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

Monday, December 12, 2011

New Nama Jalan

I remembered complaining about the lack of road names years before I joined MOD. When I was at MOD, the Jawatankuasa Kebangsaan Nama Geografi was just beginning its task in recommending for road names. Sometime last year MOD started labelling new names for roads outside Municipal areas and if you are paying attention, you will see names such as Jalan Utama Tungku, Jalan Utama Mentiri and the likes. Even for the new housing area in Panaga, the roads are named after birds, Jalan Kruak, Jalan Parak and etc.

Even the road in front of the Istana Nurul Iman is now called Jalan Pengiran Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha, the name is used for the stretch of road from the Edinburgh Bridge to the Telanai traffic light. Pretty soon we will have more new names for a number of roads mostly unnamed at the moment and you can probably guess where these roads are:

Jalan Pengiran muda Al-Muhtadee Billah
Jalan Permaisuara
Jalan Jame Asr
Jalan Industri Beribi
Jalan Stadium
Jalan Dewan Majlis
Jalan Pusat Persidangan
Jalan Pusat Dakwah
Jalan Landasan Lama
Jalan Pertahanan
Jalan Mubhbbah
Jalan Pembangunan
Jalan E-Kerajaan
Jalan Dato Haji Ahmad

I was told that the lauching of these new road names will be sometime in January next year.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Brunei Economy on the Rebound

The Oxford Business Group on 21st July 2011 had this report on Brunei. This is based on a report issued by the IMF which you can read here.


Brunei Darussalam: Economy on the rebound

Brunei Darussalam’s economy has been given a clean bill of health by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the agency praising the prudent economic management exercised by local authorities, as well as the efforts to reform and liberalise the financial sector and reduce the dependence on oil and gas as the nation’s main revenue earners. The Fund and other analysts have also said more still needs to be done to foster private sector development and improve the overall business environment.

In its latest report on the Sultanate, released in mid-June, the IMF said that many of the key economic indicators were performing well, with GDP rebounding in 2010 after two years of decline, the country’s current account surplus also well into the black and inflation under control.

The report predicted that GDP would expand by 3.1% this year, and while this is below the 4.3% forecast for the global economy, if the IMF’s projection is correct 2011 will see the highest rate of growth for up to five years.

The IMF said that while the Sultanate’s economy is still dominated by the oil and gas sector, which contributes nearly two-thirds of the nominal income, and is responsible for some 95% of export revenues and about 90% of government revenue, moves to diversify the economy were gathering pace.

“Economic diversification, a major medium-term challenge, is picking up momentum,” the report said. “Government policies increasingly emphasise economic and commercial viability in supporting development spending.”

Combined with reforms that have done much to achieve what the IMF described as strong financial institutions and strengthened financial sector stability, as well as a progressive reduction in corporate income tax aimed at further stimulating business growth and investment, higher gas and oil prices will boost revenue, meaning that the economic outlook is bright.

Though the outlook may be strong, the IMF has pointed to a few key areas where the Sultanate could further lift improve its performance. Foremost of these is the need to reduce the economy’s dependence on the state and for a scaling back of subsidies.

“Economic and structural reforms to reduce price distortions are needed to foster private sector development and the identification of viable export products and niche markets,” the report said. “These reforms will enhance fiscal sustainability and better prepare Brunei Darussalam for the eventual depletion of its hydrocarbons resources.”

The IMF also recommended an acceleration of programmes aimed at improving the business environment, such as streamlining bureaucratic procedures; opening areas traditionally dominated by the public sector so as to provide a needed boost to private sector initiatives; and improving access to financing and business advisory services, in particular for start-ups and small companies.

Another challenge is to build up its human resources skills base, with the gaps that currently exist slowing down economic growth and private sector expansion, according to Sasha Lennon, a director for consultancy SGS Economics and Planning, which is carrying out a study on the optimisation of land for industrial and commercial development.

As Brunei Darussalam progresses towards a broader and more knowledge-focused economy, it will need to develop a wider skills base, essential to both bolstering the private sector and attracting foreign investment, Lennon told the Brunei Times on June 14.

“Brunei Darussalam doesn’t have a very diverse skills base,” Lennon said. “While people who are educated are highly skilled, there are not enough of them with enough skills. That’s one of the biggest challenges.”

This challenge will involve putting in place very specific strategies to ensure that the Sultanate produces the right sort of skills to work in the right sort of industries, he said.

In the shorter term, to offset the temporary lack of skilled workers for some sectors, the country will have to import some of those skills by opening the doors of the economy to foreign workers, while focusing on developing the local skills base, said Lennon.

However, a balance must be struck when utilising imported skills, with every effort made to ensure a shorter-term expedient does not become a longer-term drain on the economy, The Sultanate’s minister of industry and primary resources, Yahya Bakar, warned on June 13.

Citing the tourism industry as an example, Yahya said that Brunei Darussalam was not maximising the benefits that could be derived from the sector due to “leakages” resulting from having to employ foreign staff and the necessity of importing tourism products.

“To strengthen the sector’s ability to multiply revenue throughout the economy, promoting greater local involvement and spin-off businesses will become a focus in the country’s future strategic direction for tourism,” he told local media.

The economy is still very much evolving, as the government endeavours to move away from its traditional reliance on the hydrocarbons wealth that has underpinned the country’s growth for decades towards a broader-based model.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Brunei: Stronger Links

The Oxford Business Group reported on 2nd December 2010 the following news:

Brunei: Stronger Links

The 17th ASEAN summit in Hanoi in October saw Brunei Darussalam taking steps to improve economic ties with several of its partners in the 10-member organisation, as well as with non-member states. The summit, the second held under Vietnam’s chairmanship, came at a crucial time for ASEAN as it seeks to build more internal economic integration while also strengthening its geostrategic role.

Compared with other ASEAN nations, Brunei Darussalam is relatively small, both in terms of size and population. As ASEAN is a key forum for articulation of the smaller nations’ views and interests, strengthening ties with the organisation has long been one of the Sultanate’s key foreign policy objectives. Indeed, the summit provided an opportunity for Brunei Darussalam to reinforce its ties with its neighbours while strengthening relations with other regional powers.

On October 28 His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah met with Nguyen Tan Dung, the Vietnamese prime minister, who proposed that an investment protection agreement and memorandum of understanding (MoU) on fisheries between the two countries should be signed. His Majesty Bolkiah also proposed further cooperation in fisheries, trade, investment and agriculture, with the Vietnamese stating on the latter point that they were ready to export rice to Brunei Darussalam.

Agriculture was also top of the agenda in discussions between the Bruneian leader and the Philippines President Benigno Aquino III. According to the chief Filipino presidential spokesperson, a broad discussion on agricultural issues took place between the two leaders, with this likely to be the first step toward a bilateral agreement that would supply Filipino foodstuffs to the Sultanate.

The focus for these potential future imports was the southern Filipino island of Mindanao, which is part of the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMPEAGA). The potential for the island as a future hub for halal food production was raised by the Sultan, according to the Filipinos, with the proviso that this objective would likely be realised after a lasting peace settlement on the troubled island.

Brunei has had a strong commitment to the peace process on the island for some time, sending a contingent from the Royal Brunei Armed Forces as part of the peace monitoring effort. There has been a decades long conflict there between the Filipino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front over autonomy and human rights.

Brunei also sent a representative from the Brunei Investment Authority to the upcoming public-private-partnership conference being held in Manila later in November. The conference aims to drum up more foreign investment for the Philippines.

In addition to relations with its immediate neighbours, Brunei has also been keen to strengthen ties with other important countries in the region. In this regard His Majesty also praised ASEAN’s relationship with Australia and New Zealand at the ASEAN summit and at the associated ASEAN-Australia summit, which was attended by newly elected Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. He also highlighted the importance of ASEAN’s links with Russia at the ASEAN-Russian summit, which was held during the time of the meeting in Hanoi. Russian President Dimitry Medvedev attended this meeting, where the Sultan welcomed Russia’s inclusion in the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the ASEAN 10+8 defence ministers’ meeting.

The EAS, which met during the ASEAN summit, also saw the participation of the US for the first time, while the meeting of ASEAN+ 3 (Japan, South Korea and China) also took place. India was also present in Hanoi, pursuing its new “Look East” policy at the eighth ASEAN-India summit, an event which saw a further strengthening of trade links and which promises the establishment of a free trade agreement (FTA) after 2016.

Brunei Darussalam supports an inclusive series of agreements and dialogues between ASEAN and other regional players, seeing these as ways to strengthen both prosperity and political stability. The FTAs are expected to boost trade levels and the need to focus on comparative advantage will be more pressing than ever when they take full effect. The Sultanate’s decision to move toward more value-added industries is likely to be an increasingly necessary strategy if Brunei is to benefit from more open trade with mass manufacturing economies. Welcoming in all the neighbours may give the Sultanate a chance to show its unique qualities to an ever-wider world.

“We should further undertake comprehensive measures to ensure ASEAN centrality in an evolving regional architecture,” Vietnamese premier Nguyen said at the opening of the summit, addressing a key underlying concern of many member states. Vietnam had held the rotating chair of ASEAN this year, with this position handed over to Indonesia at the end of the summit.

The architecture the prime minister was talking about is not evolving in a vacuum, but within the context of growing interest in the region from outside, notably from China. Other powers, such as the US, India and Russia, all have interests and initiatives under way in South-east Asia. Moving forward, Brunei Darussalam looks set to continue on a path of increasing cooperation with states both within and outside of the ASEAN region.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Time Traveler?

I was very intrigued when I read a news article about a film-maker believes he has found evidence of time travel in footage from a Charlie Chaplin film premiere shot in 1928. You can go to youtube or the still as above.

George Clarke, from Belfast, says he has been puzzled for more than a year by the film which appears to show a woman talking on a mobile phone. He has posted the video on YouTube where it has notched up more than 2.2 million hits in just ten days, reports the BBC. Mr Clarke was checking the extras on a Chaplin DVD box-set and began watching a clip of the 1928 Hollywood premiere of The Circus.

"As I sat back to watch it I realised in the first 30 seconds there's a lady strolling by with her hand up to her ear which looked quite familiar in today's society," he said.

"So I wound it back and watched it again, zoomed it in and slowed it down and got other people in to check it out. Everybody had the same reaction - it looks like she's talking on a mobile phone."

He has since showed the clip to a number of people, including the audience of a Belfast film festival but says no-one has been able to provide an explanation. Since posting it on Youtube, the clip has provoked nearly 18,000 comments, divided between those who believe in the possibility of time travel, and that someone also pointed out that this is not an uncommon item in 1920s.

A quick check at Siemens website that in 1924, Siemens had a patent for a compact, pocket size carbon microphone and the photograph of a middle aged man holding which looked like a mobile phone in 1924 which looked like this:-

According to the Siemens website, for a while, the carbon amplifier patented by Siemens played a major role in hearing aid technology and significantly raised the volume of hearing aids.

The electrical energy controlled by the carbon microphone was not fed to the receiver directly. It first drove the diaphragm of an electromagnetic system connected to a carbon-granule chamber. Current was transmitted across this chamber from the vibrating diaphragm electrode to the fixed electrode plate.

The amplified current produced mechanical vibrations in the electromagnetic hearing diaphragm that were then transmitted to the ear as sound.

Which do you believe?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

BEDB Houses at Pandan, Kuala Belait

Yesterday was our second MOD visit to Kampong Pandan to visit the 2,000 houses that BEDB is currently building for us. Sometime last year, we visited them with the former Minister and at that time, other than a few sample houses, most of the houses were in various stages of completion. Unlike yesterday, it is the other way around, most of the houses are nearly completed.

We even visited the inside of the houses where two of the houses were actually fully furnished.

Complete with proper interior decoration and nice furniture, I thought the houses looked very nice. Altogether there are 2,000 houses being built. Currently around 1,700+ houses have been completed and there should be another 200+ houses left to be completed. There will be 800 semi detached houses of around 1,300 square feet area and 1,200 terrace houses of around 1,200 square feet area. The colour schemes for the interior of the house is very nice. Our own officers even want to take photographs inside the house.

How about the outside?

I have to admit it does look plain and simple despite the grand colours. First timers might find themselves lost as the houses are not differentiated. The houses are divided into 6 precincts with each precinct having aound 200 to 400 houses. The semi-detached houses are grouped together with the entrance from the highway whereas the terrace houses can easily be found by using the entrance from Jalan Singa Menteri.

Any other caveats? None as far as I can see, except that people living in the houses have to realise that their sidewalls are cement and not bricks. The brick walls areas are where you can put the aircond.