Friday, May 30, 2008

Infamous Brunei Video

I was very curious when a news search about Brunei gave me a news article about the Royal Marines of UK and Malaysia. Raised eyebrows. I linked up to the news site and found a news article entitled " Royal Marines advert 'portayed Malaysians as terrorists' ". The news clip is here for you to read:

The 45 second clip , which was airing in cinemas and on the Royal Marines’ website, showed a man on a beach firing an AK47 in the air while he shouting in the Malay language: “I'm the most evil man in the world. Come fight with me. I will kill you all.”

The advertisement cost around £1 million to make.

“We regret that this recruitment advertisement has been interpreted that Malaysians could be involved in terrorism,” said Anton Hanney, a Navy spokesman. “Having been made aware of the potential for offence it was immediately withdrawn from the recruitment website and from cinemas.”

He said the film was made in Brunei and the Malay language was used because the actor happened to be from neighbouring Malaysia.

A Malaysian MP complained about the campaign on Tuesday.

“They have withdrawn the video on their own accord. It’s a good gesture on their part,” Zainal Abidin Bakar, a Malaysian foreign ministry official, said. “They’ve realised their mistake and the sensitivity of the Malay community.”

The video’s English voice-over describes a Royal Marine commando as a terrorist’s “worst nightmare”, whose best friend is pain.


What gets me is that the film was made in Brunei. That's interesting. Wow! I actually saw the video on youtube and linked here. Probably the first video to be made in Brunei to be banned anywhere.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Encounters of the Spooky Kind

To believe or not to believe: that is the question. A slight adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet there. We often hear our elders in the past about certain things like not go out at night, be careful in the forests etc. Sometimes we scorned them. Old fashioned. But encounters do happen. When they do, either we believe or start believing or try to find explanations as to what had happened.

This photograph was taken a few years ago using a non-digital camera by PWD senior officers when they visited Belalong. When the photograph was processed, everyone was surprised to see that sitting figure on the rock. This photograph was taken at one of the rapids of Belalong. In fact, I was told that a couple of lady officers even took their photograph on the rock after this photo was taken. But the sitting figure was not in their photograph. It only appeared on this one. The owner of the photograph said that the photograph was not tampered with.

I had my own share of encounters of the unusual kind when playing golf at the Empire during Maghrib. I wrote about it in January last year. I have avoided night golf since then. Yesterday I came across the brunei-irish blog's eerie entry about the triple h hashers experience in Brunei.

Do you believe?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Musabaqah Al-Quran in Brunei


The musabaqah quran reading competition final will be on tonight and tomorrow will be the results. I wrote an article about the history of musabaqah sometimes last year for the Brunei Times. I don't quite remember whether I have posted that article here or not.

Anyway the short history is that the musabaqah has always been around. Even immediately after the second world war, it was held at Masjid Kajang. Masjid Kajang was the temporary mosque used by Muslims in Brunei while waiting for Masjid SOAS to be built. The photograph is showing how the atmosphere and what the astaka used to look like in those days.

After Masjid SOAS was completed, the musabaqah was held at the Bahtera in the middle of Masjid SOAS lagoon where everyone would be seated by the lagoon watching the finals. I have a photo of that too but I will put that up tomorrow when I post the entire Musabaqah history article.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Where am I?

This photograph was taken in 1953, about 55 years ago. This is taken in the centre of Bandar Seri Begawan. If you were to look at the same place now, you cannot imagine this photographs is what is used to be.

This building housed the first Information Department out in Jalan James Pearce.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Brunei Economy 2008 (according to IMF)

Have you ever had the experience when the ATM spat your card out with the screen flashing "INSUFFICIENT FUNDS". Surprised? Did you forget to top up your account? If you think running out of money is an inconvenience, imagine the same problem on a national or even global scale. Investors, bankers, and government policy-makers all hate these kinds of surprises, too. Without up to date economic data, a local problem in one country can cause trouble for other countries that have financial dealings there.

One of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) most important jobs is to conduct an annual "checkup" of the economy of all the IMF's member countries. These checkups help uncover issues in a country's economy that other member countries may be unaware of. Sharing accurate, objective information avoids nasty surprises in international trade and monetary exchange.

The annual economic checkup is called the Article IV consultation. The name "Article IV," comes from the IMF's rules that all member countries have agreed to. These rules direct the IMF to keep tabs on economic policies in each member country where a group of IMF staff visit a particular member country and will collect economic data and statistics and meet with various government and banking officials. They will prepare a report for the IMF Executive Directors and also use the information when they discuss the country and offer it advice. If it has an economic problem, it could grow to hurt other countries. IMF also functioned as a lender of last resorts. If a government is bankrupt or unable to pay for its operations, they can turn to the IMF for financial assistance. However IMF will impose many conditions for that loans which may be painful to the countries concerned such as the need for increasing revenues (taxes), reducing expenditures (less subsidies etc). It is better not to be in that position.

The IMF collects among others, these three main data:

The values and amounts of the country's imports and exports - This can help tell if the country's international trade is healthy.

The amounts of government tax income and operating expenses, including civil service wages - This can confirm whether the government is allowing its debts to grow too much to be good for the economy.

Interest rates and currency exchange rates - These figures help tell if there is enough money available for investment and whether the country's exports are competitive on the international market.

The IMF Executive Directors upon discussing the report will also advise the country on their current economic policies and policies going forward. These measures can hopefully prevent future economic and financial crises.

The same Article IV mission was here in Brunei Darussalam last January. In fact the IMF missions have been coming almost every year to Brunei Darussalam since we became the 180th member of IMF in 1995, conducting a 'checkup' on our economy and the government finances. One of the least known fact to most Bruneians and in fact to almost most citizens of the various countries in the world is that their country is being checked, inspected and audited.

The Brunei government has to tell IMF everything and the IMF gets data on everything they wanted and if they don't like the data or think the data is suspect, they can get their data elsewhere. The mission produced a confidential staff report telling the government what's wrong and what needs to be done. Even though the report is confidential, a short executive summary called the Public Information Notice (PIN) is always made public.

For 2008, the IMF's document is available here.
and for this year, the IMF also released the statistical index here.

Tough surprisingly, IMF has not been too good about keeping its own management in order. They had to sell their substantive gold hoardings to make sure that IMF itself has sufficient harm for it to operate.........

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Istana Sultan Hashim

In Peter Blundell's book, The City of Many Waters, published in 1922, there were many old photographs of Brunei. Peter Blundell was the British Engineer who worked at the one and only cutch factory in Brunei. He spent quite a number of times with Sultan Hashim during his tenure in Brunei and he was able to describe Brunei very well. Sultan Hashim died in 1906 and this book by the time it was published in 1922 would have been a little bit out of date. But it remains one of the few that actually described Brunei at the beginning of the 20th century.

This particular photograph was that of Sultan Hashim's palace. The palace is located with its back to the padang. This was described later in the book.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Xibit - Brunei's Very Own Comic

Do you know what this is? This is Brunei's very own comic book. Forget the Marvels, the DC Comics, the Dark Horse etc. This is Brunei's own brand comic. Written by Bruneian, drawn by Bruneian and printed by Bruneian. You can't get this anywhere else by in Brunei.

The Xibit team's project coordinator is Ambuyart and there are 6 featured artists in the comic made up of Emerald, Fay, San San, Rezuan, Yee Xin and Miao. Ambuyart you should know, he draws cartoons for Borneo Bulletin.

The comic book is available for $3.50 and I was able to get my copy at Bismi in Delima Satu. So, it is fairly accessible.
The stories are interesting. The comic is made up of several stories, all in the style of tales from the crypt or very science fictionalish.

I enjoyed it. The story line was nice and the drawings were fantastic. This is just s sample of them.

So, go get them already.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bagas Tangan Bu Apsah

My wife bought this book at Best Eastern last night. We have already known about the book from Nina Suria.

The book is a compilation of 'resipi nyaman-nyaman' from Brunei. I am not sure how to translate nyaman-nyaman, but the word that comes to my mind is succulent dishes. Anyway, the book is an early compilation of very nice dishes from Brunei which were prepared by a Brunei lady known as Bu Apsah. Apparently there are many more dishes waiting to be published still kept in the 'kaban' (Brunei word for chest or cupboard).

Bu Apsah is Dayang Halimah @ Hafsah binti Haji Yusof. She became well known by winning many cooking competitions at the Brunei-Muara District level organised by PERTIWI (a women's association) in commemoration of His Majesty's Birthdays' celebrations. Later on she appeared on RTB's programs such as Serikandi and Mari Memasak. She was also well known in Singapore as those programs were shown there when RTB and Mediacorp TV12 of Singapore aired each other's programs. She passed away at the relative young age of 57.

The book is compiled by her daughter, Nina Suria and published by Jemari Seni of Selangor. It only cost $13 and had already been published twice, so there is a huge demand for this book. So get the book from Best Eastern. You don't get that many books published by Bruneians.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

You know you are in 2008 .

YOU KNOW YOU ARE LIVING IN 2008 when...

1. You accidentally enter your PIN on the microwave.
2. You haven't played solitaire with real cards in years.
3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of three.
4. You e-mail the person who works at the desk next to you.
5. Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family is that they don't have e-mail addresses.
6. You pull up in your own driveway and use your cell phone to see if anyone is home to help you carry in the groceries.
7. Every commercial on television has a web site at the bottom of the screen
8. Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn't even have the first 20 or 30 (or 60) years of your life, is now a cause for panic and you turn around to go and get it.
10. You get up in the morning and go on line before getting your coffee.
11. You start tilting your head sideways to smile. : )
12. You're reading this and nodding and laughing.
13. Even worse, you know exactly to whom you are going to forward this message.
14. You are too busy to notice there was no #9 on this list.
15. You actually scrolled back up to check that there wasn't a #9 on this list.

~~~~~~AND FINALLY~~~~~~

NOW YOU ARE LAUGHING at yourself..
Go on, forward this to your friends. You know you want to!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Brunei versus Spain - The Castillian War

[Note: I wrote the following article for my column, The Golden Legacy on Brunei Times, edition 11th May 2008]

BRUNEI attained its golden age under the reign of its fifth ruler, Sultan Bolkiah, known as Nakhoda Ragam. During his reign, the Brunei Empire spread not just over the whole island of Borneo but as far as Sulu and Saludang (Luzon) in present-day Philippines. He not only increased Brunei's trade but was also able to help spread Islam.

Brunei's Golden Age continued even after the death of Sultan Bolkiah in 1524. Sultan Abdul Kahar was also able to increased Brunei's territories which included the whole of Borneo, Palawan, Sulu, Balayan, Mindoro, Bonbon, Balabak, Balambangan, Bangi, Mantanai and Luzon. With the Brunei traders, Islam spread far including to the southern Philippines islands and Brunei was recognised as a centre of Islamic propagation.

This was so widely acknowledged that the Governor of Manila, a Spaniard by the name of Francisco de Sande, wrote to the son of Sultan Abdul Kahar, Sultan Saiful Rijal, imploring him not to send any more Muslim preachers to the Philippines islands. In 1578, one Joan Ochoa Ttabudo wrote in his report that Islam had spread to Balayan, Manila, Mindoro and Bonbon.

In the 16th century, Spain and Portugal expanded their territories in Asia. Malacca fell to the Portuguese in 1511 and by 1526, the Portuguese had succeeded in securing a treaty of friendship and trade with Sultan Abdul Kahar. Brunei exported a number of items to Malacca. Brunei seaways also became part of the shipping route for Portugese vessels.

The Spaniards came to the Philippines in 1565 and captured Manila by 1571. Manila was used by the Spaniards also as a trade centre but also to spread Christianity. However with the strong influence of Sultan Abdul Kahar and later Sultan Abdul Rijal, Islam remained strong in the southern Philippines.

Brunei was seen as a big threat to Christianity. The destruction of Brunei became the Spaniards' primary objective in the mid-16th century.

In 1573, a Spanish delegation was sent to Brunei to seek an audience with Sultan Saiful Rijal. The Spaniards offered Brunei a treaty with the intention that Brunei be placed under Spanish protection. The Spaniards also wanted the Sultan to receive Christian missionaries so that they could spread Christianity in Brunei! Sultan Saiful Rijal did not accept the treaty and angrily rejected the suggestions.

Five years later the Spaniards returned. This time they took advantage of a brewing civil war in Brunei. Two of Brunei's lords who had quarreled with the Sultan, went to the Spanish government in Manila and promised to help the Spaniards when they arrived.

The Spaniards' Armada with 40 warships was headed by the flagship Santiago. The Armada left in March 1578 and by April of the same year had arrived off Brunei. The Spaniards sent a letter to the Sultan demanding — among other things — a carte blanche for "preachers of the holy Gospel, who may preach the law of the Christians in your lands in all security", that Brunei "send no preachers of the sect of Mohama to any part of these islands" and that Brunei must "forbid its people from asking tribute in these islands".

Sultan Saiful Rijal tore the Spaniards' letter and rejected the demands outright. De Sande, on learning that the Sultan would not agree to his demands, immediately attacked the 50 Brunei warships surrounding him. The Bruneians were caught by surprise and, outgunned by the Spaniards, were not able to defend Brunei.

By April 16th, the Spaniards had ransacked the palace and, on their way to the mosque in the city centre, also plundered many valuable items. By April 20th, they had ransacked and plundered the Sultan's palaces and the nobles' homes. De Sande occupied one of the Sultan's palaces while his men went to build defensive forts and other needed stores.

The Sultan went to Baram River with most of his people while the Spaniards were in possession of the city. Sultan Abdul Kahar died in Baram in August the same year.

Surprisingly the Spaniards did not stay long. This is where the stories differ. According to Brunei legends, the Spaniards were attacked by the Bruneians led by Pengiran Bendahara Sakam. A number of them also fell ill. According to the Spaniards, it was the water. Whatever it is, the Spaniards left on June 26.

Before leaving, however, the Spaniards destroyed one of Brunei's finest buildings, the Jame' mosque, which de Sande ordered his men to burn down out of anger and spite for losing the battle to stay on in Brunei.

The great mosque was described by Alonso Beltran, a Spanish traveler, as five-storeyed on the water but that may be a slightly wrong description as the technology to build five storeyed buildings in the 15th century on water was not yet available in Brunei. Most likely, it had five roofs to represent the five pillars of Islam. It must have been very big and impressive and it blazed throughout the night; by morning there was nothing left.

Why did the Spaniards leave? According to Brunei legends, the Spaniards kept facing attacks organised by Pengiran Bendahara Sakam. The latter is seen as one of Brunei's past folk heroes. He attacked the Spaniards with 1,000 men and defeated them. However, Western historians do not accept this version and deny that Bendahara Sakam even existed, preferring the version that the Spaniards left because of dysentery. According to the Spanish records, only 17 died of dysentery in Brunei and another six on the return to Manila, although a number of Filipinos also died.

Some historians took the middle road. Perhaps there was no big battle, they said, but there certainly was guerilla fighting and the possibility that the water had been poisoned by the oppressed Bruneians. Perhaps there was indeed divine intervention. Whatever it is, the Castillian War had entered into Brunei's consciousness. The war indeed is still remembered today as a heroic episode of Brunei's past.

Francisco de Sande had hoped to deal a blow at the propagation of Islam by invading Brunei. His defeat proved otherwise.

In 1586, the Manila Council condemned the 1578 attack as unjust and unprovoked. All galleys and artillery pieces looted by the Spaniards were ordered to be returned and it was decreed compensation should be paid.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Boxer Codex

Many aspects of Brunei history is known only through western sources. One of the most important ones is called the Boxer Codex. The Boxer Codex depicted life in Brunei at the end of the 16th century.

The Boxer Codex surprisingly is not English. It was purchased in 1947 by Professsor CR Coxer of Kings College, London University. He bought a collection of manuscripts in Spanish which was previously kept in Lord Ilchester at Holland House London. The purchase was called Boxer Codex.

Professor Boxer started translating the manuscript in 1953 first about China. In 1958, two other experts, Carlos Quirino and Manro Garcia translated the part about Philippines. It was not until 1960s that one John S Carrol translated the part about Brunei.

No other document has been able to talk about Brunei in the late 16th century other than this one. The interesting bit is that no one knows who the writer is. Professor Boxer theorised that it written by Gomex Perez Dasmarinas, Governor of Philippines, then a Spanish colony sometime between 1590-1593 or it could be his son, Luis. Quirino and Garcia theorised it was written by Juan de Ceullar, a soldier who became the secretary and clerk to Governor Perez Dasmarinas. Whover wrote it did a good job. It tells us about the Burnei life then. I will try to relate more from the Boxer Codex in future entries.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Brunei International Airport 1970s

Speaking of airports, it took us 4 hours to get a visa on arrival in Tehran. My LO commented on why not enough people come to Iran, I remembered that 4 hours. I do hope that our own visa on arrivals do not take 4 hours to process.

Anyway, this not too old postcard of Brunei is the current airport minus its new air bridges. In the 1970s, one had to walk down the ramps on the sides of the airport and then get on the stairs to get up on the airplanes. Similarly for arriving passengers, one had to walk up the ramp to get to arrival lounge. It must be the late 1980s that the airbridges were being built.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Brunei-Iran 2008

I was away in Tehran representing my minister at the 2nd Asia Pacific Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development. The first conference was held in New Delhi in 2006 and the next biennial meeting will be in Indonesia in 2010. There is a lot to talk about Iran and Tehran but this is not the blogsite for it.

On the day of our departure, our host surprised us delegates when we were given Iran stamps with our own countries' flags. This block of 4 stamps are probably the most unique and to see Brunei's flag and Iran's flag flying side by side. The stamps commemorated Iran's hosting of the ministerial conference.

Friday, May 09, 2008

On hiatus

I have to take a break. I am away in Tehran, Iran and will be back next Saturday. I have no idea what the internet connection I am going to face, so to be on the safe side, I will take a hiatus. See you all next week.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

CIPTA 2009

[Note: I remembered promising the CIPTA people I would put up the entry about CIPTA award a few weeks ago. Yesterday, the press release finally arrived, so here it is.]

Press Release

CIPTA 2009
Information & Publicity Committee
Institut Teknologi Brunei

CIPTA is a biennial competition for Creative, Innovative Products and Technological Advancements.

Since its inauguration in 2005, CIPTA has been held twice with a large number of participants. The competition is graced with the patronage of the Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Pengiran Muda Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah. It carries the prestigious Crown Prince’s Creative, Innovative Product and Technological Advancement (CIPTA) award or the Crown Prince’s ‘CIPTA’ Award as grand prize for the overall winner of the competition. The main aim of the competition is to encourage innovation and
creativity for national development in Brunei Darussalam.

Institut Teknologi Brunei has been holding a series of Technical briefings at a number of educational institutions across Brunei Darussalam. The briefings are aimed at promoting the award while at the same time providing further explanation into the rules and regulations of the award. The Technical committee running these briefings also hopes to peak the students’ interest subsequently increasing the number of participants and innovators into the Award.

The Technical briefings started on the 15th of April 2008 and will continue on to other various educational institutes within Brunei Darussalam. The competition is still open for participation until 15th October 2008. There are two categories open to participants. The first is the creation or innovation of a new product, process or technology and the second category requires the participant to modify and existing product, process and technology in a way benefitting the consumers and users alike.

Only one entry is permitted per participant or team and the work presented must be an original, no more than three years old and not awarded in other previous competition.

Any other enquiries regarding the Award should be directed towards the Organisers of the Crown Prince CIPTA Award, Institute Teknologi Brunei by way of the details listed.

For further information and details please contact:

CIPTA Secretariat
Institut Teknologi Brunei
Jalan Tungku Link, Gadong BE1410
Tel: 2 461020 (10 lines)
Fax: 2 461035/6
Email: cipta2009@itb.edu.bn
Website: www.itb.edu.bn/cipta2009

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

What is a barrel?

I saw the oil price zooming past US$120. It's really amazing how the oil price keeps going up. One strategist for Goldman Sachs predicted it will even reach US$200 per barrel. The intersting bit is that how do we measure oil barrels? I am recycling this entry which I wrote two years ago.

One of the interesting thing you find about Bruneians is that a lot of us don't know much about oil which is the lifeline of this country. Practically everything we touch in Brunei owes its existence to oil. And yet there is so much about the oil industry that we don't know. All we know now is that the world oil price is about US$70 per barrel. And yet ask this question - how do we export oil? It's priced in barrels. So, do we still use barrels to store oil and export it?

It is true that previously oil is stored in classic wooden barrels. In America, back in 1859, customers paid by the barrel, but there was no standard size. Different oil buyers would get different amounts when they filled up from the stock tank at the well. The barrel most commonly used for oil was 40 gallons, the same size as a whiskey barrel. As production increased, a standardized oil barrel became more important, both for businessmen and for government tax collectors. Some wells were putting out more than 3,000 barrels of oil per day, and coopers were producing large numbers of brand-new containers just for oil. At around the same time, the then American government enacted new tax laws to help finance the Civil War. A standard measure of oil helped the tax collectors make its collections.

By 1870, the oil barrel size was set at 42 gallons. And by then, oil was so cheap at 10 cents per gallon that the empty barrel cost as much as the oil. That helped to set the development of the first oil pipeline. At the same time, wooden tank cars and later steel tank barges start hauling oil through the traintracks and ships, each tank car holding around 80 barrels. With each development, the barrel became more and more obsolete. However, the 42-gallon barrel is still a standard unit of measurement in the oil industry. Other units, such as cubic meters or imperial gallons, can be converted to the U.S. barrel. Even though the 42-gallon barrels is no longer in use, companies still ship some oil in 55-gallon steel drums although the volumes for these are still given in 42-gallon "barrels."

I guess the next question would be - do you know how our oil people find oil?

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Seizure of Labuan

This lithographic print of Brunei is probably one of the most reproduced old scene of Brunei. This print came from a book written by Frank S Maryatt entitled Borneo and the Indian Archipelago and printed in 1848. I managed to get a reprint edition of that book in Kino during my last trip to Singapore. I think there were a couple of copies left and it is sold for $159.43.

Frank Maryatt was a British Midshipman (more or less equal to a 2nd Lt or something similar in the navy) and served on HMS Samarang from 1843 to 1846. The ship supposedly was on a surveying mission and went round the Borneo and East Asia going round to Singapore, Nagasaki, Korea, Sarawak, the Spice Island, Hong Kong and Manila. It did go to Brunei though unfortunately not to survey.

HMS Samarang was the ship that played the gunboat diplomacy and threatened to blow up Brunei if Labuan was not given up to the British. There were obviously incidents related to the demand but I personally think the demand was a dastardly act and that the seizure is illegal even up to today. Anyway, that's subject for another entry in the future.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Brunei 1955 - Does anyone know the building?

I bought this old photograph from someone in Penang sometime last year. I have posted it before but I did not get any response. This photograph was taken sometime August 1955 and the person who wrote it (at the back of the photograph) told his daughter how tiring his journey was using a jeep to get to Brunei from Miri.

The interesting things about this photograph is that this was probably one of a few photograph taken of Brunei Town without the SOAS Mosque which was built a couple of years later. So there is no impressive mosque in this photograph. The Boon Pang Cinema was still the old Boon Pang Cinema and the new one was not yet built. Of course, that has disappeared today.

What picqued my curiosity is the wooden building to the left of the photograph. The roof structure is insteresting. I was thinking that this was part of the old Kajang Mosque (on the site of today's TAIB Building) but I did not remember it as being that grand. Does anyone know?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Old Survey Photograph 1950s

How is it that everytime we looked at a photograph we can tell instinctively approximately what year it belonged it? Is it the way people dressed? Is there any other tell tale clues?

I have been to many places and in each of those places, I have not been able to blend in. Maybe my physique has something to do with it but even then people have been able to tell people apart. We are able to tell who the strangers are in our society and even in our building. They emit a different aura, I guess. Anyway, this photograph is indeed taken in the 1950s of a group of Survey Department people taking part in the float procession. The dresses are a complete giveaway to a different era and a different time.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Food Security in Brunei (Revisited)

I am quite alarmed reading the various news about rice and other agricultural products. I remembered when I was at another place, we always discuss on the implication of Brunei relying solely on Thailand only as the rice supplies. But other alternative producers such as Vietnam and Indonesia curb exports as soon as there are problems in their domestic economy. Understandable but definitely worrying if you are a rice importer like us. Given our size and our soil condition, Brunei will never be able to achieve 100% sufficiency in rice, that we have to accept (unless we can find a variety of rice that can grow 12 times a year or something). I remembered asking an economist friend about food security in Brunei more than a year ago. I thought I will retrieve that entry and here it is:-

Recently, I got engaged in a little, yet very interesting, discussion with Mr. BR about the notion of “food security” in the context of Brunei Darussalam. Interesting because of two reasons. First, food is abundant in Brunei. All you want to eat is available in this country. But Brunei imports most of its food. (Well, I guess most of us know it already). Second, food security is far from being a simple issue.

So, I then looked into statistics to check the source of the food that I eat everyday. And here is what I saw. We import almost all the rice we eat. The bulk of our vegetables are also imported. We also import lots of fruits. Practically, we don’t produce flours that we use to make cakes, noodles, cookies and all the delicacies we eat here. We import sugar. We bring salt from overseas. We bring chilies from neighbouring countries, Although from time to time we still import eggs, but most of the eggs we eat are actually produced locally.

So perhaps it is only natural if some people think: “…hey, we need to produce our food ourselves.....”. But do we really need to produce most of our food ourselves? Here, let me share with you what I think.

On paper, we have two alternative strategies: either we produce our food ourselves, or we continue to rely on import. Producing all the food locally is certainly appealing. And the benefit is perhaps clear to many: we can be food self-sufficient and food secure at the same time. But then: at what cost? When I look around us, really there is no country in this world that produces all their food themselves. Perhaps because they know that the cost of doing so far outweighs its benefit. (Well, some did try to do it. And indeed the cost was enormous: the resulting inefficiency from producing all the food themselves really killed their economy).

On the contrary, the benefit of importing all the food is also clear. The idea of importing is especially attractive to most international economists and traders. Indeed in many cases, international competition helps push the prices of food downwards, and benefit the average households like myself. But such a strategy poses importing countries with dangers. When international market structure in, say, rice or flour or vegetables, change; or when the exporters and middlemen are able to form a cartel and or exercise their power, then it is me, the average household, who will suffer. My kitchen will be exposed to fluctuations in the prices of commodities, with all the consequences.

Since both alternatives have risks, I guess we need to follow a course of strategy that lies somewhere in between those two polars. Let me call it the third strategy. We can start by, first of all, define “the level food self-sufficiency” or "food-security” that we want to have. This means, we need to define more concretely the notion of food-self sufficiency. For example, we should can define the level of “vegetable self-sufficiency” that is considered safe for the country. Whether it would mean 30 percent (of all the vegetables we need in a month should be produced locally), or 40 percent, or even 25 percent, the key is that such a level must be clearly defined and decided. This step should be followed by the next step: to design additional strategies to make up for the difference between what we produce locally and what we consume. Such additional strategies should have elements of the so called “food buffer stock”, food logistics, and investments in selected agricultural subsectors, in order to guarantee that all households are food secured. Lastly, assess as to whether the government budget can afford to finance such strategies in a long term.

Now that we start to touch on so many complex issues, I think I like to stop here…

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Sabah Stamps in Brunei

I spent a fair sum of money buying this old envelope. No, no, no. I haven't gone el loco just yet. This envelope is important. I have talked about the time when Brunei did not use Brunei stamps. This envelope is proof of one of those times.

For about a year after the British took over Brunei (or as the Australians would claim, it was the Ozzies and not the Brits) from the Japanese in 1945, the British Military Administration had to get a semblance of normal life back including running the Postal Service. The British could not use the local Brunei stamp stocks as those had been overprinted by the Japanese. So they used North Borneo (Sabah) stamps or Sarawak stamps and overprinted those with the words BMA which stands for British Military Administration.

This envelope written by someone in Brunei to someone named Clueit in Manchester. He used those stamps that I had mentioned. The stamps were postmarked 1946. It wasn't until the year after in 1947 did Brunei stamps came back.

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