I was chatting with my gym instructor yesterday morning about his upcoming citizenship test. He showed me the course materials he is studying every evening with a tutor and I was quite taken aback by the amount of material that he has to cover. Admittedly most of them I know but then I have been living in Brunei for more than 4 decades and I live in the Malay community. Whereas my friend does not go through the same process and he has to learn everything.
I read in the comment box about a few weeks back someone was asking whether the citizenship test is a test of MIB. In a way it is, it is a test of the Brunei Malay culture - what a Bruneian should know living in Brunei. The materials range from the various pantuns to the wedding practices and ceremonies to the names of the parts of houses etc. The last one most Bruneians would fail as I doubt very much ordinary Bruneians can answer more than half of what was listed. Despite that, more than 32,000 citizenships have been awarded since 1961.
Are the tests any harder, say compared to the USA or the UK tests? I have taken mock American citizenship test and did not find it that hard. It is a mostly a test of the political institutions and process. The UK one is fairly new and it is a test of 'Britishness' which according to the BBC, the test requires would be citizens to have attained a grasp of English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic and an understanding of the way British society works and the applicants must have demonstrated measurable progress in language and an understanding of Britain's laws, rights and duties. Convert that to the Brunei context, it is more or less similar. At least the Brunei test does not yet include understanding of Brunei's laws. That would double the course materials.
The issue that has been raised in some quarters in the past is not so much the test but rather the non-automatic citizenships, the qualifying period and the inability for mothers to pass on their citizenships. For those who did not know it, the latter has been addressed since 2002 where children of Bruneian mothers with non-Bruneian husbands qualify for citizenship status under the National Registration Act. A couple of years ago I remembered the Minister said that about 4,000 people (more by now) have been granted citizenship under this provision.
The former two issues are government policies which are no different than any other countries - the underlying differences would be the time period - some longer and some shorter. The time period in Brunei is 12 years for those born here and 20 years for those not born here. Some have also argued about the differences in the issuance of passports and the rights that go with it. But if you were to check even holders of the British passports have at least 5 or 6 different categories of which one of them includes a category without right of abode in UK and they needed endorsements in their passports to allow them to enter.
Having said all that, there are many who are affected in the day to day life by not having a citizenship. Citizenship carries many rights and not having one excluded one from those rights. Some have argued that this has led to a brain drain and even capital drain with some moving to countries with slightly more open immigration policies. I don't want to get into an argument whether the authorities should change its policies - I can get two groups of people who can argue from both points of views. I think the authorities have done much in making the citizenship requirements more transparent and flexible compared to say 10 years ago but to me the current challenge to the authorities is how to draw the right balance between the two. Citizenship rights are always emotional issues and not just here in Brunei.