org/arabic/mawldhouse/history_of_the_mawlid_house.htm

Monday, March 16, 2009

Maulud in Old Mekah

I have been reading about the controversies of celebrating Maulidur Rasul not realising that in our very own Brunei Times, Gabriel Haddad had written an article about the celebrations where Maulid was celebrated at the prophet's home. Gabriel Haddad's article was published on 20th March 2008:-


FOR centuries, the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, upon him blessings and peace, was celebrated in and around the actual house in Mekah where he was born. Since the Arabic words for "birthday" and "birthplace" are one and the same, it was literally a "Maulud within Maulud".

In his book Akhbar Makka the third-century historian of the Mother of Cities, al-Azraqi, mentions as one of the many places in Mekah in which the performance of salat is desirable the house where the Prophet was born (mawlid al-Nabi). The noble house (located in what became known as Suq al-Layl, Shuaab Bani Amir, Shuaab Ali and Shuaab al-Mawlid, present-day Qashshashiyya Street in Mekah), belonged to his father Abd Allah by inheritance from his father Abd al-Muttalib, then passed on to the Prophet himself. It is said that the Prophet passed it on to his cousin Aqil ibn Abi Talib in whose hand it remained even after the conquest of Mekah.

Aqil's son sold it to Muhammad ibn Yusuf the brother of al-Hajjaj. He expanded it and the house became known as al-Bayda' and Dar Ibn Yusuf. When al-Khayzaran the mother of the caliphs Musa al-Hadi and Harun al-Rashid performed pilgrimage, she brought out Ibn Yusuf from the house and turned it into a mosque, after which the house became known as Zuqaq al-Mawlid.

The Quranic scholar al-Naqqash (266-351) mentions this Birthplace Mosque as a place where doa by noon on Yawm al-Ithnayn (Mondays) is answered.

Ibn Jubayr (540-614) in his Rihla ("Travels") states: "This blessed place (the Birthplace Mosque of the Prophet) is opened, and all men enter it to derive blessing from it (mutabarrikin bih) on every Monday of the month of Rabi al-Awwal, for on that day and in that month was born the Prophet."

The 7th-century historians Abu al-Abbas al-Azafi and his son Abu al-Qasim al-Azafi wrote in their Kitab al-Durr al-Munazzam: "Pious pilgrims and prominent travellers testified that, on the day of the mawlid in Mecca, no activities are undertaken, and nothing is sold or bought, except by the people who are busy visiting his noble birthplace, and rush to it. On this day the Kaabah is opened and visited."

The famous eighth-century historian Ibn Battuta relates in his Rihla that on every Jumua after the salat and also on the birthday of the Prophet, the door of the Kaabah is opened by the head of the Banu Shayba the doorkeepers of the Kaabah while on the Maulud, the Shafii head judge of Mekah, Najm al-Din Muhammad ibn al-Imam Muhyi al-Din al-Tabari, distributed food to the descendants of the Prophet and to the people of Mekah.

The house is described in full by the ninth-century historian Taqi al-Din al-Fasi in his book Shifa' al-Gharam bi-Akhbar al-Balad al-Haram.

The following description consolidates eyewitness accounts by three 10th-century authorities: the historian Ibn Zahira from his Jami al-Latif fi Fadli Makkata wa-Ahliha; al-Haytami from his book al-Mawlid al-Sharif al-Muazzam; and the historian al-Nahrawali from al-Ilmam bi-Alam Bayt Allah al-Haram:

Each year on the twelfth of Rabi al-Awwal, after salat Maghrib, the four qadis of Mekah (representing the Four Sunni Schools) and large groups of people including the jurists and notables of Mekah, Shaykhs, zawiya teachers and students, magistrates and scholars, leave the Mosque and set out collectively for a visit to the birthplace of the Prophet, shouting out zikir and tahlil (a statement that there is no god but Allah).

The houses on the route are illuminated with numerous lanterns and large candles, and a great many people are out and about. They all wear special clothes and they take their children with them.

Inside the birthplace, a special sermon for the occasion of the birthday of the Prophet is delivered. Hereafter the doa for the (Ottoman) Sultan, the Emir of Mekah, and the Shafii qadi is performed and all pray humbly.

Shortly before the Isyak prayer, the whole party returns to the Great Mosque, which is almost overcrowded, and sit down in rows at the foot of Maqam Ibrahim. In the mosque, a preacher first mentions the tahmid (a statement that all praise only be to Allah) and tahlil. Once again the doa for the Sultan, the Emir, and the Shafii qadi is performed, followed by the Isyak prayer.

A similar description is given by al-Diyarbakri (d 960) in his great Sirah entitled Ta'rikh al-Khamis fi Akhbari Anfasi Nafis.

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami al-Makki (909- 974) in the beginning of his commentary on al-Busiri's Hamziyya poem mentions "the present well-known mosque that was the house where the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, was born."

Muhammad Labib al-Battanuni in the year 1327/1909 in his book al-Rihlat al-Hijaziyya described the house in similar detail as others before him and the fact that "al-Khayzaran turned it into a mosque and it remains thus to our present day".

Knowledge and upkeep of the hallowed birthplace of the Prophet is mass-transmitted. From Abbasid times the Muslims upkept the Birthplace Mosque for centuries, each king and prince of Egypt, Yemen, Syria and the Ottoman Sultans buttressing it and lavishing upon it gifts and precious ornaments from East and West until the Hijaz was overrun by zealots 200 years ago, at which time the Mosque was destroyed and its endowments dispersed.

This act was committed in ignorance of the explicit hadith, "Do not raze the vestiges of the past for they are the adornment of Madina", as narrated from Ibn Umar by al-Tahawi in Sharh Ma'ani al-Athar.

Dr Muhammad Said al-Buti wrote in his preface to Sayyid Yusuf al-Rifai's book Advice to our brothers the scholars of Najd:

"I truly do not know if the Islamic World ever concurred in its indignation over a single matter in its entire history the way it does today over what is being perpetrated by the brethren who are in charge of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and by its scholars in the evisceration of Makka and Madina and their vicinities of all the historical remnants connected with the life of the Messenger of God, upon him blessings and peace, both as a private person and as a Prophet, and, subsequently, their perpetrating deeds that violate Islamic Law and violate the method which the pious Predecessors used to follow."

Years later, King Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud gave the vacant land to the Amin al-Asima at that time, Shaykh Abbas ibn Yusuf al-Qattan, who built upon it the library known as Maktabat Makkat al-Mukarrama. The library still stands at the time these lines are written.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

US Suspend Joining P4 - Brunei, NZ, Singapore, Chile

Mark Peart on March 10 2009 reported on the National Business Review:


Suspension of Transpac talks will damage trade agenda

The Obama administration’s decision to suspend its participation in the Transpac regional trade agreement negotiations, in which New Zealand is a key participant, is a major setback for this country’s trade liberalisation agenda, despite the reassuring noises to the contrary issuing forth from government ministers.

Transpac is the Trans-Pacific economic co-operation agreement which was known in a former life as P4. It was founded by New Zealand, Singapore and Chile, and was later joined by Brunei.

The US is a relative newcomer to the negotiations, having initially restricted its interest to financial services and investment. However, its decision last year to seek full membership of the pact was a lightning rod for Australia, Peru and, more recently, Vietnam to join the negotiations as well.

A spokeswoman for the US embassy in Wellington, Janine Burns, confirms that the next round of Transpac negotiations, which was to have started in Singapore on March 30, has been postponed. No date for a likely resumption has been given. However, such a comprehensive review of US trade policy will not be completed overnight.

Ms Burns says key US cabinet officials-including Trade Representative Ron Kirk (whose congressional confirmation hearing is being held this week) are not yet in place.

“These senior policy makers need to assume their positions and have adequate time to review US. trade policies, including the TPP, before we can agree on next steps on this and other major trade policies,” she says.

While it can be argued that it is sensible to do such a stocktake now, there is a danger that US officials will use it as an opportunity to embark on a protectionist path.

New Zealand has a great deal at stake in the ultimate outcome of the review, as the expansion of TransPac has been seen up until now as a more direct mechanism for improved market access and reduced tariffs for NZ goods services than the more politically fraught bilateral FTA proposal, which has long languished despite a strong improvement in US-NZ relations during the past two to three years.

The US push for full membership in TransPac, indicated while President George W Bush’s administration was in power, enlivened separate but related efforts for a more economically integrated Asia-Pacific region.

The pace of Asia-Pacific trade growth must surely pull back while the US sits on the sidelines engrossed in its review. The US decision makes assessing President Barack Obama’s free trade proclivities even more difficult.

As a presidential candidate last year his free trade rhetoric was hawkish in the extreme, especially as far as the future of the North America Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), which includes the US, Canada and Mexico, is concerned.

Mr Obama’s newly-released trade policy agenda for 2009 says the administration will work with Canada and Mexico to identify ways in which Nafta could be improved without having an adverse effect on trade.

“We will do this in a collaborative spirit and emphasize ways in which this process can benefit the citizens of all three countries,” he says.

As far as proposals for new bilateral and regional agreements are concerned they will be considered when they promise to deliver “significant benefits consistent with our national economic policies,” President Mr Obama says.

New Zealand and its fellow Transpac partners can only hope the administration sees a resumed participation as delivering just those benefits.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mosque and Palace

[Note: On 14th February 2009, Melanie Wright wrote in the UK's Mirror about Brunei's Crown Prince here, whether accurate or not, but The Mirror definitely got the photo wrong. Labelling it as the Palace when in fact it is the mosque.]


Two-year-old heir to the Sultan of Brunei's fortune is the world’s richest baby
Al-Muhtadee Billah is the 34-year-old heir to the Sultan of oil-rich Brunei and stands to inherit £15billion.

His 2004 marriage cost £2.8million and his vast fleet of cars includes Lamborghinis, Mercs and Ferraris.

And Al-Muhtadee’s two-year-old son Abdul Muntaqim is the richest baby in the world.

When he was born, a 19-gun salute was fired from the Sultan’s Grand Palace (above).


Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Guardian correction

The Guardian, UK reported the following on 5th February 2009:-


In an article headlined The playboy prince is on the loose (30 January, page 3, G2) we said it had been reported on the gossip pages that Prince Azim of Brunei threw a party for the Pussycat Dolls at the Mahiki nightclub in London. The office of the Sultan of Brunei has asked us to point out that this information is incorrect.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Reliv expands into Brunei

St Louis Business Journal reported on 3rd February 2009 the following:-


Reliv International Inc. said Monday it is expanding into Brunei to strengthen its business in Asia.

The addition brings to 14 the number of countries in which Reliv conducts business.

Brunei is expected to complement Reliv’s growing business in Malaysia, which surrounds Brunei on three sides, the company said.

Reliv International Inc. (Nasdaq: RELV), based in Chesterfield, Mo., is a developer, manufacturer and marketer of a proprietary line of nutritional supplements.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Brunei: Towards Self Sufficiency

[On 27 January 2009, the Oxford Business Group released the following article.]


Brunei Darussalam: Priority Towards Self-Sufficiency

In an effort to reduce the sultanate's reliance on imported foods and increase agricultural production, Brunei is working on a combination of state support, improved technology and higher investments to ensure the nation's food security.

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam is clear about the task ahead: developing enough domestic capacity to feed its own population. The Sultan's latest call for Brunei to increase the role played by agriculture in the economy came in his address to the nation to mark the beginning of the new Islamic calendar year on December 28 last year.

"In the field of agriculture, we should upgrade our self-sufficiency status to a higher level than presently, consistent with the needs and growth," he said.

According to a World Trade Organisation (WTO) review issued in 2008, Brunei's agriculture sector accounts for less than 1% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with the country having to import up to 80% of its food needs. While other reports put agriculture's contribution to GDP at between 2 and 3.7%, the fact remains that Brunei is far from being self-sufficient in food production.

One of the factors that limit Brunei's agricultural output is the availability of land. The country's total land area is 5770 sq km, with part of this dedicated to urban developments and industrial sites. According to World Bank figures, less than 5% of Brunei's land is under cultivation, though this is almost double the 2.4% of 1994 and marginally higher than the 4.55% of the late 1960s and early 70s.

However, most of Brunei's landmass is locked up under the government's policy to protect the environment and preserve the natural wilderness. Under the law, a minimum of 55% of the country's land is set aside to ensure biological diversity, closed to all development.

Currently, according to official figures, 76% of Brunei's territory is listed as natural forest land, though some of this has been allocated to the country's small logging industry.

Due to these constraints, there is little Brunei can do to increase the actual amount of land under cultivation. Instead of quantity, it is the yields that Brunei is seeking to increase.

To this end, the state has come up with a plan to boost harvests. Under the 2007-2012 National Development Plan (NDP), $101m was allocated to the Agriculture Department to support investment in expertise and technology to boost farming production. As part of this move, an agricultural laboratory is to be established to monitor the health of livestock and crop safety.

Other measures include the setting up of a research centre to promote the production of halal foods, as well as to test that products are compliant with Sharia requirements. Additionally, work has been undertaken by the Department of Agriculture to assist farmers in the use of technology and newly developed practices to improve harvests.

The government considers that in the long term, the way forward lay in shifting from a primarily commodity-based sector towards a modern agri-business setting, putting greater reliance on agro-food processing as well as trading of agro-commodities, agricultural products and processed agro-food.

These efforts are bearing fruit to some extent. Brunei has achieved self-sufficiency in egg and poultry production, and can meet 85% of its local needs in vegetable and 33% of its tropical fruit needs. However, harvests of many other basic staples fall well short of requirements.

According to the Department of Agriculture figures, Brunei produces only 2.3% of the beef consumed, less than 8% of dairy products and just 3.15% of the national consumption in rice. In fact, rice production has fallen by almost 75% since 1977, when 4259 tonnes were harvested. Hadi DP Mahmud, a writer for the Brunei Times, reckons that Brunei's changing economy, which has seen an increasing focus on small businesses, industry and the financial sector, means that fewer young people are prepared to take up a career in farming. "The fact is, no matter how deeply rooted it is in our culture, farming as a lifestyle and a viable means to earn a living has become a thing of the past" he said.

Despite the governement's best efforts to improve yields, transforming the agriculture of a nation takes time. For this reason, despite the long-term move towards self-sufficiency, Brunei has acknowledged the fact that high levels of food imports will be a present factor for some time to come. In its Agro-Vision 2023, a road map for the future of agriculture in Brunei, the Department of Agriculture stated that "other raw agro-commodities will be imported at world competitive prices from the nearby agrarian countries and beyond", though the plan says that local production is set to increase.

Given the constraints on agriculture, Brunei will remain a net importer of foodstuffs, but by developing a value-added agri-industry, it may be able to offset its overseas grocery bill and grow a profit.


Correction: In the Report Brunei Darussalam 2008, Pehin Dato Abdul Rahman is referred to as 'Minister of Finance'. In fact his correct designation is Minister of Finance II. The Minister of Finance of Brunei Darussalam is His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mui'zzadin Waddaulah. Oxford Business Group would like to apologise for the error.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Funding from Brunei

[This was released by Reuters on 13th January 2009.]

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York faced questions at her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday about foreign donations to the charitable foundation of her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and their potential for conflicts of interest.

Three Republicans raised the issue at a largely friendly hearing on Hillary Clinton's nomination by President-elect Barack Obama to serve as U.S. secretary of state.

Here are a few questions and answers about the issue.

- What is the Clinton Foundation?

The nonprofit foundation was established by the former president to help pay for his library in Arkansas and charitable projects and policy initiatives around the globe on issues such as fighting poverty, bolstering global health programs and promoting energy independence.

- Why has the foundation become an issue in Clinton's nomination for secretary of state?

Concerns have been raised about potential conflicts of interest between Clinton's role as secretary of state and the nearly $500 million in donations received for the foundation, including those from foreign governments.

"The core of the problem is that foreign governments and entities may perceive the Clinton Foundation as a means to gain favor with the secretary of state," Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said at her hearing.

- What have the Clintons done to ease the concerns?

Under an agreement with President-elect Obama, Bill Clinton recently released the names of more than 200,000 donors to his foundation.

A memorandum of understanding between transition officials and the foundation, signed on December 12, required that Bill Clinton disclose the foundation's future contributors once a year. The Clinton Global Initiative, an offshoot of the foundation, would no longer hold events outside the United States and would refuse any further contributions from foreign governments, it said.

- Who are the donors to the foundation?

A number of foreign governments, foundations and individuals contributed to the foundation. Saudi Arabia alone gave $10 million to $25 million, and Brunei, Kuwait, Norway, Oman, Qatar and Taiwan each gave more than $1 million.