Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Are Brunei prices lower or not?

It was interesting that BT picked up the arguments about the recently released Consumer Price Index (CPI) which our Economic Planning and Development Department (JPKE) recently released. The CPI is showing signs that it is lower and everybody assumes that with lower CPI, the prices should be lower. But for some prices, it is not. This would make a great Economics A Level or first year undergraduate Economics exam question. I am not trying to answer on behalf of my ex colleagues at JPKE but just trying to bring an understanding what CPI does.

The consumer price index is probably one of the most important releases of economic data. The CPI has a direct effect on nearly every person in the country, and in most countries, it is widely used, probably as an indicator how the political leaders are managing the economy, by trade unions in negotiating their pay, by companies in estimating the business growth etc. Less so in Brunei. Most people brush off the CPI but by better understanding the way the CPI is determined, you can avoid misleading propaganda and focus on the valuable facts in the report.

CPI as everyone knows is a measure of prices of a basket of goods. This by its very nature can be misleading. One, it measures the entire economy thus you can see prices of airline tickets etc is built into it even though you might not fly at all. The CPI is subject to both limitations in application and limitations in measurement. The CPI is not applicable to all population groups. For instance, the one I mentioned earlier, the difference between those who travel frequently and those who do not. Or the difference between those who lives in the kampongs and those who live in towns. Or in the argument brought up by BT, the difference between those who buys milk and those who don't. The CPI cannot measure differences in price levels or living costs between one place and another or between one product and another. Changes in living costs too are not well reflected in CPI.

Because CPI is obtained by sampling, there can be errors too. In statistics, this is called sampling errors and non-sampling errors. Because the CPI measures price changes based on a sample of items, the published indexes differ somewhat from what the results would be if actual records of all retail purchases by everyone in the index population could be used to compile the index. These estimating or sampling errors are limitations on the accuracy of the index, not mistakes in calculating the index. Nonsampling errors are caused by problems of price data collection, logistical lags in conducting surveys, difficulties in defining basic concepts and their operational implementation, and difficulties in handling the problems of quality change etc.

The CPI need revisions as long as there are significant changes in consumer buying habits or shifts in population distribution or demographics. Hence, JPKE's frequent surveys. These all have costs though.

But at the end of the day, JPKE cannot produce a CPI which would satisfy everyone. It is almost unrealistic to expect the majority of people to agree on a way to determine the CPI that eliminates all bias presuming that eveyone understands how CPI are derived.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Enemies in the Blanket

I was quite surprised to read this today from Sky.com. The news is as follows:-

+++++

Cyber Spies Hack Govt PCs Around The World

A cyber spy network based mainly in China has hacked into classified documents from government offices around the world, a research group has said.

It claims 1,295 computers have been compromised in 103 countries.

The investigations began when the Tibetan community in exile called in the Information Warfare Monitor, fearing they had fallen victim to cyber espionage.

The 10-month study eventually revealed a much wider network of compromised machines but did not pinpoint the identity or reasons behind it.

However, it did ascertain that once hackers infiltrated systems they gained control of the computers using malicious software, or malware.

This allowed cyber spies to send and receive information from the ministries of foreign affairs of Iran, Bangladesh, Latvia, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei, Barbados and Bhutan.

They also discovered hacked systems in the embassies of India, South Korea, Indonesia, Romania, Cyprus, Malta, Thailand, Taiwan, Portugal, Germany and Pakistan.

Two Cambridge University researchers who assisted the investigation said malware attacks can collect "actionable intelligence for use by the police and security services of a repressive state, with potentially fatal consequences for those exposed."

Stopping such attacks is difficult because defences in government agencies involve expensive and tedious operational security procedures, the researchers added.

+++++

My worry is that, it won't just be our MOFAT people but we now have to make sure that our systems are also not compromised.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The History of the Streets of Bandar Seri Begawan

[My article below was published in The Brunei Times about two months ago.]

[Photo: Jalan Sultan in 1951]

Even though Kampong Ayer has been the capital of the Brunei Sultanate for hundreds of years, Bandar Seri Begawan or the city on dry land is relatively recent.

When the first British Resident, M.S.H. McArthur arrived in Brunei to begin his official duty, he stated that he '... wanted a clean dry village, with suburbs of kampong houses ...' and he also '... wanted to discourage houses in the river ...'

The plan was to demarcate an area of some 500 acres and to alienate these allotments to the Kampong Ayer residents.

But the government faced stiff resistance. In 1908, Mr. Stoney wrote in a report that it seemed an almost impossible task to induce any of the Kampong Ayer residents to even contemplate the idea of a move.

Even though these residents especially the men-folks, admitted that they and their families would better off on land, where they could cultivate small holdings and rear live stock and poultry, they seemed to fear snapping what Mr. Stoney called as ‘the chains of custom which bound them to their semi-amphibious life’.

According to Mr. Stoney it was not the men but ‘the women proved the greatest stumbling blocks.’

However in 1906, the plain at the back of the Sultan's Palace was opened up and measured off with a view to laying out a township there. By 1908, British Resident J.F. Owen reported that the town site has been laid out, two short streets (probably today’s Jalan Sultan and Jalan Roberts) made and street lamps erected.

By 1909, a change appeared as a small settlement was started at Tumasek were several influential Pengirans took up small blocks for themselves and their dependents.

His Highness the Sultan soon followed and selected some land on a hill at the back of his palace. Practically all the available land in Sungai Tekuyang and Sumbiling was given out to applicants. Pekan Brunei on dry land was at last underway.

However the first road was not in the new dry town. In the Brunei Annual Report (BAR) of 1906, McArthur reported that the site of the old consulate (the current site of Bubungan Duabelas) was cleared of jungle and a temporary building set up to accommodate the European officers.

A road was opened from this site to the plain behind the town, a distance of about 1½ miles. The road had to be taken along the banks of the Brunei River and cut across the then important cutch factory (sited at the current site of the Handicraft Centre). Cutch was one of Brunei’s main exports then.

This earth road was the first road officially built in Brunei. That temporary building soon became a permanent building for British Residents. As the road leads to the British Residency, that road was known as Jalan Residency until today.

Further progress was made in the streets of the town. Resident Harvey Chevalier in the 1911 BAR noted that a short earth road (probably Jalan McArthur) was made from the shops past the mosque to the Astana by prison labourers.

In 1915, Resident EB Maundrell reported that about a mile and a half of bridle path was constructed from Brunei town through small holdings to the Sungei Kedayan, opposite Mengalait, (probably the beginning of Jalan Kumbang Pasang) and a beginning was also made with a path down river through the kampongs below the Residency (probably Jalan Kianggeh), the land holders undertaking construction through their lots.

In 1918, connections were made to other parts just outside the capital. Resident G.E. Cator reported that most important paths completed that year were the Menglait-Demuan 7 miles, Kianggeh 3 miles and extension of Residency Road 2½ mile. In 1920, the construction of bridle-paths to open up the Tungkadeh and Berangan valleys was done (around the Mabuhai and Kumbang Pasang areas).

Jalan Residency despite the fact that it was first opened up in 1906 was only completed fully in 1925 and became an inestimable boon to all who live along the Subok Ridge.

The first major wooden bridge was the bridge over the Kianggeh River connecting that road to the town completed in 1919. However in 1926 a flood washed away the bridge and the construction of a reinforced concrete bridge to replace it started at end of 1927 and the 90 feet bridge was completed in 1928.

By 1926, the streets in Brunei Town were metalled and asphalted. By 1927, Resident EEF Pretty reported that the earth road from Brunei to Tutong was at last completed at the end of May and officially opened by His Highness the Sultan on 13th June.

An earth road to take motor traffic was constructed to the Kumbang Pasang Estate of Brunei United Plantations Limited. Today this road is known as Jalan Kumbang Pasang.

In 1928, the metalling programme for the Brunei-Tutong Road was curtailed and only the portions from Brunei Town to the new Clifford Bridge and at the two hills between the second and fourth mile stones were done.

A metalled road (today’s Jalan Sultan) was built in front of the new shop houses in Brunei Town. The Clifford Bridge (more popularly known as Jembatan Rangas) was completed in May.

Resident P.A.B. McKerron in the 1930 BAR reported that the government in cooperation with the Gadong Estate constructed a mile of road to connect this estate with the river at Kumbang Pasang. This road is the beginning of Jalan Gadong.

In 1931, the government built a road heading towards north, the Berakas area. Some 3 miles of road were constructed between Brunei and Berakas. This road was planned to reach Pantai Berakas a distance of some 10 miles from Brunei. By 1932 that road was completed except for a small portion.

Motor traffic could proceed within two miles of the coast at the end of the year and by the following year that road, now known as Jalan Berakas was completed. Resident T.F. Carey in 1933 reported that the completed road ‘is proving a most popular highway as excellent bathing is to be had at the coast’.

A few streets in Bandar Seri Begawan were named in memory after the British Residents and officers in memory of their contributions to the country.

Jalan McArthur was of course named after M.S.H. McArthur, the author of the Brunei Report of 1904 – a report which some say saved Brunei from extinction – as well as being the first British Resident in 1906.

Another was Jalan Stoney named after B.O. Stoney who was Acting Resident in 1909. Jalan Pretty is named after E.E.F. Pretty who was Resident in 1923, 1926, 1928 and finally from 1948 to 1951. Jalan Chevalier (today’s Jalan Pemancha) was named after H. Chevalier who was Resident in 1909 to 1913.

Jalan Cator was named after G.E. Cator who was Resident from 1916 to 1921. Two other European named streets in Brunei – Jalan Roberts was named after E. Roberts, the first head of Public Works in 1906 and Jalan James Pearce was named after the first Director of Education in the 1950s.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Royal Brunei Airlines Previous Aeroplanes



I recently purchased two postcards showing these two RBA aeroplanes. The first is a Boeing 727 and the latter is the Fokker 100, I think.

I have not boned up on the history of RBA aeroplanes, though it would be very fascinating to go through the various aeroplanes that RBA had from day one of its operation up to now. I know the previous Boeing 757s and present Boeing 767s and the leased Airbus A319 and A320 which they now used extensively. But anything prior to that, I am a bit sketchy on its history.

I know many out there know the history of these planes, so do drop me a note.

Friday, March 27, 2009

On Friday

The Imam at the Kilanas Mosque struggled to read today's sermon. It must have been written in jawi and full on modern words. Today's sermon was about the ecology. I think many in the mosque must have raised eyebrows today when they left the mosque. It is not often to hear about the ecology being mentioned in Friday's sermon. But nevertheless, it is indeed interesting to hear about the ecology and the environment. We all have to be aware of the need to save the ecology and the environment.

That brings us to another topic. Will we or won't we? That question has been answered. Brunei too will participate in tomorrow's Earth Hour.

For those in the dark, which you will literally be tomorrow for one hour if you or your organisation participates, Earth Hour is an annual international event created by the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature/World Wildlife Fund). This is to be held on the last Saturday of March, which is tomorrow, that asks households and businesses to turn off their non-essential lights and electrical appliances for one hour (8.30 pm to 9.30 pm to raise awareness towards the need to take action on climate change. This worldwide activity is actually based on an idea successfully executed in Thailand in 2005. But in 2007 it was pioneered by WWF Australia and the Sydney Morning Herald in 2007 and achieved worldwide participation in 2008.

From what I have read, the one hour switch off does not exactly save energy. But it is to raise awareness about the need for everyone to be aware of just how much we used up energy. And that brings us nicely to today's sermon about the need to save the ecology and the environment. Kudos to the people at the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

On Leave


Someone has to tell me why are these fish called 'Uji Rashid'? I know Bruneians are avid fishermen, surely someone out there must know. I have a slight free time at the moment and I saw the label the other day at that huge supermarket in Rimba. No one was able to answer me then.

I have been using up my leave doing a lot of personal things, other than answering the phone calls from the office. I have been going around to see book printers and finding out that it can be costly to try to print your own books. But I will persist and found one printer already. I have submitted the book (the draft of the book) to Dewan Bahasa to get its ISBN number. ISBN number is the number that will identify the book and many book stores internationally will be unable to sell books without ISBN number. Not that I have any intention of selling my books overseas. But ISBN is like an IC number. It makes your book feel special and makes it more legitimate.

At the moment, I am adding in photographs to the book. Originally the books were pure words but I thought I will add in the photos. Hopefully that will make it sell better. I put in an order of 500 books and I need to sell around 300 in order to cover my printing costs. I also realised that there are many institutions that will get their books for free. The Museums Act require a few books, the ISBN national centre etc all require their statutory free books. Shall I send one to the Library of Congress too? They also require any book to be kept with them.

In between I have to help out my 9 nine year old with his homework. I did not realise the amount of homework that he has. We have just completed 40 pages of science homework. 40 pages, you know. After looking at the questions, I don't think I will do that well in that program - Are you smarter than a fifth grader - and will definitely not get my $1 million. That's just one subject. I think he has something like a dozen page of maths homework and not to mention the other subjects as well. And ugama too. I didn't realise Ugama School is also in this homework craze. Anyway, there goes my holidays.

Sorry if you are expecting any Leg Co stuff or serious stuff today. I am on leave and so I try not to think about work too much.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Transparent Words


The Local Government Association (LGA) in UK has published a list of 200 words that public bodies should not use if they want to communicate effectively with local people. These 200 words and phrases are to be avoided when talking to British people about the work they do and the services they provide.

The idea is that the public sector must not hide behind impenetrable jargon and phrases. Why use ‘coterminous, stakeholder engagement’ when just ‘talk to people’ can be used instead. If a council fails to explain what it does in plain English then local people will fail to understand its relevance to them or why they should bother to turn out and vote.

I noticed that some of these words are also in use in Brunei. Though not the entire list have reached our vocabulary in Brunei but it won't be long before everyone uses them. Here are the 200 words and the LGA's alternatives or suggestions in place of their usage:

200 WORDS AND THEIR ALTERNATIVES

Across-the-piece - everyone working together
Actioned - do
Advocate - support
Agencies - groups
Ambassador - leader
Area based - in an area
Area focused - concentrating on the area
Autonomous - independent
Baseline - starting point
Beacon - leading light
Benchmarking - measuring
Best Practice - best way
Blue sky thinking - thinking up ideas
Bottom-Up - listening to people
CAAs - why use at all?
Can do culture - get the job done
Capabilities -
Capacity - ability
Capacity building - enough room in the system
Cascading - why use at all?
Cautiously welcome - devil in the detail
Challenge - problem
Champion - best
Citizen empowerment ­- people power
Client - person
Cohesive communities - why use at all?
Cohesiveness - together
Collaboration - working together
Commissioning - buy
Community engagement - getting people involved
Compact - why use at all?
Conditionality ­­- why use at all?
Consensual - everyone agrees
Contestability - Why use at all?
Contextual - background
Core developments - main things that are happening
Core Message ­- main point
Core principles - beliefs
Core Value - belief
Coterminosity - all singing from the same hymn sheet
Coterminous - all singing from the same hymn sheet
Cross-cutting - everyone working together
Cross-fertilisation - spreading ideas
Customer - people/person
Democratic legitimacy - voted in
Democratic mandate - elected to put people first
Dialogue - talk/discuss
Direction of travel - way forward
Distorts spending priorities - ignores people’s needs
Double devolution - Why use at all?
Downstream - Why use at all?
Early Win - success
Edge-fit - Why use at all?
Embedded - set in
Empowerment - people power
Enabler - helps
Engagement - working with people
Engaging users ­- getting people involved
Enhance - improve
Evidence Base - research shows
Exemplar - example
External challenge - outside pressures
Facilitate - help
Fast-Track - speed up
Flex - Why use at all?
Flexibilities and Freedoms - more power to do the right thing
Framework - guide
Fulcrum - pivot
Functionality - use
Funding Streams - money
Gateway review - Why use at all?
Going forward - in the future
Good Practice - best way
Governance - Why use at all?
Guidelines - guide
Holistic - taken in the round
Holistic governance - Why use at all?
Horizon scanning - Why use at all?
Improvement levers - using the tools to get the job done
Incentivising - incentive
Income Streams - money/cash
Indicators - measurements
Initiative - idea
Innovative capacity - Why use at all?
Inspectorates - monitoring bodies
Interdepartmental - working together
Interface - talking to each other
Iteration - version
Joined up - working together
Joint working - working together
LAAs - Why use at all?
Level playing field - everyone equal
Lever - Why use at all?
Leverage - influence
Localities ­- places/town/city/village
Lowlights - worst bits
MAAs - Why use at all?
Mainstreaming - Why use at all?
Management capacity - Why use at all?
Meaningful consultation- talking to people
Meaningful dialogue - talking to people
Mechanisms - methods
Menu of Options - choices
Multi-agency ­- many groups
Multidisciplinary - many
Municipalities - towns/cities/areas
Network model - Why use at all?
Normalising - make normal
Outcomes - results
Outcomes - focused
Output - results
Outsourced - privatised
Overarching - Why use at all?
Paradigm - Why use at all?
Parameter - limits
Participatory - joining in
Partnership working - working together
Partnerships - working together
Pathfinder - Why use at all?
Peer challenge - Why use at all?
Performance Network - Why use at all?
Place shaping - creating places where people can thrive
Pooled budgets - money
Pooled resources - time and money
Pooled risk - Why use at all?
Populace - people
Potentialities - chances
Practitioners - experts
Predictors of Beaconicity - Why use at all?
Preventative services - protecting the most vulnerable
Prioritization - most important
Priority - most important
Proactive - Why use at all?
Process driven - shouldn’t everything be people driven?
Procure - buy
Procurement - buying
Promulgate - spread
Proportionality - in proportion
Protocol - guidance
Provider vehicles - Why use at all?
Quantum - Why use at all?
Quick Hit - success
Quick Win - success
Rationalisation - cut
Rebaselining - Why use at all?
Reconfigured - reform
Resource allocation - money going to the right place
Revenue Streams - money
Risk based - safest way
Robust - tough
Scaled-back - cut/reduce
Scoping - work out
Sector wise - Why use at all?
Seedbed - idea
Self-aggrandizement - Why use at all?
Service users - people
Shared priority ­- all working together
Shell developments - Why use at all?
Signpost - point in the direction of
Single conversations - talking to
Single Point of Contact - everything under one roof
Situational - situation
Slippage - delay
Social contracts ­ - deal
Social exclusion - poverty
Spatial - Why use at all?
Stakeholder - other organisations
Step Change - improve
Strategic - planned
Strategic priorities - planned
Streamlined - efficient
Sub-regional - work between councils
Subsidiarity - Why use at all?
Sustainable - long term
Sustainable communities - environmentally friendly
Symposium ­­- meeting
Synergies - what use at all?
Systematics - Why use at all?
Taxonomy - Why use at all?
Tested for Soundness ­- what works
Thematic - theme
Thinking outside of the box - Why use at all?
Third sector - charities and voluntary organisations
Toolkit - guidance
Top-Down - ignores people
Trajectory - route
Tranche - slice
Transactional - Why use at all?
Transformational - change
Transparency - clear
Upstream - Why use at all?
Upward trend - getting better
Utilise - use
Value-added - extra
Vision ­- ideal/dream/belief
Visionary - ideal/dream/belief
Welcome - necessary and needed/step in the right direction
Wellbeing - healthy
Worklessness - unemployed

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Brunei Budget 101


The budget for financial year 2009/2010 was finally approved yesterday. That means the Supply Act is finally law and the government can go on ahead for another year. Budgets are usualy approved in most countries in the same way, debates and then approved. But there has been a few ocassions when budgets are not approved and chaos reigned.

I remembered reading last month when California's lawmakers were still quarelling about the their state's budgets. This is what happened if the budget has not been approved on time: "Refunds to taxpayers were delayed, payments to state vendors stopped, state workers were ordered to take unpaid days off and the Schwarzenegger administration began sending layoff notices that would have affected some 10,000 state workers. Thousands of public works projects ground to a halt, putting tens of thousands of construction workers out of a job. Hours after the budget package was approved, the state Department of Finance announced that work on 276 road, school and other projects would continue. It was scheduled to stop if a budget was not in place by Thursday." Not approving a budget is a big problem.

In Brunei, we probably can go on not like that in California. But then technically the budget would have been 'illegal' if it had not received the State Legislative Council's blessings. The Leg Co approved a budget of $4,985,785,600 for fiscal year 2009/2010 which is made up of all the government needs to run the government including spending on development expenditure.

But the total budget is much higher than this. What was not discussed is what is termed as the charged expenditure. Charged expenditures are expenditures which are needed to run the government and other necessary expenditures. By tradition, these are not discussed. These included the civil list, payment for pensions including old age, government pensions, gratutities (baksis) etc, the public service commission, the auditor general, the judges and the state council itself. I was looking at an old budget of 1960s, then even the payment for the British High Commissioner is included and prior to 1959, it was payment for the British Resident. If we have an election commission then this amount would also be included under charged expenditure.

What happens once the budget has been approved and the money allocated is not sufficient? In this case, the government has to come back to the Legislative Council and asked to pass additional supply bills. Generally the Finance Ministry would try not to do that. If additional money is needed by a government ministry for a particular project, normally the process is to vire (transfer) surplus allocation from another project or another expenditure within that ministry to that project. If this is insufficient, the Finance Ministry would try to cover the shortfall from its own funds as it has funds for emergency need or other needs. Or the project gets completed as much as it can within the budget and wait for the next year for it to be completed with additional funding.

Many said this is causing a lot of red tapes and unnecessary delays. Yes, it is. However it is a necessary evil. At the same time had the department or ministry allocated its budget properly or work out a more accurate costing, then this would not have happened. Of course in most courses, the amount allocated was insufficient anyway. When I was at MOF, we could not allocate everyone what they wanted, otherwise the whole budget would go flying outside the window. For instance this year, other than Defence and my own Development Ministry, everyone's requests were way above the allocations. We know the government gets a certain amount of revenues, then the expenditure would have to follow that. Controls unfortunately are necessary.

In most cases, the Ministries concerned are all able to find additional money within their budgets. Every year roughly only around 70% of salaries are used up (vacancies, retiring reduces the total salary expenditure), all the annual recurrent (administrative costs) would be used up, about 90% of the special expenditures (small projects) would be used up and for development expenditures, it can be as low as below 50% usage.

Anyway, hope that helps.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Legislative Council Session continues

[This photographs is the old State Council meeting in 1948 - the surrounding not as plush as today's Legislative Council.

This afternoon, it is the turn of the Minister of Communications to answer questions. On Saturday afternoon, there were a few questions that the Minister has to answer mostly on Telbru and DST services. The Minister was quite comfortable answering the questions including even telling the members to set the settings of your mobile phones on manual instead of auto so that the mobile phones don't suddenly use Celcom or STM signals emanating from just outside the border.

Though one question that members can stop asking today is the ferry service to Sabah. I heard on the radio this morning that the tender to provide the service from Muara-Menumbok-Muara is already open. So if there is any company out there willing to provide this service, then you should rush out to the Marine Department and get that tender form. I forgot when the closing date for the tender is, it sounded as if it is very soon. I look forward to the ferry service and hopefully a trip to KK wouldn't require to have so many stops along the way. Though I have been told the stops are part of the fun of the journey to Sabah.

The one thing that the government has to sort out is who answers questions in the Legislative Council on corporatised government agencies. This include the BEDB, BIA, TAP and AiTi and there will be more in the future. The budget debate is that it should only be debating the budget debates of the government departments for which payment has to be approved via the spending bill or Appropriation Act which needed to be approved by the Leg Co. But corporatised agencies do not require funding from the government and operate completely on their own via their own fundings (though BEDB is still funded from the government from an investment grant). Technically speaking the members can't discuss these departments because their budgets are not up for debates. But these agencies are vital component of the economy and affect many people. These agencies also have their own boards and each is headed by a Minister or in BEDB's case, reports to a Minister.

So far, the various ministers such as MOF have been answering for TAP and BIA (but there was no question) but the chairman of TAP is the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports and the chairman of BIA is the Minister of Communications. They can answer but equally they could deflect answers simply by saying that the budget for these departments are not up for debate at the Leg Co. The obvious solution is obviously the Leg Co should meet for other debates and not just for budgets but that is not for me to say. The written questions at the beginning of the debates are good but I don't think the members have been asking that many questions and one wonders whether they do not want to ask or do not know what to ask or prefer the grandstanding of asking questions on the open during the committee session.

One practise which the British Parliament has is the supplementary question. The first question is written but it does not leave the minister off the hook, the suplementary question is verbal and at times can expose the prepared answer as being hollow or detached. Anyway, I am digressing. For those going to the Leg Co this afternoon, let me know what happened. I am taking a break today.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

No more flood?

I am on leave until the end of the month. I started last Wednesday but you wouldn't know it. I have been in the office as well as at the Legislative Council since then. I am really looking forward to really go on leave. I needed the break and I thought all the questions will be done by yesterday. However at 2.30 pm, my minister was still tied up at the palace. It was about 3+ when he came in. Luckily all the questions could be acommodated despite the fact that we had to go through 5 departments' budget including the biggest JKR.

The questions fielded were answerable apart from projects which are undertaken by BEDB. We realised BEDB did not have a spokesman in the council. Someone has to stand in for them one of these days.

Anyway, one question which would interest most people around the Ban areas is the one relating to projects to alleviate flooding. At the moment, huge drains or rather canals are being built but my Minister yesterday conceeded that those drains are insufficient in really heavy bouts of rain. What we needed to build is a retention pond similar to the one we built for the Berakas Perpindahan area. The heavy rainwater will be collected and kept at the retention pond and then released when the tide is low.


For the Ban areas including the Sungai Tampoi area, the Drainage Department of the PWD needed to build a series of ponds totalling more than a 100 acres in size. The water will be collected in these retention ponds and held back until the tide is low. Releasing the waters have to be done carefully otherwise it will be areas downriver such as Bebatik will be flooded instead. Funding has been requested and once that is secured, all the land that is needed to build the ponds will be acquired. Hopefully in the next 5 years, nobody will ever remember the Ban areas used to be flooded.

In fact, now that I am in MOD, it is only now I realised that we have been taking PWD for granted. I used to remember the Berakas areas and probably a few other areas used to be flooded. Over the years, projects have been done, rivers widened etc, that many areas are now no longer flooded. We tended to remember only the short term memories.

Areas such as the Tutong floodplain of course require more extensive solution rather than just retention ponds. The solution is being finalised at the moment.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Legislative Council Session Continues

[View of Legislative Council from my old office on the 17th Floor of MOF Building]

The Legislative Council session continues this afternoon. It will still be my minister's turn to be grilled - 5 departments will be covered - Land, Survey, Town and Country Planning, Environment and Parks and Public Works Department. After all the ministries are done by Monday, we still have the National Development budget of which about $4 billion out of the $7.2 billion are carried out by our PWD and Housing Departments, probably around Tuesday or Wednesday. We roughly knew what questions to anticipate and thus are relatively quite prepared to answer most of them. Of course, the fail safe answer if one cannot answer a question is to thank the Yang Berhormat for such a penetrating question and we will look into it and we will come back to him in due course.

I have attended the Leg Co session since 2006 supporting my ministers and was involved in the 2004 debates supporting my then PS at the Prime Minister's Office who was one of the appointed members debating the amended constitution. I would have to say I am quite familiar with the parliamentary style with Politics as a subsidiary subject when I did my degree in England. I also studied American politics and its Congress system as part of my Masters course in USA.

The BBC 'Yes, Prime Minister' and the 'Yes Minister' television series in the 1980s are very good. Even though the focus is on the constant tension between the elected ministers (Hacker the Minister) and the entrenched civil servant (Sir Humphrey the Permanent Secretary), the series also talked about the political system in particular the parliamentary system. I would suggest you get hold of the books. I am not sure whether the British Council in Brunei have the videos. I remembered I used to go to the British Council library when I was a student in Singapore to listen and watch tapes there.

I remembered when I visited the Queensland Parliament in Brisbane in 2005, the tour guide was telling us about how the ministers being grilled by the other members of the parliament. The ministers would have to stall most questions and he would anxiously be anticipating his civil servants to provide the answers in the background. Our ministers prep for the Legislative Council meetings. We helped them by providing answers to questions that we think will be asked. This is made easier by the written questions in the open session. But we do have to anticipate the unexpected ones in the committee session as what is going on now. I helped compiled the Finance Minister II's questions and answers which is a few inches thick and he can field any questions being asked. Even today you can tell which minister is prepared and which less so compared to his colleagues.

The Brunei Times editorial about the policy debates in the Legislative Council is an interesting read especially about the 'thin line that divides grandstanding and asserting one's opinion in an effort to get results that will improve the lot of many." The editorial goes on to say that "both can be either refreshing or off-putting to people who have been used to keeping public discussions to a level that does not verge on the impolite. And if you've been keeping yourself abreast with the goings-on at the Legislative Council meeting, it's not hard to notice that its members and the ministers have been on a collision course far too many times than they were in previous sessions." I would suggest you read the editorial, not because I am a contributor to BT but it is a good summary of what's happening in the Council.

Like it or not, even though we are miles away from the British parliamentary system or the American Congress, the Legislative Council does place the government and civil servants on alert. We are aware that the non-government Legislative Council members can be demagoguery or populist but they do bring the voice of the public. After three years, some of the members, we noticed are now very well versed and well prepared and are also very eloquent in voicing their opinions and questions. It augurs well for the future.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Deserving Special Awards?

Yang Berhormat Mohd Shafie, the Representative from Belait District, I think is the most eloquent and well versed of all the Yang Berhormats in the Legislative Council, always coming up with the most interesting questions and suggestions. In a way, it's a pity he is representing Belait District only.

Anyway, in one of his long list of questions and suggestions was the one concerning the firemen. He was representing the firemen in Belait but his proposals equally applied to all firemen. His proposal was that the firemen were the unsung heroes of the recent floods in helping out all the flood victims etc and they therefore should be singled out for special awards, special allowances, better equipment and also their pension status be activated.

Interestingly enough, firemen (Division 5 officers) were until 1978 considered as pensionable officers but after 1978, they were no longer pensionable (unless they hold ranks and in Division 4 and above) and with the introduction of TAP in 1993, all the firemen lost the pensions completely. If anyone remembers the history of the fire services, they used to be part of the police force and that was why they were pensionable as policemen were pensionable officers. After the breakoff, at one point, the civil service would remember their special status and would be included in any mention of pension service but I guess after 1978 nobody remembered that anymore. In 1993 when TAP was introduced, the armed forces and the police were exempted from TAP and the prison wardens who luckily enough at that time had their own act also got exempted. But the firemen did not.

Anyway, digressing. Back to the original proposal. Do firemen deserve special awards? The Minister of Home Affairs argued that they were part of a group of people who served during the emergency. There were many others. The doctors and the medical and health staff, the welfare workers, the PWD staff, the police and the armed forces, all did their bit. I do know that our own PWD people especially the people in PWD's Road Department (DOR) and PWD's Drainage Department (DDS) and other PWD staff worked 24 hour shifts making sure that any land slides or floods get whatever needs to be done. Their work continued until even after everyone has gone. I know the welfare people worked their ** off making sure that everyone is housed etc. So, to me if there is any award or any special things to be given, there are many people who deserved them including the firemen.

Related to this is one question which I always ask myself, should I be rewarded for doing the job I do? When I signed up to work for the government, it meant that I am a civil servant - a servant who will do what my employer, the government, ask me what to do. For that I and many other civil servants will get a medal when the time is right or if I or we have not done anything wrong. I don't know how many of you out there remembers the BBC series "Yes Prime Minister". There was one particular show when the Minister, Hacker refused to sign the honours list because he thought that civil servants and those working closely with government receive honours as a matter of course, simply for doing their job. It should be given to 'normal' people who serve their communities in different ways, and are nominated by local people to give them some recognition for that work.

I pray the Al-Mighty will show us the right way.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Housing Dilemmas

In my line of work, I see many cases involving land and houses. Many Bruneians have neither. We are speeding up the building of subidised houses but that is nowhere near to providing a house to everyone in the near future. But then there are a handful of cases which goes the other way. These people were already given their subsidised houses and have land and their problems are interesting.

The other day one soldier came to see me. He applied for a TOL land a few years ago but that was not approved because he had already been given a house in Rimba under the National Housing Program (RPN). He came to see me to ask whether he could appeal for the land. Apparently he had divorced and that house was surrendered to his ex-wife and four children. He has since remarried to a non-Bruneian and had additional children. He is now staying in an army rented house. He is worried as he is going to retire in a few years time and because his wife is a non-Bruneian, his family would be homeless if he does not build a house for his new family.

Another application given to me by my minister was this appeal from a landowner in Tutong whose house is sandwiched between the Layong and Tutong Rivers. His house was flooded in the recent flood. He was not staying there as he is living in a government rented house. His land was originally a TOL land but was given a proper land title under Skim Penggeranan TOL. He appeal to surrender this land and ask for a new one. I checked and found that he is part owner of another two pieces of land, one was 7 acres and another was 4 acres, he owned a combined share of both in the region of 1 1/2 acre.

A third case involved a person whose was land and house was flooded partly because of government infrastructure development. He was living in a TOL house. When we checked, we found out that he is divorced. His new wife had an RPN house but not living there - her children with her former husband are staying in that house. The man applied for a land to replace his flooded TOL land. We found that he is part owner of a 12 acre land in Manggis - his share is about 4 acres.

In the first case, he was already given a land and a house completely subsidised by the government. Is he entitled to another one? In the second and third case, should they be given another land? What would you do in these cases?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Brunei-Limbang Boundaries 101

Did we or did we not? That was the question on quite a number of minds yesterday when seeing the headlines on both Borneo Bulletin and Brunei Times.

I am not here to debate on that. We had our Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade II explained the whole thing during yesterday afternoon's session of the Legislative Council.

I go by the joint statement which stated that both Brunei and Malaysia would be able to enforce their rules and regulations and embark on new developments in their respective maritime zones. The modalities of the final demarcation of land boundaries were also included in the Letter of Exchange, for which a joint technical committee will be tasked to sort out the final formalities. It will be resolved on the basis of five existing historical agreements between the governments of Brunei and Sarawak, and where appropriate, on the watershed principle.

What are these five existing historical agreements between Brunei and Sarawak?

I have been keeping this particular map for about two years now, wondering when would this come in handy. This map is not from any Brunei Government source, but is available on the internet from Durham University website. This map comes from a powerpoint slide presentation made by the Director of Survey of the Malaysia's Department of Survey and Mapping and presented during the International Symposium on Land and Boundaries Demarcation and Maintenance in Support of Borderland Development which was held in Bangkok on 6-11 November 2006.



As you can see from the map, there were 5 agreements (green lines boundary):-

1. Agreement relating to the Pandaruan River and District signed by GE Cator (British Resident Brunei) and HSB Johnson (Resident Fifth Division, Sarawak) on 4th February 1920 - 78.0 km.

2. Agreement regarding the boundary between the Belait and the Baram rivers from the sea coast to the Pagalayan Canal signed by British Resident Brunei and HD Aplin, Resident Fourth Division Sarawak on 25th August 1931 - 29.7 km.

3. Agreement regarding the boundary between Trusan and Temburong from the Coast to Bukit Sagan, signed by British Resident Brunei and Resident Fifth Division on 31st October 1931 - 19.0 km.

4. Agreement regarding the boundary between Limbang and Brunei from the coast to a point west of Bukit Gadong, signed by British Resident Brunei and Resident Fifth Division Sarawak on 24th February 1933 - 37.0 km.

5. Agreement regarding the boundary from the Pagalayan Canal to Teraja Highlands signed by the British Resident Brunei and Resident Fourth Division Sarawak on 4th November 1939.

Altogether 207.3 km of boundary had been agreed on but another 274 km of boundary now had to be worked out together using watershed principles where appropriate. Officially a watershed is the "entire region drained by a waterway that drains into a lake or reservoir; total area above a given point on a stream that contributes water to the flow at that point; the topographic dividing line from which surface streams flow in two different directions." Watersheds are not just water. A single watershed is an area which may include combinations of forests, glaciers, deserts and/or grasslands. Normally you take the ridge of an area, one side going say to Brunei and the other side to Limbang.

I am not that much worried about the land boundary or the issue of claims. To me personally, the bigger issue is economics. We heard the MOF II stating that for next financial year, there will be a deficit. We do need the extra money to compensate for the deficit to fund the government's expenditure otherwise we have to take it out of our reserves. The maritime agreement already allow us to embark on new development in our maritime area which is now clearly defined, that should be the focus. We know there is great potential there. We should focus on what is more important.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pensions 101

The issue of pensions versus TAP is very much in the minds of many people. While I try not to take sides, let me try to outline the history behind both schemes and probably at the same time outline why the move from pensions towards TAP happen. (Technically pension scheme is known as defined benefits or DB and TAP scheme is known as defined contributions or DC).

Pensions were introduced to Brunei with the passing of the Pensions Act (1959) and that of the Public Service Commission Act (1962) which governs the appointment of public officers. Even then not every civil servant is pensionable - for men only those in Division IV and above and for ladies only the unmarried ones and for graduates beginning 1980. (Married non-graduate ladies were appointed on month-to-month unpensionable service).

The pensions were based on the civil servant pensions in UK which first started around 1684. Pensions were introduced - at first in the navy and the armed forces and then the civil service around 1850 - in order to facilitate the retirement of older less efficient workers so as to make way for younger fitter men. The very existence of such schemes then encouraged employers to recruit younger fitter people who would work for many years before drawing their pensions.

As private sector's pay increases and the government introduced a social security system, the government retained the pensions for civil servants, the theory behind it is that the senior civil servants are paid substantially less than their private sector counterparts, and get none of their perks, such as company cars. Their pension really does matter to them.

However when it was introduced to Brunei, there were a number of differences. In 1960s, there were not many people in the civil service so a pension scheme is not a problem. Secondly, the amount of payment was based on three quarters of the last drawn salary which makes it one of the more generous scheme in the world, okay when salaries are low. Thirdly, the amount is paid for a period of 15 years and if the recepient is still alive, then the full pension is paid until he passed away. Fourthly, the private sector pay in Brunei is generally lower than the civil service. Fifth, the civil servants do not have to contribute any amount whatsoever. As Brunei civil service gets bigger, life expectancy increases, salary rises, all these made pension payments grow exponentially larger. At the same time, because of the generosity of the remuneration and pension scheme in the government, nobody wants to join the private sector in Brunei. Something has to be done.

In the 4th National Development Plan (1985-1990), the NDP committee proposed that a workers' fund be established so that workers in the private sector could also enjoy their retirement. But it was not until 1993 that TAP fund was set up. By then, the government position had changed. No longer was a workers' fund for the private sector should be set up but that the pension scheme should also be abolished even though the latter was not in the original NDP plan. TAP was to level the playing ground in terms of retirement so that more Bruneians will be attracted to join the private sector. It was also to encourage fluidity of movement from government to private sector as civil servants will have no pension to lose. TAP 5%+5% rate was supposed to be an introductory rate and was supposed to subsequently rise as people get used to it. However that rate never rose not because the government could not afford it but there were indication that the private sector could not pay any higher contribution for their workers. And so that introductory rate remained until today.

Being a public retirement fund as most retirement funds, TAP's investments tended to be in the more secure risk averse investment unfortunately with relatively lower returns. But despite that, TAP's returns to the members over the last few years have been higher than what one would get putting money in the banks.

And here we are today. We have moved from one extreme to another. Everyone wants the pendulum to move back but the finance position is that it can't. During the first session, the Second Finance Minister's position was the government has to take into account everything including the position of Bruneians in the private sector. Bringing back the same pension scheme would just be solving one problem but the other problems remained.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Legislative Council 2009


On Friday, my village Ketua Kampong came to where I was sitting at the mosque and asked me about some personal matters. We also talked in general about conditions of the residents in the village. He mentioned that some of the residents were not poor but 'susah' (in difficulty) and that is why they needed help.

That's an echoing theme throughout last Saturday's first session of written questions posed by the members on one side (the non-government) of the Legislative Council to members of the other side (the government). The questions were all about finance - allowances, pensions, TAP savings etc.

Everyone wants the status quo - the return of the pension scheme, allowances to be continued even after one has retired and even for those with pension to receive the full pension earlier than the current system which is after 15 years of pension. The position of the government is that it is unsustainable in the long run. If I am not mistaken the government is already paying around $300 million a year just for pensions and old age allowances. I do agree that the current TAP contribution rates is in no way sufficient to pay for one's retirement.

There were other national issues being raised such as public transportation, job security, economic issues, the condition of Brunei's eroding coastal line and the famous Temburong bridge. As a lay person I personally would not be very happy with the answers though as a government man, I understand why the answers were the ones given. My friend who sat next to me kept muttering and commenting about the somewhat technically correct answers but... To me, the most important thing obviously is that the public can raise these important questions in a public chamber through the appointed representatives.

Today, we look forward to the budget speech that will be given by the Second Finance Minister and after that the Council will go into committee. In committee, the members can raise any question related to the budget and the questions will be related to the budget in question. For instance, while discussing budget for the police, members can raise any issue about the police. This time the questions are not written therefore the minister concerned does not have advanced warning what questions which will be asked by members on the other side.

The committee session for the next few days, is very interesting and I urge those who has the time to go to the Leg Co to see for yourself the debates. If you want to hear your questions, you better know who your District representatives are or know any of the non-government representatives, email them or sms them what you need them to ask. Otherwise dress smartly and ask for a pass from the Legislative Council counter and see the debate for yourself.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

My Sunday

I am not writing anything about Brunei today. I just want to spend this Sunday with my son and my better half celebrating his 9th Birthday Party and trying to figure out how to download mp3s into his birthday present iPod Nano.

Thanks to Siti Shahril of Cits Cakes for making the MU birthday cake complete with no.7 jersey and the Transformers cupcakes. She didn't have time to take the photos to upload to her blog, so you won't be seeing it on her blog.

I am not an MU supporter, so I am not going round with a long face this morning after being thoroughly thrashed last night by Liverpool. Neither am I a Liverpool supporter, so you won't be seeing me grinning like a Cheshire cat for the entire week. My son is a supporter but not a die hard fan, so we will still enjoy cutting the MU cake later on regardless of that 4-1 thrashing. But I can't help smiling nevertheless.....

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Brunei-Malaysia Border Resolution

Today, all the newspapers would be reporting about the press release issued by Malaysia's Foreign Affairs about the resolution of the martime border dispute between Brunei and Malaysia. I got this Reuters report released yesterday:-

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KUALA LUMPUR, March 13 (Reuters) - Malaysia and Brunei will sign an agreement this weekend to resolve a maritime border dispute that has halted oil exploration off Borneo island for six years, Malaysia's Foreign Minister said in a statement.

Both countries have agreed to collaborate in the exploration and exploitation of contested oil blocks, as well as on maritime and land boundary demarcation.

The agreement is contained in a "package solution" that will be signed by the leaders of both countries during Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's visit to Brunei from March 15-16.

"The solution of the issues ensures certainty with regard to sovereign rights and jurisdiction on the continental shelf and the Exclusive Economic Zone of both countries," said Malaysia's Foreign Minister Rais Yatim in a statement released Friday.

"At the same time, the overlapping maritime claims between the two countries are also resolved," added Rais. The row, which stopped deepwater exploration in the area, erupted in 2003 when Malaysia and Brunei awarded production-sharing contracts to four overlapping deepwater exploration blocks in the South China Sea.

The four blocks are close to where a 440 million-barrel discovery had been made the year before.

Malaysian state oil firm Petronas [PETR.UL] awarded its two blocks to U.S. oil firm Murphy Oil (MUR.N). Brunei awarded one of its blocks to France's Total (TOTF.PA), BHP Billiton (BLT.L) (BHP.AX) and Hess Corp (HES.N), and the other to Shell (RDSa.L), Mitsubishi (8058.T) and ConocoPhillips (COP.N).

A government source familiar with the matter said the agreement aims for a collaboration between both countries in the exploration and exploitation of oil resources.

The source said the agreement also addresses some issues relating to the overlapping exploration blocks, but declined to provide further details. (Reporting by Razak Ahmad; Editing by Ben Tan)

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Alhamdulillah. I certainly look forward to the signing. That would take a load of our mind with regard to Brunei's future income.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Golden Legacy Book

My talented artistic sister wrote about my books which I asked her to produce for me.

I finally got round to compiling everything I published in my 'The Golden Legacy' column every Sunday on Brunei Times for the year of 2007 - around 40 articles (I started in March 2007). I did miss a couple of weeks as well I think. One time I remembered the editors did not receive my email and another time was when I was too busy to produce an article. It is sometimes not easy juggling time as I only do my writing and my research after office hours. I sometime spent my lunch time at Dewan Bahasa in Bandar as well as they have a nice Bruneiana section.

Anyway, I wanted the first edition to be really exclusive - so I only made 3 copies. One each to my parents and I kept one. We gave the books to them during the birthday party last month. Both my parents were born in February, my father on Valentine's Day and my mom a few days before. My sister used my younger brother's left over wedding materials for the book cover. So hence, the kain tenunan for the book covers. You can't get the kain tenunan easily and used them for book covers. But then this ones were really exclusive.

I didn't realise my aunties etc all wanted one. They read the book during the birthday party and I asked my sister to produce another 10. The next 10 won't be as good as the first one as the first ones were bound in kain tenunan. After this 10, then hopefully I will have found a printer and do a proper commercial printing if there is enough demand out there. Maybe, just maybe, perhaps a Volume 2 for the entire 2008 articles and a Volume 3 at the end of 2009.

Here is a list of the articles that I wrote for 2007:-

1. Bersunat Then and Now
2. The Tale of the Unfillial Son
3. Mysterious Grave in the City Centre
4. Before the Oil, it was Coal
5. A History of Bruneian Flight
6. Two Brunei Bay Legend Islands
7. The Mosque in the Capital
8. The Padians, Women Vendors of Kampong Ayer
9. Musabaqah Tilawatil Al-Quran
10. The Pengalu in Brunei History
11. The Uniquely Brunei Memukun Tradition
12. Brunei Darussalam’s History Through Stamps
13. The Origin of the name Brunei Darussalam
14. Brunei’s Currency Notes Before 1967
15. Brunei Darussalam’s National Flag
16. A Short History of Brunei’s Newspapers
17. Bedil, the Traditional Brunei Cannon
18. Bandar Seri Begawan, 21st Century City, An Ancient Capital
19. Bubungan Duabelas, Twelve Roofed Mansion
20. Brunei History seen through its Coinage
21. The Historic Role of Bandar Seri Begawan Wharf
22. The History of Brunei’s National Anthem
23. A Brief History of Brunei’s Road Netwaork
24. Fasting, Ramadhan Yesterday and Today
25. The Origins of Jawi in Brunei
26. The Origin of the Songkok or Kopiah
27. Sharing and Caring, the Fasting Ideals
28. A Time when Good Deeds are Special
29. Of Aidil Fitri, Gratitude and Happiness
30. Brunei’s Education System, One of the Best
31. A History of Teacher Education in Brunei
32. A Brief History of Brunei’s Health Services
33. The Development of Brunei’s Civil Service
34. Kuala Belait, the Oil District Capital
35. The Brunei Pilgrim’s Road to Mekah
36. Royal Brunei Customs and Excise Historic Role
37. In Faith, Bruneians practise Haj Rituals
38. Names are the Heritage of Kampong Ayer
39. Istana Manggalela and the Sabah Link
40. Brunei’s Many Tell Tale Place Names

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The History of the Brunei Legislative Council

Today is the opening of the 2009 Legislative Council. The number of members have decreased with the death of three members over the last few years. Some of my officers are looking forward to see new members being sworn in. Anyway, I wrote about the history of the Legislative Council published more than a year ago on 8th March 2008 on my usual column in BT. It may serve as a background read to today's Legislative Council:-

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IN THE 18th and 19th centuries, Brunei's political and administrative system underwent a number of changes. The changes had been slow at first with the coming of Rajah Brooke in Sarawak but significantly moved faster and became much more visible at the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1847, Brunei signed the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce with the United Kingdom. Even though Brunei's own internal government was not affected, its ability to conduct foreign relations was somewhat regulated by Britain as the agreement controlled Brunei's ability to freely lease or sell its territories to other countries.

!In order to preserve the existence of Brunei, Sultan Hashim signed the 1888 Protectorate Agreement that surrendered jurisdiction over foreign relations to Britain but managed to keep a fully independent state internally with the traditional State Council running the administration.

In 1906, a further agreement was signed which placed Brunei under the Residential System similar to that of the Federated Malay States in Malaya. Even though the agreement stipulated that the Resident merely advised the Sultan, in practice the Resident actually administered the state.

Using the experience of the British in Malaya, the British Resident found that a State Council worked best as a listening post to local needs and grievances. But the British did not create the State Council.

From ancient times, Brunei had practised a form of consultative council or royal assembly that consisted of some core nobility as well as state dignitaries. Even though they were not as formal during the pre-Residential era, such assemblies served to bring matters of utmost importance to the Sultan for final approval.

The informal gathering consisted in a daily assembly of noble and non-noble officials at the Sultan's audience hall (Lapau). When the British Resident first administered Brunei, he reformed the old advisory body, in effect formalising the duties and responsibilities of a Brunei State Council.

The first council had ten members including the Sultan and the British Resident. The council's sanction was required for all important legislation.

In 1906, Sultan Hashim died. The British Resident had difficulty in summoning the Council to determine its members' composition. It was the unwritten "Constitution" of old Brunei that became useful in naming the members of the Council. The first Council met in accordance with the existing constitutional practice which was the Sultan, the two Wazirs, two Chetetrias, and three Menteris.

The first Council meeting took place on the 29th June 1907.

In that first meeting of the Brunei State Council, the new British administration got down to serious business. The most important agenda was to sort out land rights in the State and to simplify ownership of private property. Although the first meeting went on smoothly, the matter could not be resolved in the State Council until 1909.

During the early stages of the Councils and until the Second World War, both Sultans — Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam and Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin were minors. Hence the State Council more or less was amenable to the decisions made by the British Resident.

In 1953, Sultan Omar Ali declared that he desired a Constitution to be drawn up for Brunei. During those six years, a local advisory committee of seven people, known as the Tujuh Serangkai, were mandated to travel to the country's four districts, interview the general public, tour the Malayan states of Johore, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah and Kelantan and then return home to draft their findings and report back and advise the Sultan accordingly.

This was what Sultan Omar Ali had set out to accomplish and the committee's recommendations included a proposed constitution catering to the popular demands for extensive education, employment and welfare facilities from the government. For the first time, Bruneians became empowered by a nationalistic zeal that resonated to the theme of Brunei for Bruneians.

In March 1959, the Sultan proceeded to London for talks with the British Government and the constitutional proposals were accepted by the British and hence a new 1959 Brunei Agreement was signed to replace the 1906 Treaty. The British granted internal self government to Brunei.

The Sultan promulgated the new Constitution on 29 September 1959 with the supreme executive authority invested in the Sultan. The old State Council was revoked and replaced by an Executive Committee and a Legislative Council. Thus the current State Legislative Council was born.

The first Legislative Council was made up of eight ex officio members, six nominated members, three nominated non-official members and sixteen elected members chosen from the District Councils. The Council was to exercise financial control and pass laws. No taxes might be levied or public money spent without the Council's approval.

After the unsuccessful rebellion in 1962, the Legislative Council was revised in 1963. The Council was to consist of 21 members, 10 of whom shall be directly elected. The rest would six ex-officio members and five unofficial members appointed by the Sultan.

The Legislative Council continued to meet until 1983 when it was suspended.

The Legislative Council met again on 25 September 2004 for the first time in 20 years with 21 members appointed by His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Muizzaddin Waddaullah and that council passed a number of constitutional amendments. That council was dissolved on September 1, 2005 before a new council was appointed with 29 members as of September 2, 2005. The new council met in March 2006, in March 2007 and again this year in March 2008.

The new Legislative Council building officially opened during the March 2008 session is the second permanent building to be built for the Legislative Council. The previous one was the Lapau in the city centre which was completed in 1968. That was used by the Legislative Council until 1983.

The International Convention Centre was used for the Council meetings from 2005 to 2007. The Civic Centre — now Taib Headquarters — was used in the 1960s. Prior to that just after WWII, the Council met in the Wooden Kajang Building. Despite the hardship, the Council had been instrumental in passing legislations especially supply bills that are needed for the country.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Churchill Memorial Museum (again and again and...)

The Churchill Memorial Museum was a favourite visit to many Bruneians in the 1970s and 1980s until it was demolished to make way for the Royal Regalia Building in 1991. I have done a number of entries about the museum but I still get requests about it from time to time. Today, I am not going to write anything about it other than to show the photographs of the museum, plus one of the exhibits which happened to be a favourite exhibit of mine as well as even a Lat cartoon on it when he visited Brunei in the 1970s.







Why was the museum popular? It was one of the few things we had in those days but it was fun. I remembered watching the exhibits of the various toy and model soldiers, the war sounds when you press the button etc, as well as Churchill's booming voice. But the museum also housed the small aquarium (small fee to get in), a reptile exhibition as well as a small exhibition on the history of Brunei (still maintained within the Royal Regalia museum now). It was just fun to visit the museum.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Origin of Brunei's Clock Tower

A couple of yesterday's photographs on Maulidur Rasul in the past were taken from my uncle's album. I borrowed his album sometime last year and it contained a treasure trove of photographs. Not only he has photographs of events which had him in it but also photographs of national events. I guess in those days, people like to keep those kind of photographs as well as I have seen this national event photographs in other people's albums. You buy them from the photo studios.

Anyway, one photograph which interested me very much was this particular photograph of our 'Achitect of Modern Brunei' Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien. This photograph showed him and Tuanku Abdul Rahman, the first Agung of Malaysia or rather Malaya in those days, sitting together. The site of this photograph will interest you. Look at the background, you can just make out the Secretariat Building on the right of the photograph and on the left you can just make out the old Police barracks that used to be in front of the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque.

So this photograph was taken somewhere near the Post Office and the Secretariat Building. In fact to be exact this site was in the middle of the cross roads of Jalan Sultan and Jalan Elizabeth II. Why?

What most people have forgotten is that, that blue clock tower was to commemorate the visit of Tuanku Abdul Rahman to Brunei Darussalam. The foundation stone was laid by Tuanku Abdul Rahman during his visit to Brunei in July 1959. It was on 11th July 1959 when this photograph was taken. That clock will be 50 years old this coming July.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Maulidur Rasul in Brunei

Today is Maulidur Rasul - the Birth of the Messenger. The origins of the observance can be traced back to the Fatimid dynasty in eleventh century Egypt, four centuries after the death of Muhammad as a Shia ruling class festival.

Maulidur Rasul processions to celebrate Prophet Muhammad's birthday has always been with us more or less. These photographs are of those celebrations in the 1950s to 1970s. They are more disciplined, better dressed as compared to us now in the 21st century. When I was a child, I remembered chanting the zikirs or salawat all the way. Perhaps we can learn something there.







I wrote an article about the changes in the Maulidur Rasul celebrations in Brunei Times which I will upload sometime this week to this blogsite. In the meantime, Borneo Bulletin also did a much shorter article as follows.

In the 60s, the Maulud Nabi (pbuh) celebration was held in the afternoon. People would stand around the 'Padang Besar' (the big field) now known as Taman Haji Sir Muda Omar Ali Saifuddien to listen to a religious sermon by the Chief Kadi of Religious Affairs Department.

As soon as the sermon ended, officers of the mosque would shout out the `Salawat three times to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the procession around Bandar Brunei (now Bandar Seri Begawan) would start. The procession was led by the marching band of the Royal Brunei Police Force.

The mass procession would walk along Stoney road, Kianggeh road, the road passing St George's School and SMJA, Tasek Lama road, McArthur road, Kg Sultan Lama road, Chavlier road and back to the assembly field. Throughout the procession, men and women would sing the Salawat' to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and recite the `Dikir'.

The women line-up normally came after the men. The men would be wearing their traditional 'Cara Melayu' complemented with the songkok and sinjang, whereas the women would be in their scarves and traditional `Baju Kurong' dress. The colour white would normally be worn on that auspicious day.

Slogans, written in laver (Malay words written using Arabic script) or Roman alphabets, were hand-painted onto banners of white and black. These banners were normally carried by four people as the leaders of the group.

In the 60s, people who took part in the procession comprised students from schools and colleges and Kg Ayer residents. Before the date of 12 Rabiulawal came, the Dikir could be heard from mosques, suraus and prayer halls throughout the state, praising the Prophet (pbuh) for his contributions.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day (IWD). Just in case, you don't know it, IWD is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.

IWD is anchored to the women's rights to vote or women's suffrage. It was in 1869 when British MP John Stuart Mill was the first person in Parliament to call for women's right to vote. On 19 September 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote. Women in other countries did not enjoy this equality and campaigned for justice for many years.

In 1910 a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named Clara Zetkin (Leader of the 'Women's Office' for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women's Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day - a Women's Day - to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women's clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, greeted Zetkin's suggestion with unanimous approval and thus International Women's Day was the result.

The very first International Women's Day was launched the following year by Clara Zetkin on 19 March (not 8 March). The date was chosen because on 19 March in the year of the 1848 revolution, the Prussian king recognized for the first time the strength of the armed people and gave way before the threat of a proletarian uprising. Among the many promise he made, which he later failed to keep, was the introduction of votes for women.

Plans for the first International Women's Day demonstration were spread by word of mouth and in the press. During the week before International Women's Day two journals appeared: The Vote for Women in Germany and Women's Day in Austria. Various articles were devoted to International Women's Day: 'Women and Parliament', 'The Working Women and Municipal Affairs', 'What Has the Housewife got to do with Politics?', etc. The articles thoroughly analyzed the question of the equality of women in the government and in society. All articles emphasized the same point that it was absolutely necessary to make parliament more democratic by extending the franchise to women.

Success of the first International Women's Day in 1911 exceeded all expectation.

Meetings were organized everywhere in small towns and even the villages halls were packed so full that male workers were asked to give up their places for women.

Men stayed at home with their children for a change, and their wives, the captive housewives, went to meetings.

During the largest street demonstration of 30,000 women, the police decided to remove the demonstrators' banners so the women workers made a stand. In the scuffle that followed, bloodshed was averted only with the help of the socialist deputies in Parliament.

In 1913 International Women's Day was transferred to 8 March and this day has remained the global date for International Wommen's Day ever since.

During International Women's Year in 1975, IWD was given official recognition by the United Nations.

Current list of women's senior office holders in Brunei (someone please send me a list of the women ambassadors and directors at MOFAT, MOE & MOH):-

Ambassador at Large - HRH Princess Masna
High Court Judge - Datin Hayati
Permanent Secretary, Prime Minister's Office - Datin Salbiah
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade - Datin Maimunah
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education - Datin Apsah
Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade - Pg Datin Masrainah
Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education - Hajah Norjum
Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health - Dr Datin Intan
Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources - Pg Marianah
Accountant General - Hajah Suriyah
Solicitor General - Datin Magdalene Chong
Director General Education - Pg Mastoli
Director General Medical - Dr Norlela
Director Community Development Department - Datin Adina
Director Fisheries Department - Hajah Asnah
Director Agriculture Department - Hajah Normah
Director Financial Institutions Division, MOF - Hajah Rosni
Director Technical Services, PWD - Hajah Siah
Director Building Services, PWD - Hajah Marhani
Director Development, PWD - Pg Anak Yashimah

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Pangsura - An Academic Journal of SEA Literature

Not many of this blogsite readers would have read this particular journal published bi-annually by our Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka.

This Malay journal contains many articles about the literature of Brunei and those of Southeast Asia. I have read it on and off but the other day during the Book Fair, I decided to buy many of the previous back dated editions - one is that Brunei books and journals printed by DBP are very very cheap and when you consider the amount of knowledge in those books and journals, the prices are ultra cheap; two is that I have not known about many of the things written in the articles. Some I do know but the depth and breadth that some of these articles go to amazed me.

For instance this 2007 journal contained a book review about Menyuruki Syair Rakis (two of them), a symiotic (not even sure how to spell that, let alone know what it is) about the use of Pak Hassan icon in a book entitled Hari-Hari Terakhir Seorang Seniman, about Syeikh Yusuf, about buri pu'o (adat membasuh kaki di Tutong) and many more. There is a mix of the Malay literature world from Malaysia and Indonesia as well.

If you have spare time, go to the library and glance for yourself this extra ordinary journal or go to DBP and buy the entire back dated copies. I have been making up for lost time and have been reading all the issues that I can get my hands on.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Hard Boiled Eggs Made Easy

If you are looking after something more serious this morning, I have to apologise. For a change, let me talk about something more down to earth. I want to talk about hard boiled eggs. My favourite is a hard boiled egg for breakfast. Unfortunately, I have been medically forbidden from eating too many eggs. So whenever I get the ocassional egg from bunga telur from berzikir ceremony I would get some 'kicap' and eat it. Ahhh....

My better half shared with me this email which she received yesterday about an interesting tip about how to get consistent results when it comes to hard boiled eggs. We tried it this morning and would you believe - it does work!

Let me share the tip with you:-

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Cooking hard boiled eggs can be a hassle because you have to 'watch the fire' and 'watch the air'. My dear friend was kind enough to share this method of cooking the eggs whereby you don't have to worry whether they are over-cooked or under-cooked.

Here's how:-

1) Place two pieces of tissue paper inside the rice cooker and sprinkle them with water.

2) Put in the eggs.


3) Close the lid and press "Cook" button.


4) Wait till the button jumps up. When it does, TURN OFF THE ELECTRICITY / POWER. Do not leave them too long inside the rice cooker after cooked ... only do so if you prefer a harder egg yolk.

5) The eggs are ready.


The speed is faster than using ordinary boiling method. This is because the water sprinkled on the tissue will turn into steam and compressed inside the rice cooker to cook the eggs. You can peel the egg shells off very easily. The egg yolks will turn out just nice, not too dry. And the best part is - you don't have to do any washing nor cleaning at all.

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Happy trying!

Inspirational Quotes

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