Saturday, October 31, 2009

Graduating Today?

This morning, lots of people will be coming out of ICC with brand new degrees and diplomas. I was going to do a short piece about the History of UBD and found that UBD has already publicised it in its website, but just in case, you have not read or seen it yourself, here it is with some additional notes.

The idea of establishing a university of Brunei Darussalam was first raised during a comprehensive review of the country's higher education facilities in 1976. Subsequent discussions led to the appointment of a steering committee which, with the assistance of the British Council, proceeded to engage a group of experts to study and advise on the matter. However, active planning for a university did not commence until 1984-5, at which time academic links were discussed with a number of universities in the United Kingdom and Malaysia.

On 23 April 1985 came an announcement from His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Negara Brunei Darussalam that, in the interest of national development, Brunei Darussalam was to have its own university and that the necessary arrangements should be made with minimum delay.

In a remarkably short period of time a temporary campus was set up in a renovated building complex close to the Institute of Education, four and a half kilometres from the city centre. That campus is now used by the Business School today.

With the help of several overseas universities and under the supervision of a Ministry of Education Committee on the Establishment of the University, the first degree programmes and courses were devised. Formal academic links were established with University College, Cardiff, and with the University of Leeds and both of these universities helped in the development of the English-medium programmes. For Malay-medium programmes, assistance was provided by Universiti Sains Malaysia and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

Academic staff were recruited in the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Singapore, and some were also seconded from universities in these countries. I remembered a Professor Shahrum who was appointed as the UBD Academic Adviser. He and his family stayed at a house along Jalan Residency just after Bubungan Dua Belas. There used to be a big label saying UBD there but the last time I passed by, the whole place looks dilapidated.

On 28 October 1985, just six months after His Majesty's announcement, Universiti Brunei Darussalam opened its doors to the first intake of 176 students. In 1988, the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Institute of Education was integrated with the University. If I am not mistaken, Haji Md Abdoh, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs was among the first group who graduated from UBD.

Today the University accommodates more than 300 academic staff and 2,800 students in seven faculties, namely Arts and Social Sciences, Business, Economics and Policies Studies, Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Institute of Islamic Studies, Science, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Institute of Education, Academy of Brunei Studies and Institute of Medicine.

My heartiest congratulations to those graduating today!

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Story of Two Books

I bought two books this week. One is a normal price or rather, locally Brunei priced best seller book and the other is an old almost antique book which cost five times more than the other one. When I look at Amazon, the price of that best seller was almost half but I guess with postage etc, it would probably cost close to what our local bookstores are selling. Anyway, I am talking about Dan Brown's Lost Symbol which retailed for $50.80.

I don't know about you. But after having watched National Treasure movies and reading other books and watching all those National Geographic and other channels, I didn't find the Lost Symbol that mysterious anymore. I guess that's me. Though I did lose some sleep trying to read the 500+ pages in just two days. Would I recommend it? Well... I would say buy it but wait for the paperback.

The other book which I bought was this. This plain green book is entitled simply 'The Royal Brunei Malay Regiment' which tells the history of the beginning of our Royal Brunei Armed Forces. I found one antique bookshop in England which only sold it for 50 pounds but the shop does not deliver to Brunei. So I had to buy it local.

The army is always a fascination to me. My father's house is in Jalan Berakas. Before all the highway etc was built, everyone had to use Jalan Berakas including the army people at Berakas Camp. Every now and then I would glimpse armoured vehicles as well as trucks carrying all sorts of things passing in front of the house.

Every now and then too when I am in my dad's car, we would find ourselves behind one of these vehicles. Their license plate was using the AMB plates, so you would get AMB 123 etc. We used to joke that AMB which stands for Askar Melayu Brunei as AMBok or monkey if you don't know Brunei Malay. For some reason too, the army was always on the road. Nowadays I don't see them as often as I thought when I was a small boy. Anyway, the army was just one fascination to a small kid.

I bought the book for a number of reasons. One, obviously I needed this to be part of my references collection. Two and most importantly, it contained not just the history and the background of all there is to know about our army but it also contained numerous photographs like this photograph of His Majesty holding the gun.

This book had the names of the first Brunei officers and also the names of the first 60 recruits. I was quite amazed to discover that I know one of the names. He was my step grandmother's son. I knew he was in the Army and we used to visit him and his family at Bolkiah Camp during Hari Raya but I didn't know he was among the first 60. His brother was also in the army but he stayed at Berakas Camp.

Brunei celebrated the Armed Forces Day on 31st May, a day which everyone looked forward to because it is just a free public holiday. That date was when His Royal Highness Sultan Haji Omar Ali announced the formation of the army in 1961. Though the advertisement for the recruitment were published in the Borneo Bulletin on 22nd April 1961. The first three officers were Sulaiman bin Awang Damit, Ak Ibnu bin Pg Apong and Mohammad bin Haji Mohd Daud. They all became Generals, one of them a Deputy Minister and the other a Minister.

Anyway, the book I have is number 480 out of 500, so it is quite rare. It was written by Major AG Harfield in 1977 and the book was printed by The Star Press. The copy I have even included a letter from Major Harfield to a Lt Commander in Southall who bought the book from Major Harfield dated January 1979. I guess that Lt Commander decided to sell the book.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

RBA's Boeing 777?

According to The Washington Post compiling news from Indian newspapers on 26th October 2009, amongst them The Indian Express, Royal Brunei Airlines will finally be acquiring her Boeing 777.

Remember the continuing saga about Boeing 777? About 2 years ago, RBA was supposed to have leased a couple of Boeing 777. Brunei Times in its 18th June 2007 news wrote that "... reports on the internet ( have stated that the airline has already acquired its first Boeing 777-200 last month. According to the report, a Boeing 777 has been repainted in full RBA livery from American flag carrier United Airlines, which is awaiting delivery at Fort Worth Alliance Airport in Texas. Royal Brunei Airlines (RBA) is also looking into expanding its fleet, with the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner touted as one of the possible future choices ..." The photograph of that Boeing was this:-

Anyway, despite the training and retraining of pilots, the planes still did not appear. Now The Indian Express reported "... as Air India's woes multiply on account of deliveries of new aircraft which it now wants to trim, help may come from an unexpected quarter — from the Sultan of Brunei. Orders for six Boeing aircraft which the airline wanted to scrap, and Boeing remained adamant on having it delivered, may now find a taker in the Brunei royal palace..."

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

I really hope that the planes arrived soon. Our RBA's 767s are just too old and the Airbuses too small. Maybe we can get some decent airline seats soon.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Brunei - now a big fish!

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


Brunei Darussalam: Diving In at the Deep End

26 October 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Sad Year

This has been a very sad year. This year I have already seen my aunty, my uncle, my grand uncle passing away. On Saturday, it was the turn of my dear mother in law. I remembered when we were busy by the bedside, my phone rang. I did not recognise the number but when I answered, it was my 9 year old son. We had left him at my sister in law's place.

He asked, 'Babah, banar nini nada lagi?' (Dad, is it true that grandmother has passed away?). It was at that point that I broke down completely. I couldn't even answer him but passed the phone to my wife who answered him tearfully. I remembered mama being a strong woman. I first met her when I first visited my then future wife's house during Hari Raya. She was about 73 then. Everytime I visited the family, I always see her taking care of my invalid father in law, feeding him and fussing over him. She was a good cook and there were a few signature dishes which I always know that it is her doing the cooking.

Over time, she weakened. She had to undergo knee operations. But she was still strong willed. Despite being on wheel chairs, she even went for Umrah. Over the years, she grew weaker but her memory remainded very sharp. There was a couple of times when she stayed over at our house. The room where she slept in is always known to us as nini's room. Our family relied on her being the information centre. Tell her somethimg and she would take the time to call all the siblings and passed that information along. Her house would be the central post office.

In the end, her passing was mercifully quick. Bonda Hajah Halimah binte Md Sulaiman passed away at the age of 91. Semoga Allah mencucuri rahmat dan mengampunkan semua dosa-dosanya.


Sometime last week, my wife forwarded this email to me. I thought I will forward it because it is indeed something that will make you think and ponder. A nice story and a good reminder to us all ......................

Four years ago, an accident took my beloved wife away and very often I wonder, how does my wife, feel right now? She must be feeling extremely sad for leaving a husband who is incapable to taking care of the house and the kid 'cos that is the exact feeling that I have, as I feel that I have failed to provide for the physical and emotional needs of my child, and failed to be the dad and mum for my child.

There was one particular day, when I had an emergency at work. Hence, I had to leave home whilst my child was still sleeping. So thinking that there was still rice leftovers, I hastily cooked an egg and left after informing my sleepy child.

With the double roles, I am often exhausted at work as well as when I am home. So after a long day, I came home, totally drained of all energy. So with just a brief hug and kiss for my child, I went straight into the room, skipping dinner. However, when I jumped into my bed with intention of just having a well-deserved sleep, all i heard and felt was broken porcelain and warm liquid! I flipped open my blanket, and there lies the source of the 'problem'... a broken bowl with instant noodles and a mess on the bedsheet and blanket!

Boy, was I mad! I was so furious that I took a clothes hanger, charged straight at my child who was happily playing with his toy, and give him a good spanking! He merely cried but not asking for mercy, except a short explanation:

"Dad, I was hungry and there wasn't anymore leftover rice. But you were not back yet, hence I wanted to cook some instant noodles. But I remembered you reminding me not to touch or use the gas stove without any adults around, hence I turned on the shower and used the hot water from the bathroom to cook the noodles. One is for you and the other is for me. However, I was afraid that the noodles will turn cold, so I hid it under the blanket to keep it warm till you return. But I forgot to remind you 'cos I was playing with my toys...I am sorry Dad..."

At that moment, tears were star ti ng to run down my cheeks...but I didn't want my son to see his dad crying so I dashed into the bathroom and cried with the shower head on to mask my cries. After that episode, I went towards my son to give him a tight hug and applied medication on him, while coaxing him to sleep. Then, it was to me to clear up the mess on the bed. When everything was done and well past midnight, I passed my son's room, and saw that he was still crying, not from the pain on his little buttock, but from looking at the photograph of his beloved mummy.

A year has passed since the episode, I have tried, in this period, to focus on giving him both the love of his dad and mum, and to attend to most of his needs. And soon, he is turning seven, and will be graduating from kindergarten. Fortunately, the incident did not leave a lasting impression on his childhood memories and he is still happily growing up.

However, not so long ago, I hit my boy again, with much regret. This time, his kindergarten teacher called, informing me of my son's absence from school. I took off early from work and went home, expecting him to explain. But he wasn't to be found, so I went around our house, calling out his name and eventually found him outside a stationery shop, happily playing computer games. I was fuming, brought him home and whack the hell out of him. He did not retaliate, except to say, 'I am sorry, Dad'. But after much probing, I realized that it was a 'Talent Show' organized by his school and the invite is for every student's mummy. And that was the reason for his absence as he has no mummy.....

Few days after the caning, my son came home to tell me, the kindergarten has recently taught him how to read and write. Since then, he has kept to himself and stayed in his room to practise his writing, which I am sure, would make my wife proud, if she was still around 'cos he makes me proud too!

Time passes by very quickly, and soon another year has passed. It's winter, and its Christmas time. Everywhere the christmas spirit is in every passer-by...Christmas carols and frantic shoppers....but alas, my son got into another trouble. When I was about to knock off from the day's work, the post office called. Due to the peak season, the postmaster was also on an edgy mood. He called to tell me that my son has attempted to post several letters with no addressee. Although I did make a promise never to hit my son again, I couldn't help but to hit him as I feel that this child of mine is really beyond control. Once again, as before, he apologized, 'I'm sorry, Dad' and no additional reason to explain. I pushed him towards a corner, went to the post office to collect the letters with no addressee and came home, and angrily questioned my son on his prank, during this time
of the year.

His answer, amidst his sobbing, was : The letters were for Mummy. My eyes grew teary, but I tried to control my emotions and continued to ask him: " But why did u post so many letters, at one time?"

My son's reply was: " I have been writing to mummy for a long time, but each time I reach out for the post box, it was too high for me, hence I was not able to post the letters. But recently, when I went back to the postbox, I could reach it and so I sent it all at once..."

After hearing this, I was lost. Lost at not knowing what to do, what to say....

I told my son, " Son, mummy is in heaven, so in future, if you have anything to tell her, just read the letter and it will reach mummy. My son, on hearing this, was much pacified and calm, and soon after, he was sleeping soundly. On promising that I will read the letters on his behalf, I brought the letters outside and started reading. And one of the letters broke my heart....

Dear Mummy,
I miss you so much! To day, there was a 'Talent Show' in school, and the school invited all mothers for the show. But you are not around, so I did not want to participate as well. I did not tell Dad about it as I was afraid that Dad would start to cry and miss you all over again. Dad went around looking for me, but in order to hide my sadness, I sat in front of the computer and started playing games at one of the shops. Dad was furious, and he couldnt help it but scolded and hit me, but I did not tell him the real reason. Mummy, every day I see Dad missing you and whenever he think of you, he is so sad and often hide and cry in his room. I think we both miss you very very much. Too much for our own good I think. But Mummy, I am starting to forget your face. Can you please appear in my dreams so that I can see your face and remember you? I heard that if you fall asleep with the photograph of the person whom you miss, you will see the person in your dreams. But mummy, why havent you appear?

After reading the letter, I can't stop sobbing. 'cos I can never replace the irreplaceable gap left behind by my wife....

For the females with children:
Don't spend so much time at work. If you cannot finish the work, it must be some kind of problems within the company, and it is not your sole problem. Feedback to your boss. Endless over time may not necessary be the answer to the problem. Take care of your health so that you can treasure and take care of your little precious.

For the married men:
Drink less, smoke less, cos nothing can replace your good health, not even business nor clients.

Try thinking this way, are you able to work till your clients are totally dependent on you? or your boss is totally dependent on you? In this society, no one is indispensable.

Take care of your health, so that you can take care of your little precious and your loved ones.

For those singles out there:
Beauty lies in loving yourself first. With confidence and loving yourself, you will see the beauty in other things around you. You will be able to work better and happier. Don't let your health be affected by your work or your boss, so nothing matters more than your well being.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Puspa Hotel - Short History

The winner of Saturday's post of what happened to this hotel is my good friend, Mr. Haji Awang. Unfortunately he only texted me so his note was not available to readers.

Anyway, before Puspa Hotel was built, it was the site of a factory. The factory was producing bottled softdrinks called Snowman. Most probably the factory was built soon after the war and the factory lasted until the 1960s. That was when the factory was torn down and a hotel was built in its place.

You have to remember that the hotel was actually next door to the wet market (now the Bumiputera Building with the Municipal Council office on top of the multistorey carpark). And this place was more or less the central place to be. The bus terminal is still where it is now except now there is a multistorey carpark on top of it. The RBA Office was somewhere at the back of the Britannia Building.

Puspa Hotel lasted until the late 1970s when the lease on the land ran out. Normally leases are continued with the payment of a premium but in this particular instance, it was not. So the hotel was acquired by the authorities and converted into a government rest house. There was only Brunei Hotel which was in town then and probably Ang's Hotel (now Terrace Hotel) which were operating at that time. Sheraton was built around the 1980s.

Around the early 1990s, there was a move by the Municipal Council to lease out the hotel to the private sector. But that was not to be. The last few years saw the lobby of the hotel converted into a Job Centre (Pusat Pekerjaan) and run by the Labour Department. I am not exactly sure what happened to all the bedrooms whether they are still being used or being converted into offices as well.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Puspa Hotel

I am just wondering who remembered this? Be the first to tell the world what happened to it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chinese Temple in Brunei Town

There seemed to be a rush of entries yesterday about the development in Brunei. For today I thought I will look at the Chinese Temple. I wrote about the old Chinese Temple a couple of years back and received interesting comments. The original Chinese Temple is not at its location in front of Sungai Kianggeh. It was originally at the wharf. During the early 1950s, you can still find the old temple in between the Customs Building and the old Government Rest House (that Rest House became the Pelita Brunei office in the 1970s and 1980s and now completely demolished).

This is what it looked like around 1920s:

According to a research paper I came across, this first Chinese Temple was built in 1918. As the first World War raged on in Europe, apparently times were good for the Chinese towkays in Brunei. The Chinese businessmen were among the first to heed the British Resident's call to set up shops away from the Kampong Ayer. The original town centre on Kampong Ayer then was Kampong Bakut China, now known as Kampong Pekan Lama. The Chinese community then, mostly Hokkien from the Island of Quemoy were engaged in 'revenue farms' - agricultural areas let by the British Resident to grow cash crops such as tobacco and opium as well as do business including spirits, kerosene and matches. They were also engaged in amassing land especially rubber plantations and also rice plantations. So, it was a prosperous time for the community.

In 1918, Dato Cheok Boon Siok was the Dato Temenggong and he owned land and shophouses up and down the street now known as Jalan Sultan. The site chosen in front of Brunei River was geomantically suitable and owned by him which he donated to the building of that first temple. The temple when it was built was considered as a remarkable piece of architecture and cost around $8,075.50 (Straits Dollar) which is a considerable sum in those days. The money came from donations from shops and individuals in Labuan, Limbang and Brunei as well as levies on tobacco and white rice imports. The top contributor was a shop named Choon Guan.

The temple was named Teng Yun Temple (Temple of Flying Clouds) but it became better known as Twa Pa Kung Temple (Great Uncle Temple). The new temple in Jalan Kianggeh is also known officially as the Hall of Flying Clouds. The temple survived the bombings of the Second World War but by then the need of the expanding port led the government to acquire the area of the temple and that was when the temple was demolished and a new one is built where it is currently. The government provided $45,000 to the building of the new temple in 1960.

KH added this comment - "After the temple was built, a plaque was put up with the list of people who donated towards the construction. The plaque was made of wood, roughly 3 foot high and 8 foot wide and inscribed with the names of donors and the amount of their largesse in Chinese and cut into the wood with a blade. Years later, apparently there was a bitter dispute and someone took a saw an cut away a chunk of the plaque. The plaque is now tucked away in a quiet corner of the current temple.

The second story is that the temple was the only large building standing after the bombardments of Brunei Town in World War 2, first by the Japanese and Allies. My uncle remembers after the second bombing people were amused to find an unexploded bomb in the temple courtyard."

This is a photograph of the surviving Chinese Temple in the background after the aftermath of the Allied Forces bombing during the Second World War.

In the 1960s, the newly relocated temple was at Jalan Kianggeh. This is one of the earliest postcards showing that new temple:-

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Building Brunei in the 1950s

I recently received a note from a Mr Sun-Hoo Foo which talked about my books, the Golden Warisan Volume 1 and 2. But most importantly he was talking about his father which I took the liberty to quote as follows:-

Your article 7 on the Mosque in the Capital is most interested to me, since our family is tied most closely to the construction of this magnificent mosque. My father Foo Hong was the Chief Draughtsman of Booty & Edwards, who was the architect firm for most of the major Brunei public works in the 50+. My father recently published his memoir in Chinese and took me around to show the differnet goverment buildings that his firm had designed.

According to him, he was assigned with the job of building the mosque while he was in Kuala Lumpur. He studied various design and came up with the main Golden dome etc. He then spent months, worked with a young man, constructing the model of the mosque and personally presented to the Sultan and his council and got final approval. After that he was stationed permanently in Brunei supervising the construction and other government buildings. Later, he spent many years making models of the mosque so people may keep one in their house. I don't know how many survived, but I have one in USA and the one he spent so much time finalized was presented to the Sultan, and that may still be in the archieves some where.

Things have changed so much and I am not sure how many of the government buildings will survive into the future. Of all the things, I am most interested in the roof of the lapau and that clock at the center of the town.

Mr. Foo invited me to talk to his father and I will certainly try to do that. Mr Foo Senior is certainly in the position to talk about his experiences on the post World War II development of Bandar. In fact, most of the buildings in Bandar was developed during the 1950s and 1960s. Other than the commercial buildings and the extension to the State Secretariat now used by MOHA, I cannot remember any other building in Bandar not done during those times. This is Mr. Foo Senior with a model of SOAS Mosque which he personally handcrafted.

Monday, October 19, 2009

International Airport

[Brunei International Airport around 1970s]

I had to hunt high and low for this postcard. Eventually one was offered on ebay together in a package with postcards of the Logan Airport in Boston which I used to use when I studied in the US and the Minneapolis-Saint Paul's (MSP) Airport which is an interesting airport as it is surrounded by Minneapolis, St. Paul and the suburban cities of Bloomington, Eagan, Mendota Heights and Richfield. I have no idea why the seller would sell the Brunei Airport postcard with those other two. Anyway, I bought all three cards.

This postcard of the Brunei International Airport shows the airport as it was completed in the 1970s. The most interesting feature is that it did not have any air bridge or aero bridge. Those were built much later. The original airport meant that you have to walk down the two ramps on either side of the airport. You can see the one ramp on the extreme left of the postcard. That ramp was demolished when the new extension was built. There is one remaining ramp if I am not mistaken. The last time I used it was around 1999 when I had to catch a flight to Brisbane connecting to Auckland for the APEC SEOM Meeting in Rotorua.

I remembered the time when I heard these two S* giggled when the steward announced welcome to Brunei International Airport. These two looked at the airport then at each other before giggling. I was much younger then and I felt like bashing their heads together. But then, what the heck... That airport was much more peaceful and served its purpose...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Two Bridges Over Time

[Clifford Bridge or also known as Jembatan Rangas]

This is a postcard of the Clifford Bridge or is popularly known as Jembatan Rangas. This one was built in the 1920s replacing an older wooden bridge. This bridge is still in existence today. If you happen to be crossing the river into Bandar, you can see the old bridge on the left. It was just left there. The bridge was very narrow and only allowed one car to go through. This is a slight enlargement in them middle of the bridge which does one car to stop there to allow another car to go through.

There was a feature in the postcard which I overlook previously. But this time I have marked it. The old Istana Darussalam is clearly visible in the postcard. I was told that this is the original palace. It was rebuilt and moved slightly inland at the current site.

[Edinburgh Bridge]

This is the newer Edinburge Bridge. This is the original Edinburgh bridge and it allows cars on both sides of the road to go through. There should be a third postcard which shows another Edinburgh Bridge of today which was built parallel to this one. That's why now there are two lanes going to and from Bandar.

I have again marked Istana Darussalam.

I don't have any idea when the first postcard was taken. I presumed it should be around the late 1950s as most other postcards printed by the same company shows Brunei practically in a building phase after the Second World War. The latter postcard was around the early 1960s. Judging by the angle, both of these were presumably taken from the SOAS Mosque so pinpointing the date of the postcards would be much easier.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Brunei, Male Only Policy?

More than twenty years ago when I went to UK, I had a hard time explaining where Brunei was. Ten years later when I was studying for my Masters in the USA, it was the same problem. But I thought recently with our disappearing act in the 2008 Olympics and our recent run-in with BAFA/FIFA saga, many journalists, especially sporting ones would have realised where Brunei was. Apparently not so. In their minds, Brunei is still aparently somewhere in the hot desert sun and according to them, we were in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

This is a Monday news entry from The Florida Times-Union:-


Aside from displaying great teamwork and acting as source national pride, the Olympics also serve as a reminder of how far America has come in relation to women in sports — and how far some other countries still have to go.

According to the Associated Press, the IOC is unhappy with three member countries because of the countries’ attitudes toward female athletes.

While IOC president Jacques Rogge didn’t name the countries, he did say they posed “religious, cultural and political difficulties for women” to compete in sports, according to the AP.

In the 2008 Beijing Games, Oman, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates finally allowed women to compete, but even now, such wealthy and seemingly progressive Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia and Brunei maintain a male-only policy.

Even worse, on Friday, IOC member and former prime minister of Tunisia, Mohamed Mzali, protested allowing women’s boxing in the 2012 London Games.

“I have difficulty in imagining young women, with good figures [fighting in the ring] and receive hard knocks on their breasts, which are meant to feed babies,” Mzali said, according to the AP.

It’s a shame that in 2009, that attitude still persists in some places. And a world-wide event like the Olympics that helps bring countries together shouldn’t allow countries to participate if they’re still unable to recognize such a large number of their citizens as valued individuals.


Friday, October 09, 2009

Brunei No.1

Oxford Business Group's Report on Brunei on 9th October 2009 are as follows:


Brunei Darussalam: Praise and Pointers

9 October 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, October 08, 2009

Zero Poverty

Yesterday's ceremony when His Majesty handed out the zakat funds to those who are needy certainly marks a new chapter in Brunei's history.

I was sitting on the stage watching from the back seeing the faces of all those receiving the zakat funds. Certainly a number of them deserved to receive the funds. A number of them were in wheel chairs and a number of them too had difficulty walking. Regardless of appearances, I am sure that whoever assessed their needs must have taken into account whatever difficulties that they faced.

Yesterday, about 4,084 heads of families received the zakat funds who are considered asnaf fakir miskin (the poor and needy) and among them are 190 people asnaf al-gharimin (those who are in debt). The 190 people are mostly those who cannot pay their housing debts. About $2.3 million of unpaid housing loans have been paid up through the zakat funds.

For the poor and needy, each head of family yesterday received $20,000 each and members of the family received $10,000 each. They do not receive the money in one lump sum, instead depending on the amount, the banks where their funds are kept will disburse the money over a period of 36 months, 48 months or 60 months.

Not all the Religious Council funds have been used up. Some money have been kept aside. The Islamic Religious Council kept aside $67 million for other committments which include committment for the committee for building houses for the poor which my PMO colleague and I co-chair which will receive $35 million plus another $3.6 million for the Empowering the Poor Program (Program Pengupayaan Fakir Miskin).

His Majesty had only one wish - to eradicate poverty and in his titah yesterday had hoped for the eradication of poverty. But he also advised both the implementers and receivers, for the implementers to go out and reach out and not wait for applicants to come and for the receivers, his advise was that the recepients should utilise their funds wisely and purposefully, by avoiding an extravagant and wasteful lifestyle as they are meant to help them provide for a better and more comfortable life and that they are no longer labeled as Fakir Miskin.

His Majesty also noted that he hoped that among those who received the funds will no longer want to look back, but with new-found determined ambitions, as well as with wise planning, they can continue to prosper without requiring the support of Zakat in the future.

The Zakat funds had funded monthly assistance program all this while. However the amount outstanding in the Zakat funds are quite large as it included about $98 million of dividends from investments. The funds were kept aside for many categories which included muallaf, amil, ibn u sabil etc. However there were not many recipients of other categories and those funds kept aside plus the dividends are the ones now funding the recipients. Up to 31st July 2009, the Islamic Religious Council are paying out about 2,313 people in Brunei Muara District, 573 in Tutong, 749 in Belait and 259 in Temburong.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Brunei's GDP 2008

I got this book from my colleague at PMO yesterday. It is Brunei's 2008 Annual National Accounts. What is it?

It is a publication by the Statistics Department of the Economic Planning and Development Department of the Prime Minister's Office. It tells you what Brunei's GDP is. This one tells you what the 2008 GDP figures look like.

First of all, the statistician corrected the growth rate of 2007. It was provisionally estimated to be 0.6% growth but it has now been revised to 0.2% growth only. of which the oil sector's growth is a negative 6.9% but the non-oil sector growth was 8.5%. But since our economy is oil dependent, that impressive growth in th enon-oil sector translated into only 0.2% growth overall.

What about 2008? We were officially in recession. Our growth rate for 2008 is a negative 1.9%. The oil and gas sector dropped by 6.3% but the non oil and gas sector only picked up by 2.4%. Overall 2007 figures are much better. Our 2008 GDP at current prices is $20.4 billion and our GDP per capita is $51,251.

Anyway, you can read the report yourself as JPKE has made it available on their website as a PDF file. I have made it easier for you readers out there. Click here to download it.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Brunei Money Defects

This was in the cbox ** salwa: Mr BR, i discovered a print defect on our Brunei $1 notes. I compared it with one another, the defect one has a low upper sides and longer on the right hand sides. **

Actually I am not surprised. I remembered sometime in November 2006, one reader sent me a newspaper cutting of a news written in the Miri Daily Newspaper. Not many Bruneians came across that paper as it is writting in Chinese. I posted an article about it then. The link is here if you are interested in that old blog entry.

The news was about a currency note collector who was very excited as he discovered an extraordinary note. The B$1 note bears two different serial numbers on it. Mr. Yong said that he started to collect B$1 notes years ago, particularly those with the “golden” numbers of ‘6’ or ‘8’. To date, he has collected over ten pieces “golden” numbered B$1 notes.

In the news, he was fortunate to have discovered a note with “golden” numbers, as well as a note that has two different serial numbers printed on it. He presumed this is a printing error by the Currency Board. On the right hand corner of the unusual note is 4266868, however the left hand bottom corner is 833318 which he has never seen before.

[The note with two serial numbers.]

I was still at MOF when I posted about the news and I never did get round to posting what actually happened. An investigation was carried out and the officers went to see the him and certified that the note was genuine and it was not a fake.

So a quick check at our money printing company was conducted and it was verified that if I am not mistaken, the printing machine made a mistake and that one entire sheet had wrong serial numbers.

So when Salwa wrote about the print defect, it does not surprise me. We print billions of dollars and mistakes do occur despite our best efforts to ensure it does not. But in this case, there are about 30 other notes out there which has the same defect as the one received by the lucky collector. It is worth a lot. In the meantime, you better start taking a look at the $1 note in your wallet. They may be worth something.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Constitution of Brunei Darussalam 50th Anniversary

Not many realised that on 29th September 2009, Brunei Darussalam’s Written Constitution celebrated its Golden Anniversary of 50 years old. This news from RTB:-

The Brunei Written Constitution and Brunei Agreement was signed on 29th of September 1959 between Brunei Government and the British Government at the Lapau Building, in Bandar Brunei. Through the declaration, the status of the country has been glorified in the international arena and Brunei developed in all areas including programmes towards the excellence of the race and nation.

Almarhum Sultan Haji ‘Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien is the person who played important roles in the realization of the existence of constitution and to clear a way towards Independent Brunei. The late monarch declared plan to set up Written Constitution for Brunei in early May 1953. Al-Marhum stated his desire and ambition in his own Syair Perlembagaan. In line with the decision of the Legislative Council Meeting on the 10th April 1953, a seven-member committee was appointed and assigned to villages in all districts to seek the opinion of the villagers on the plan. The committee also visited several countries in Malay States Federation in January 1954 to review the constition system in those countries. The draft of the constitution was later arranged and in 1957, Al-Marhum went to England with a delegation for an informal talks.

Brunei’s Written Constitution was signed by Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien on behalf of Brunei Government while the British General Commissioner for Southeast Asia, His Excellency Sir Robert Scott, signed for the British Government.

Efforts to implement the constitution were geared up since early 1959. On March 14,1959, Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien led a delegation to London to discuss the establishment of Brunei’s Written Constitution. The outcome of the talks, almost all suggestion were approved. The manuscripts of the constitution was signed by the late monarch for Brunei Government and British Government was represented by State Secretary, Lord Allen Lennox Boyd.

Since 1959 until 1970s, Brunei’s Written Constitution has brought many changes for the country according to the needs of the nation’s constitution and religion. As the result of the amendment of 1959 Constitution, on November 23, 1971 at the Lapau a government was declared with full responsibility on the home affairs and the government of Her Majesty the Queen was no longer intervene in the administration of internal affairs.

The constitution has undergone a wider transitition following the signing of an agreement on the 3rd of January 1979, at the Lapau. His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mui’izzaddin Waddaulah Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, signed the cooperation agreement between Brunei Darussalam and the government of Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain. Representing the British Government was the Right Honourable Lord Growney, the State Minister of Britain for Foreign Affairs. With the signing of the agreement, all administration aspects in and abroad were conducted by Brunei citizens as a fully independent race and nation.

In line with the needs and changes of the era as well as continuous efforts to realise the aim of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Muizzadien Waddaulah Sultan and Yang Di-pertuan of Brunei Darussalam to form the more formal legislation structure, re-examination was carreid out on the 1959 Constitution and several changes were made on the constitution. The amendment was signed and declared by His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam on 29th September, 2004 at Lapau, Bandar Seri Begawan.

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