[The Oxford Business Group reported the following news on 7th November 2011.]
Brunei Darussalam: Building bridges
Brunei Darussalam’s construction sector is set to benefit from a number of new infrastructure projects coming off the drawing board in the next year, two of which will have particular significance for the Sultanate’s domestic economy and integration with its neighbours.
On September 13, officials from the Sultanate and Malaysia signed a series of agreements that laid out the terms and conditions for the construction of a bridge spanning the Pandaruan River, which forms part of Brunei Darussalam’s border with Sarawak, Malaysia. Though the river is just 20 metres wide, those travelling between Temburong and the Limbang district of Sarawak must use a ferry service with limited capacity, which causes long delays during peak hours.
The joint committee established to oversee the project should be calling tenders for the construction in December, with five contractors from Brunei Darussalam and five from Malaysia to be shortlisted to bid for the work. Construction is scheduled to begin in April 2012, with the official opening listed for one year after that. The project will include the construction of a five-span bridge and approach ramps of some 200 metres across the river, as well as the connecting roads from both Temburong and Limbang.
According to Alaihuddin Orang Kaya Digadong Lela Utama Mohd Taha, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Communications, the concluded agreements cover the design and specifications of the bridge, as well as ensure the smooth realisation of the project. The Sungai Pandaruan Bridge is very important to both countries on more than one level, he told local media.
“The bridge not only mean[s] providing connectivity [and the] opening up [of] economic, business and tourism opportunities between the neighbours – it also has a deeper meaning, bridging closer silaturrahim (relationships),” he said.
The project will bridge political and social divides, as well as have a substantial impact on the Bruneian economy, improving the flow of goods and services and allowing local construction firms to win a slice of the building contract when the project is tendered out in the coming months.
Meanwhile, the Brunei Economic Development Board recently signed a 36-month, RM318.9m ($101.9m) contract with TRC Synergy, a major infrastructure developer, to modernise the Brunei International Airport Terminal. The work will be undertaken by a joint venture between TRC Synergy, which has a 51% stake in the project, and Swee, a local contracting and building company, which has a 49% stake.
The Sungai Pandaruan Bridge and airport improvements will certainly bring major benefits, but the sheer scale of another development currently under consideration will dwarf these projects. International engineering firm Arup has been commissioned to determine the feasibility of constructing a 10-km bridge linking Temburong with Brunei-Muara, the Sultanate’s northern-most district. The proposed bridge, which would span the Bay of Brunei, would be part of a much larger project involving the construction of some 30 km of roads and associated power and water services.
The $2.2m contract for the feasibility study, awarded in September 2010, specifies that the social, economic, environmental and political impacts of the construction project be assessed along with suggested routes. The results of the survey are due to be released in early 2012. If the project is adopted it could be one of the largest infrastructure developments in Brunei Darussalam’s history.
The Temburong district is an enclave of Bruneian territory surrounded on three sides by Sarawak, Malaysia and bordered by the Brunei Bay to the north. Locals must either travel by boat or traverse the stretch of Malaysian land separating Temburong from the rest of Brunei Darussalam if they wish to visit the capital or other districts.
Boosting transport links to Temburong would help the Sultanate achieve its economic goal of increasing agricultural output. The region is highly fertile and has been targeted by the government for development, particularly for rice and other primary production but has suffered from an absence of direct access to the rest of the country. The construction of the bridge to Brunei-Muara would facilitate the movement of produce out of Temburong, promoting higher levels of growth.
But there are no guarantees the Temburong to Brunei-Muara link will actually be built, at least in the short term. Such an undertaking would incur vast expenses and the government will have to weigh the estimated costs against the likely economic and social returns.
At the time the feasibility project was launched, the minister of development, Kaya Indera Pahlawan Setia Suyoi Osman, said the report’s findings would have to be overwhelmingly in favour of the project for construction to proceed.
“They will have to be very convincing because they are looking at all aspects in terms of financing the whole project, and the environmental effects because we are very concerned about our mangrove swamps [and] want to protect [them] as much as we can,” he said.
If the government is convinced, the country’s construction industry will undoubtedly play a major role in the project, though given the scale of the development, international firms will most likely also be offered a piece of the action. Even so, Brunei Darussalam’s contractors should be able to cash in on the expected building boom in a newly connected Temburong district.