Monday, October 31, 2011

Brunei: End of 16th Century

[I wrote the following article for my Golden Legacy column on Brunei's national newspaper The Brunei Times published this morning.]


Brunei: End of 16th Century

IN the Brunei Museum Journal of 1986 was an article written by John S Carroll entitled "Francisco de Sande's Invasion of Brunei in 1578: An Anonymous Spanish Account". The article is quite intriguing as it highlighted one particular documentation which also described the Castille War. The Castille War was the war between the Spanish from Manila and Brunei.

Brunei's Golden Age continued after the death of Sultan Bolkiah in 1524. Sultan Abdul Kahar was also able to increased Brunei's territories which included the whole of Borneo, Palawan, Sulu, Balayan, Mindoro, Bonbon, Balabak, Balambangan, Bangi, Mantanai and Luzon.

With the Brunei traders, Islam spread far including to the southern Philippines islands and Brunei was recognised as a centre of Islamic propagation.

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

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

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

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

Five years later the Spaniards returned back to Brunei. Spain's armada with 40 warships was headed by the flagship Santiago. The armada left in March 1578 and by April 1578, the armada had arrived off Brunei. The Spaniards sent a letter to the Sultan demanding among other things that 'preachers of the holy gospel, who may preach the law of the Christians in your lands in all security', and that Brunei not "send no preachers of the sect of Mohama to any part of these islands" and that Brunei must "forbid its people from asking tribute in these islands".

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

It was this episode that the anonymous Spanish account wrote. These unpublished accounts were kept in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain. The eleven-leave manuscript is probably not the final document as Carroll reported that it contained a lot of abbreviations. Carroll speculated who the author was. He was definitely on board and he was highly ranked enough that he was able to transmit his own version of the accounts to the King unsigned.

For the interest of this column, the writer will focus on the description of Brunei and its people in the document.

The island of Borneo was described as Burney. Islam had been the religion for quite some time as he described that the "natives say that for up to three hundred years there were a mosque there and six Moorish (Islamic) kings of the lineage of this king now ruling, Saif-ul-Rijal."

The Brunei people according to the natives were "people who settled on the river of Borney were first from China and afterwards people who came from Mekah and they preached to them and taught them to be Moors and made a sumptuous mosque so that with the religion their rule was confirmed."

Brunei then ruled from Sambas all the way to Chinabatanga (Kinabatangan) and all the way to Jolo, Cagayan and Paraguan (Palawan) and many others nearby. Burney was said to be about four leagues farther up from where the Kampong Ayer was which makes it somewhere near Limbang. According to AC Watson writing an article entitled "Letters from Limbang Inche Mohamed's Consular Reports 1866-1890" was able to quote that until 1890, there is a canal connecting the Brunei River and the Limbang River.

The Kampong Ayer was described as a large settlement, "the largest that the Spaniards have seen here, so that almost at a glance it appears that there are five or six thousand houses and very large ones and important ones".

Water was apparently piped to the houses, "from the summit of the mountains at a stone's throw or less run pipes of most excellent water in large quantity, much of which the Moors carry in canes to the upper floors of their houses, and all can be carried easily".

The foundation of the city is by its streets, and it has principal exits like streets on the island. Along the skirts of the said mountains there are very pleasant meadows to the slopes planted with palms and fruits trees.

The description of the mosque is that the mosque is like the rest of the houses made of wood but the mosque was tall, "of five storeys, the roof of straw and the highest posts of a black wood that appears to be and they say it is ebony, very dark and unclean. The mosque has a large quantity of tambours for their activities". Most likely the mosque was not five storey high but has five layer of roofs. The description of the king and the people of Brunei was as follows, "the king has many important houses, a house of munitions, many arms, a die for money, dockyards of galleys and ships, munitions of artillery, captains to whom he gave fiefs designated as captains of the armada enjoyed the tribute from the country, sepulchers of his ancestors and of his own, gilded and roofed, well distinguished from the rest of the important ones, and then many books of his sect."

"They write in the Arabic language of those of Mekah and of the Malay and that of this country the Tagalog language of Manila".

The document certainly opened up to us what Brunei looked like at the end of the 16th century. However due to limited space, the rest of the documentation would have to wait another time.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Selamat Pengantin Baru!

My cousin, Didi got married last Friday. I thought this was the best photo that I have seen of any family getting married with my Uncle and my Aunty and all Didi's sisters also in the picture doing all their free posing. It's very nice to see marriages start with a very positive note.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Brunei Oil Plans

[The Oxford Business Group reported the following report on Brunei on 29th October 2011.]


Brunei Darussalam: Plans on paper

With a radical overhaul of its energy sector planned, Brunei Darussalam is looking to ramp up production at the wellhead while expanding downstream activities through a long-term programme that is intended to quadruple national revenue and boost employment.

On September 21, the Sultanate unveiled the outline of its first ever Energy White Paper, which will serve as the blueprint for the oil and gas sector in the coming two decades and beyond. Under the programme, key points of which were made public at the Brunei Energy Expo 2011, the country’s GDP is set to increase from the current $12.6bn per annum to $50.6bn, with the energy sector’s contribution to rise from $3.9bn to $35.5bn.

To achieve this, Brunei Darussalam aims to increase production to 800,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day of oil and gas production, up from the present figure of around 200,000 barrels, but will also target massive growth in downstream industries.

The three core elements of the plan set out in the highlights of the white paper are the need to strengthen and grow upstream and downstream activities in hydrocarbons; to ensure secure, reliable and efficient supply and use of energy; and maximise economic spin-offs from the energy industry, with these targets to be achieved by 2030. The plan also foresees an additional 50,000 new jobs being created as a result of the expansion programme, with 5000 of these to be filled by local professionals.

According to Mahmod Yakop, the managing director of oil and gas services provider AMRTUR, the white paper has set out a vision for the country and the energy sector, though he says it is a vision that will need hard work to be fulfilled. “There are going to be serious challenges, and massive investment will need to be made in education, infrastructure and ease of doing business if there is any hope of getting anywhere near to this target,” he told OBG. “Brunei needs to be putting primary emphasis on oil and gas education to produce sufficient and high value human capital – something the country currently must have in place.”

The white paper touched on the necessity of training up professionals to meet the growing needs of the industry, and the minister of education, Pehin Abu Bakar Apong, has said that he and his officials will be working closely with the Ministry of Energy to develop educational programmes appropriate for the future of what he said was a “very encouraging vision”.

The two ministries will work together to discuss what is required and how this can be translated into “programmes that could be offered by institutions of higher learning in Brunei and also align ourselves with institutions overseas,” he told local media on September 22.

Quite apart from developing its downstream capacity and domestic workforce, Brunei Darussalam will also be looking to expand existing export markets and open up new ones. This should be one of the easiest components of the plans outlined by the white paper, with a number of countries in an ever-more energy-hungry Asia already expressing interest in the Sultanate’s proposed expansion of output.

Among those eyeing Brunei Darussalam’s ambitious expansion plans is RPN Singh, the minister of state for petroleum and gas for India. The Asian tiger is increasingly on the lookout for new energy sources to fuel its rapidly expanding economy, with the government seeking to promote the use of natural gas, with the Sultanate – along with Indonesia – being seen as a natural supplier.

“We are investing heavily in liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure, and our current capacity of 13.5m tonnes per annum is set to more than double by 2015-16,” Singh told OBG at the recent ASEAN energy ministers meeting in the Sultanate, held in late September. “In this context, India is seeking long-term LNG supply contracts with both Indonesia and Brunei. Given the proximity and other factors, this could be a win-win situation for all three countries.”

Of course, much of what is set out in the white paper will depend on the Sultanate being able to maximise the life spans of existing fields and identifying and developing new resources. There have been some very promising offshore finds in recent years, with further deepwater research projects being conducted that could well locate the resources needed to meet the ambitious targets set by the white paper. What needs to be clarified is the overall cost of the project, how much of this cost will be met by the state and to what degree the private sector will be expected to participate.

That said, if Brunei Darussalam can boost its oil and gas production to the levels set out in the white paper, many of the remaining elements of the programme will fall into place as the Sultanate will have energy to burn for its downstream industries, and an export capacity sufficient to generate the revenue needed to develop them.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Brunei's First Social Media Conference: We are not Robots!

[Emmagoodegg wrote in her column (published on 23 October 2011 on Brunei Times) and her blog the following article on the recent Social Media Conference which I helped moderate one of the sessions. My apologies to emmagoodegg and to my favourite artist cuboiart for uploading their article here and to candidsyndrome for borrowing his photographs.]


Brunei held its first ever social media conference on Friday this week. The seed was planted last October at the Borneo Colours event in Sabah specifically for Borneo online geeks where several Brunei online folks attended. Thereafter some of us from Brunei's online universe wanted to jump on the bandwagon of having our own social media conference; conferences the world has already seen many times over. What would be our angle we all wondered? It has all been said and done before.

Unless you've been living underneath an unconnected rock, we all know that social media is not a new thing. It is a widely accepted fact based on numbers and figures that social media is no longer a fad but is here to stay. At the Asia Inc Forum's THiNKBiG Forum held the previous day, we heard from YB Pehin Abdullah, Minister of Communication, that as of June 2011 there are 214,120 Facebook uses in Brunei. That's half of our population folks. I'm sure if a survey were done on Twitter users in Brunei, you would see the numbers increasing to match that of Facebook. Anne Burgraff, one of the speakers at the conference told us that social media has overtaken pornography as the Number One activity on the Internet. The forum held annually had a session highlighted innovation and social media in Brunei for the first time.

Brunei, in line with His Majesty's vision of innovation and creativity for the country, was ripe and ready to have a get together and discuss social media issues. Social media is not a new thing, but for the country to acknowledge that it plays a large part in our society is. The need for that acknowledgement became the primary angle for Brunei's first social media conference. Another angle came through a few weeks before the event.

Haji Rozan Yunos, or Mr. Brunei Resources (Mr. BR) as many online fondly know him, has been a big part of Brunei's blogosphere for many years. Mr. BR has consistently soldiered on to "help foster a better informed Brunei Society" as his blog postings are notably known for. Whilst a few years earlier, Mr. BR has embarked into the social media sphere like many of us did, he did not delve in further and we all wanted to know why. A few months ago another notable figure in the form of Dato Timothy Ong came onto twitterverse. What made him do so we all wondered? And why did he, when many of those in his age group feared social media? Could Mr. BR and Dato be convinced to join the bandwagon?

Nothing quite like having the aforementioned 2 prominent figures help answer these burning questions, and when they both agreed to speak and moderate, gave credence to Brunei's first social media conference. You can find a recording of their enlightening and stimulating session, 140 Characters or Less: Why Join The Twitter Conversation? at

Aside from learning why Haji Rozan was reluctant to come on Twitter and why Dato Tim did, we also discovered that of the many avenues for social interaction on the Internet, there are horses for courses. People will connect on different types of platforms, be it blogs, twitter, Facebook for different purposes and to reach different audiences. What was also interesting was the topic raised by the local technoprenuers, who are finding news ways for people to connect and interact.

Together with the social media angles, I personally felt that one more important aspect of events like these is to get off your backside and get involved in your community. As residents, we must take responsibility for our society and encourage the spirit of togetherness. And that is to me the beauty of social media, the general good that can be done by cultivating social networks, large and small, through IT.

The final word however, is that in spite of all of this IT, it is important to actually make human contact, to sit in a room, in a group and hear one another speak face to face. To paraphrase one prominent speaker, it is what makes us human; we are after all not robots.



Comments from BRUNEIresources:

When I agreed to moderate one of the sessions, I was not told that I would be moderating on the twitter issues. My personal twitter account which I switched on a couple of years back had been on the blink until I recently switched mine on again sometime in the middle of the year and that was to promote my newest book 'Our Brunei Heritage'. Anyway, it was an interesting session and Dato Timothy Ong @timothy_ongTM was his eloquent self  and gave very good advices to the young audience. Me... I was just a moderator, but Emmagoodegg - you will be pleased to know that @bruneiresources is now well and truly functioning again in the twitterverse.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Brunei Malays Outside Brunei

[My article below was published in my column, The Golden Legacy in The Brunei Times on 24th October 2011.]


“Brunei Malays outside Brunei”

At the recent Second Borneo History Seminar held recently at the International Convention Centre in Berakas, there were a number of international participants among the local participants. Some were from as far away as Pahang and some as near as Labuan and Beaufort in Sabah. However they all had one thing in common. Their ancestors were all from Brunei.

According to an unverified source, the total number of Melayu Brunei or Brunei Malays outside Brunei exceeded some 400,000. If this was true, the Brunei Malay as a grouping outside Brunei is indeed a large group and can wield some form of influence if that can be utilized or exploited. These people who are now outside Brunei clearly practiced Bruneian culture and tradition. So, sometime in the past, a number of Bruneians must have left Brunei and had families outside Brunei and continued to stay in their newly found countries.

The interesting question is, when did this happen? And a follow up question would be, why did this happen?

The Brunei group in Pahang is said to have been descendants from a Bruneian named Pengiran Bagauddin or formally known as Pengiran Sura Negara Pengiran Anak Badaruddin. It was said that he migrated to Pekan in Pahang. His descendants are not all in Pahang. A number of his descendants were also in Sarawak and were given three Kewaripan Bintulu, Belangian and Bayan.

It is most likely that Pengiran Sura Negara was the direct descendant of Pengiran Muda Besar Muhammad Shamsuddin, the son of Sultan Abdul Jalillul Jabar who died in 1660. Pengiran Muda Besar Muhammad Shamsuddin was a very young child when his father died, and the throne was taken over by Sultan Haji Muhammad Ali. Sultan Muhammad Ali was known as Al-Marhum Tumbang Di-rumput (Monarch who fell to the grass) as he was killed by his Bendahara who became Sultan Abdul Hakkul Mubin. Further research need to be done on Pengiran Bagauddin. In the meantime it is estimated that there are about 6,000 of his descendants living in Pahang and other states currently.

The majority of the Brunei Malays outside Brunei are in the neighbouring states of Sabah and Sarawak. The migration to these two states happened in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries when both became part of the new Sultanate of Brunei. The migration to Sarawak especially to the districts of Kalaka, Saribas, Sandong, Samarahan and Sarawak happened in the 14th century when the new sultanate conquered the districts of Sarawak. Similarly the migration to Sabah took place through the conquest of Sabah in the 15th century.

During the 15th to 19th century, the migration of Bruneians to the Brunei controlled areas continued. The migration can be said to be due to economic, social and political factors. The Brunei Malays controlled the mouth of the rivers of Borneo and therefore controlled the trade going into and out of the interiors of Borneo. The control of the river mouths meant that Bruneians were in control of the island. Their expertise as sailors and warriors also led to trade and the sailing of Brunei ships to Myanmar and Luzon, Philippines in the north. It is also theorized that the name of Brunei could be derived from the word Varunai which is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘sea people’.

In Sabah, the Brunei Malays opened up a few areas such as at Sungai Papar, Sungai Bongawan, Sungai Kimanis, Sungai Membakut and Sungai Tuaran. The Brunei Malays took up new settlements around the Brunei Bay area such as Sipitang, Weston, Menumbok, Kuala Penyu, Kota Kilas, Membakut, Bongawan, Kimanis, Benoni, Papar and Tuaran. These areas are all within the proximity of Brunei and this allowed those who stayed there to be able to continue their social and economic relationship to their families in Brunei. This was said to be encouraged by Sultan Bolkiah, the fifth Sultan of Brunei.

The Brunei settlements along the west coast allowed Brunei traders to use those settlements as resting points as well as maritime markers. The high ground of Bukit Kinandukan at the mouth of Sungai Papar and Layang-Layang Island played an important role as a marker on their route to Sabah and the north.

According to European records, Brunei traded with many nations around the region such as Siam, Java and Malacca. Manuel Teixeira said that in 1542, many junks were found there coming from others including Borneo. Bruneians not only served as traders but also as warriors. They were found in Sumatra in the fleet of Acheh who was then attacking the King of Aru.

Migrations also occurred during unstable periods in Brunei. There were a few major periods which included the Castile War between Brunei and the Spanish in the Philippines, the Civil War between Sultan Abdul Hakkul Mubin and Sultan Muhyidin and the First and Second World Wars. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century was also period of economic instability.

There are smaller groups of Brunei Malays outside these areas in Sabah. The areas include Tawau, Sandakan, Kota Marudu, Kudat and Tenom. Before Sabah was run by the British, the Bruneians staying in these areas were able to come in and out whenever they feel necessary. It gave the impression that there are not many Bruneians in those areas. It is said that the migration from Brunei occurred mainly when the British colonials ran the state of North Borneo.

During the British rule, a number of Bruneians migrated to Sabah because of the much better economic opportunity there. In those days, Brunei was in dire straits and the major export in the early 20th century was cutch. Oil was not found in abundance until 1929. The ‘new’ migrants met the original Brunei settlers in those areas and stayed. One of the first census done was that in 1970, there were around 27,000 Brunei Malays in Sabah and in 1984, that has increased to 46,500 with another 7,500 in Sarawak.

The spread of Islam also coincided with the migrations of Bruneians to these areas. Bruneians brought the Islamic faith to Sabah and to the Philippines. Even when the economic conditions in Brunei weakened, the spreading of the Islamic faith continued. According to the people in Papar, there were a number of Islamic scholars there who came from Brunei and decided to stay there.

There were indeed numerous reasons for Brunei Malays to be outside Brunei and their existence has added to the diversity and the richness of those states and to the Brunei Malays as a whole.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Brunei: Well placed to compete

[The Oxford Business Group on 22nd October 2011 reported the following article.]


Brunei Darussalam: Well Placed to Compete

Brunei Darussalam’s economy has maintained its competitive edge over the past year, according to a recent report, putting in a solid performance in difficult times as the world struggles to rebound from recession. However, the study also identified a number of key areas where the Sultanate needs to step up if it is to further improve its rankings.

In its latest Global Competitiveness Report, issued September 7th, the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Brunei Darussalam 28th out of the 142 countries covered in its annual study. It received the same spot last year, though it is worth noting three more nations were added to the list in 2011. The annual report, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of world economies based on 12 criteria, ranked the Sultanate highly in several categories, including labour market efficiency, education system quality and macroeconomic environment, where it was rated as having the world’s best.

The nation’s fiscal situation also put Brunei Darussalam at the rankings’ forefront, with gross government debt as a percentage of GDP, change in consumer inflation, and gross national savings as a percentage of GDP all assessed as among the world’s best performing. The Sultanate topped the first two categories and was rated 4th overall in the third.

Brunei Darussalam scored strongly in the category measuring to what degree terrorism threats imposed costs on doing business, with the Sultanate getting a mark of 6.4 out of seven, placing it eighth globally. Along with rating seventh on low levels of crime adding to the cost of doing business, the report suggests that the country is seen as one of the world’s safest countries in which to operate, a definite plus when trying to attract foreign investment.

The Sultanate also did well compared to its Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) neighbours, with only Singapore, at second place, and Malaysia, ranked 21st, standing above it. Below Brunei was Thailand, ranked 39th, Indonesia at 46th, Vietnam at 65th, the Philippines at 75th and Cambodia at 97th.

However, not all was positive in the report, with the WEF noting several areas where Brunei Darussalam could improve its competitive credentials. While the report lauded the government for its readiness to procure advanced technological products, it also noted that the country’s ranking in the overall availability of the latest technologies, the ranking of internet users across the population compared to other countries, and the willingness of private sector firms to adopt technology were all below its overall rating.

Perhaps unfairly, the Sultanate’s ranking was dragged down by the relatively small size of its domestic market. Its limited population base was deemed restricting to opportunities, placing the Sultanate 121st in that category.

Looking forward, if Brunei Darussalam is to achieve the goals in its “Vision 2035” blueprint, including having a knowledge-based economy and developing into a regional financial centre with a strong private sector, it will need to reduce the amount of bureaucratic red tape involved in starting new businesses, improve regulatory oversight for the financial sector, and bolster its scientific research, innovation and technological capacity.

The Sultanate may not have climbed further up the WEF’s ladder in 2011, unlike its steady progress over the past few years when it moved from 39th in 2008 to its present position, but it is consolidating its place near the top of the list. In its study, the WEF assesses the country’s economy as one in transition, moving from having a factor-driven economy (one utilising natural resources and an unskilled workforce) to an efficiency-driven one based more on higher education levels, financial market development and technological readiness.

The government is taking steps to facilitate this transition and to take the country to the next level, to that of an innovation-driven society, through overhauling and strengthening the education system, encouraging investment in information and communication technology and research, and by investing in measures aimed at diversifying the economy away from its dependence on hydrocarbons revenues.

All of this will take time, especially in the case of reshaping the education system to better meet a modern economy’s needs, where it will be some years before students groomed under the new format enter the workforce. However, Brunei Darussalam has already begun to reap the benefits of past reforms, as evidenced by its progress to date up the WEF ladder, and it is well within its capacity to climb a few rungs more in the coming years as further reforms are enacted.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Second Borneo History Seminar

The second Borneo History Seminar drew to a close yesterday. In terms of participants, this is probably one of the ones which drew a huge crowd of international participants. The Seminar actually is the culmination of a History Centre's activity Jejak Kesultanan Brunei.

In Jejak Kesultanan Brunei, History Centre's teams went out in search of Bruneians and Brunei origins outside Brunei. So their teams went to interesting areas such as Bolongan, Soemporna in Sabah, Pahang and other places where these areas are populated by Bruneians or Brunei origins. These people were invited to present papers in a Seminar and this Seminar is that seminar.

There were so many papers being presented that their sessions had to be done in parallel. And if your interest is multiple then it is difficult to go to all of them. This book which is compiled before the seminar took place covered about half of all the papers being presented during the seminar. These papers are the ones received much earlier by the organisers. The other half of the papers were brought in by the speakers during the seminar.

This book already contained interesting materials about Bruneians outside Brunei such as Masyarakat Brunei di Kota Marudu, Sejarah Pengiran Bagauddin di Pahang dan hubungannya dengan Brunei, Sabah and Sarawak dan Sejarah Status Gelarang Golongan Bangsawan Melayu Brunei di Kawasan Pantai Barat Borneo Utara. Other papers are specialised such as Wanita Brunei Dalam Spektrum Politik Sabah dan Panglima Gajah Tunggal Dato Setia Raja Tok Jebek bin Tok Akil dan Kampong Ayer di Borneo. About 22 papers are in the book compared to 44 papers that were presented during the seminar.

Over the next few weeks, I will try to go through and summarise the papers here for everybody to know.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Boosting Brunei's Health

[The Oxford Business Group reported the following news about Brunei on 20th October 2011.]


Brunei Darussalam: Boosting the Nation's Health

Faced with a steady increase in the incidence of diabetes, Brunei Darussalam’s health officials are stepping up efforts to counter the illness by boosting awareness programmes, deploying more treatment facilities and even debating a proposal that could place the Sultanate at the forefront of international research to combat the disease.

Following heart disease and cancer, diabetes is the most common cause of death among Bruneians, with some estimates claiming that up to 25% of the population have either been diagnosed with the disease or found to be impaired glucose tolerant, meaning they are in the pre-diabetes stage. This percentage translates to 90,000 or more people, a number that is steadily rising as the mean age of those suffering from diabetes is falling.

Local health authorities have warned that there has been a steep increase in the number of young people contracting diabetes. If left unchecked this could be detrimental to the economy in the coming years.

Shahiran Sheriffuddin Shahrani Muhammad, a health facilities officer, said there was a very real risk that the Sultanate’s future workforce would be depleted due to the rising number of children and teenagers being diagnosed with diabetes.

“Diabetic patients as young as 12 who do not control their diabetes will contribute less, as they face complications of diabetes in 10 to 15 years at their most productive age,” Shahiran said during the launch of a public awareness campaign in early August.

Apart from the potential loss of productivity is the cost of treating the illness itself, along with the many associated ailments that often accompany it, including kidney failure, vision impairment and cardio vascular disease, said Shahiran.

In the 2010–11 financial year almost BN$295m ($241m) was allocated for health services out of a national budget totalling BN$4.9bn ($4.01bn), about 6%. However, over the past few years, supplementary funds have been allocated to bridge budgetary gaps. Late last year Brunei Darussalam’ss health minister, Johan Pahlawan Setia Hj Adanan Begawan Siraja Khatib Setia Hj Md Yusof, said that lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes were the major force driving the need to increase health care spending.

“The costs of managing and controlling these diseases and providing health care to an increasingly unhealthy population are rising more and more each year,” he said during the launch of the Fourth Annual Brunei Surgical Scientific Session. “To reduce health care costs, it is our responsibility to adopt a healthy lifestyle.”

To help promote a healthy lifestyle and raise awareness of diabetes and its causes, officials announced in mid-August that they would be distributing 2000 posters across the country and airing messages about the disease on radio and television in an effort to conduct an information campaign.

But while trying to build awareness and promote the prevention of diabetes, Brunei Darusslam is also considering investing to become part of the cure.

In mid-August, representatives of the Warwick Medical School in the UK came to the Sultanate to meet with officials about the proposal to establish a diabetes research centre in the Sultanate. In recent years, the school has been focusing on studies aimed at limiting the impact of some of the most damaging effects caused by diabetes, particularly examining how the consumption of the vitamin Thiamine (B1) by diabetic patients can improve their kidney functions, reducing or eliminating the need for dialysis.

Dr Naila Rabbani, an associate professor of experimental systems biology at Warwick, said the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and Universiti Brunei Darussalam’s Faculty of Health Science were interested in the proposal for collaboration. However, local authorities will have to weigh the scheme’s costs, which Rabbani put at between $1.6m and $3.2m, a price worth paying if the research programme were to bear fruit.

“By tackling the issue early, the government will be able to save the costs of care for diabetics,” Rabbani told the Brunei Times in August. “Say the effect of B1 in the long term prevents kidney disease; it will save millions, if not billions on health costs worldwide.”

An added advantage of having the project based in Brunei Darussalam would be that many of the medical professionals involved in the study would be locals. This would help deepen the experience pool of domestic researchers.

There is still no indication of whether the Sultanate is going to convert its expressed interest into funding for the research programme, but in recent years the government has been working to raise the profile of the country’s pharmaceuticals sector, backing the development of halal-compliant medicines production, as well as promoting the country as a potential health tourism destination. By investing in research projects, Brunei Darussalam could further boost its credentials as a centre for international health and help find a cure for the ills of its own citizens.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Brunei Darussalam: Innovation in ICT

[The Oxford Business Group had this report on Brunei. It was published on their website on 17 October 2011.]


Brunei Darussalam: Innovation in ICT

Brunei Darussalam’s information and communications technology (ICT) sector has been given a significant boost with the launch of a new programme that will provide budding entrepreneurs in the field with access to funding, technical support and mentoring, and help meet the objective of developing the Sultanate into a knowledge-based economy.

Mobile phone operator DST announced in July that it was setting up a fund to provide seed equity for ICT entrepreneurs. With an initial capital of BN$150,000 ($122,951), the Future Fund is the first step of a strategy to accelerate the growth of the ICT industry in Brunei Darussalam, said DST’s CEO, Idris T Vasi.

“This is one initiative, but based on discussions with various partners in the country, we expect to develop other programmes where DST can spark more growth in the ICT industry,” Vasi said.

According to a recent study, this support is needed if Brunei Darussalam is to develop a knowledge-based economy underpinned by a strong ICT sector: the Sultanate slid 27 rungs on the 2011 Global Innovation Index (GII), an internationally recognised measure of the level of innovation in global economies and its input to economic growth and prosperity.

This year, Brunei Darussalam came in 75th out of the 125 countries covered in the survey, down from 48th in 2010. The country’s ranking was lowered in part by its below average performance in the creative output sub-category, which covers ICT and business-model creation, as well as creative goods and services exports.

Hui Kwok Leong, the director of ICT incubator iCentre, believes that Brunei Darussalam will rebound quickly on GII rankings as new support programmes start up. Given that many new schemes such as the Future Fund – in which the iCentre will be playing a leading role through its technical and mentoring capacity – have only recently been launched, they did not fall into the assessment period for the latest GII survey, Hui said. With the benefits of these new programmes flowing into the ICT community, Hui said he expected the Sultanate’s ranking for the coming year to “improve substantially”.

While Brunei Darussalam’s rating did fall in terms of scientific and creative output, a steady improvement in the country’s ICT infrastructure will stimulate the development of new products and services and consequently its GII ranking, he told local media in early August.

“If you look at the research and development aspect, Brunei Darussalam ranked very low compared to other countries, but Brunei Darussalam actually ranked high on ICT infrastructure and access,” Hui said. “This is an ideal technology platform for Brunei Darussalam given its high ICT penetration.”

While providing support for those already active in the ICT sector, the Sultanate is also adopting a bottom-up strategy to boost its innovation ranking and its standing as an ICT-savvy nation. While it will ramp up investments to support entrepreneurs and strengthen its infrastructure backbone, the government has targeted improving the education system and integrating ICT into almost all facets of the schooling process as the best way to develop an awareness of advanced technology and open the door to its economic potential.

The cornerstone to this approach is e-Hijrah, an execution and implementation plan designed to establish ICT use throughout the education system. According to Australian educationalist Ron Lake, if fully implemented, the e-Hijrah plan will put the Sultanate at the forefront of ICT education.

“If Brunei Darussalam can implement that, along with the new curriculum ideas you have in SPN21 (Sistem Pendidikan Negara Abad Ke-21, The National Education System for the 21st Century), you will lead the world,” he told local media in mid-July while attending an training seminar as part of the e-Hijrah project. “If you can produce documents like that and you’ve actually got a vision for 2035, that’s the start of it because you must have a vision of what you want your communities and young people to look like.”

It will take time for the full effects of the e-Hijrah project to be felt in the economy, with the scheme still being developed and implemented. Assuming all goes to plan, in years to come Brunei Darussalam will have a highly educated, capable and ICT-aware wave of young adults entering the business world, many of who will be looking to utilise their skills via the support programmes now available to parlay their education into innovative entrepreneurial success.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Retiring at Age 60

I saw this being forwarded round. I think it came from one of the Malaysian newspapers. It shows the scene of what a government office in Malaysia would look like with the retirement of civil servants at 60.

Brunei has introduced the 60 year old retirement for government staff who are non pensionable starting last year. So we are beginning to see the same thing happening here in Brunei.

When it was first announced, a number of people supported the idea that one can work up to 60. Though a number commented that there would be less entry for younger people to join the civil service. Personally I would like to retire at age 55 where it is at the moment for me. I for one am not looking forward to retire at age 60.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Magellan's Voyage

I acquired this book very recently from Those who do know Brunei history would know why this book is probably one of the most important that you would need to get hold of if you want to know more about Brunei History.

This book entitled 'Magellan's Voyage' described how Magellan's expedition traveled around the world way back in 1519 to 1522.  Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese explorer but served King Charles I of Spain to search for a westward route to the Spice Islands (today's Maluku Islands in Indonesia). His expedition of 1519 to 1522 became the first expedition to sail from Atlantic and then into the Pacific Ocean. The expedition was the first to circumnavigate the earth but unfortunately Magellan himself was killed in Mactan in the Philippines.

However the most important man for Brunei was not Magellan. By the time the expedition reached Brunei, Magellan was already dead in Mactan. The most important man was Antonio Pigafetta. Antonio was neither Portuguese or Spanish but he was an Italian who joined Magellan's expedition and wrote an account of what went on in the journey and all the things that he saw.

Luckily for us here in Brunei, the expedition reached Brunei and Antonio Pigafetta was able for the first time, wrote a very accurate of what he saw of Brunei way back in the early 16th century. His description of Kampong Ayer, the Sultan's palace was how we know that even as back as 5 centuries ago, Kampong Ayer was a major metropolis on water. This book is worthwhile to get at a cost of only US$12.95.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

41st Anniversary of Bandar Ser i Begawan

[I wrote this article for the 4th October 2011 edition of The Brunei Times]


It can be confusing to many people. The word Brunei appears in both the country as well as the district. Before 1970, it was more confusing. The word Brunei can be used not only for the country of Brunei and the district of Brunei but it was also for the capital city, Brunei Town or Bandar Brunei.

The older folks know it as Pekan Brunei. This writer’s mother-in-law sometimes asked, “are you going to Brunei?” To which this writer was always tempted to answer, “we are already in Brunei” but this writer realised that she was referring to the capital city even though it has not been called Pekan Brunei for a long time.

It is not known when Brunei Town officially used the name. However at the turn of the 20th century, Pekan Brunei was a city on water but it was not on today’s dry land.

Peter Blundell in his 1923 book “City of Many Waters” who wrote about Brunei at the end of the 19th century said “… the town was unique, the only one in the world built almost entirely over the water, and the Bruneis were justly proud of it. They were folks who live a semi aquatic life, and their methods of living, household arrangements, family life, and town government, adapted as they had been to life over the water ...”

Despite the first British Resident McArthur‘s efforts to move the Bruneis to dry land in 1906, not much progress had been made. By December 1941, the dry land in Brunei Town was a small town with one major road going through it with all the houses made out of wood with nipah roof and one wooden cinema built in 1923 for night entertainment. There was a wooden mosque named Masjid Marbut Pak Tunggal (aka Masjid Pekan Brunei). There was not much other than that.

It was Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien III who worked hard to bring development to the capital city from a ruined city after the end of World War II. At the end of the war, after heavy aerial bombardment by the Allied Forces, Brunei Town lay in ruins. Even the wooden mosque Masjid Marbut Pak Tunggal was completely destroyed.

According to Captain T.S. Monks, one of the first British military administrators who came immediately after the war, there was “… hardly a building left standing in Brunei Town. The main street was a mess of bomb craters and fallen telegraph poles … there was not a soul in sight anywhere. It was a shattered ghost town … so severe had been the bombing damage that it was difficult to imagine what the town had been like ...”

Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien III was the second son of Al-Marhum Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam II. He was born on 23 September 1914 at Istana Kota at Kampong Sultan Lama, Brunei Town. He was installed as the 28th Sultan of Brunei on 6 June 1951 after the death of his brother, Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin.

From early on, Sultan Omar ‘Ali focused on raising Brunei’s standard of living. His top priority was providing adequate education. Several primary and secondary schools were built throughout the nation to ensure that all citizens could attend formal schooling. A free-food scheme was introduced. Students were sent abroad for higher education.

In 1953, the Government had prepared the first five-year development plan allocating $100 million to build the government‘s infrastructure. Among the major items in the plan was the redevelopment of Brunei Town as a well-planned city, complete with asphalt roads and other modern amenities.

The plan’s other aims included providing basic education to all districts; improving communication systems; raising the quality of medical and health services; increasing agricultural products as well as providing basic services such as roads, electricity and water to all the people.

Most of the expenses were borne by the government. One of the first changes was the change of the wooden houses with concrete ones in the city centre. Other projects included the construction of schools, extension of medical services, agricultural development and the construction of roads. Most of these were able to be done successfully.

By December 1958 the road linking Brunei Town to Kuala Belait was completed with all the bridges crossing all the major rivers. By then too, most of the government buildings in Brunei Town were completed including the State Secretariat Building, Istana Darul Hana, SOAS College, the Customs Department at Brunei Wharf, the General Post Office, SOAS Mosque and one first class hotel.

The Secretariat Building on Jalan Elizabeth II formed the nucleus of the government’s machinery. Concrete shophouses along Jalan Sultan were built. A new hospital was built along Jalan Stoney (now replaced by the new Courts Building). A few British-owned companies also built their own buildings near the wharf. Two cinemas, the Boon Pang (now replaced by the BIBD building) and the Bolkiah were also built in the early 1950s. Even HSBC built its first concrete building.

In the 1960s, the town master plan was completed and executed. However Sultan Omar ‘Ali had other concerns. The campaign to eradicate malaria was carried out in 1953. From an annual 3,875 cases, it dropped to 41 in 5 years.

Sultan Omar ‘Ali ordered that the wharf at Brunei Town be enlarged so as to allow more ships to come in to bring food supplies. He also built a new airport out of the airfield strip left by the Japanese during World War II. Even a museum was built to keep records and artifacts of Brunei‘s past.

Sultan Omar ‘Ali set up a welfare system where allowances were paid out to the needy, handicapped and old aged.

Most importantly Sultan Omar ‘Ali also worked tirelessly for the implementation of the Brunei written constitution as the foundation of governance and the achievement of independence from Britain. Discussions with the British government culminated in the signing of the Brunei written constitution and the Brunei Agreement on 29 September 1959. Among others, the constitution stipulated Malay to be the official language and Islam to be official religion of Brunei.

In 1961, Sultan Omar Ali also ordered the formation of the Brunei Malay Regiment, today’s Royal Brunei Armed Forces. Sultan Omar ‘Ali’s reign was marked by so much progress that he is known as the “Architect of Modern Brunei”.

On 4 October 1968, Sultan Omar ‘Ali abdicated his throne and his young eldest Prince became His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the 29th Sultan of Brunei Darussalam. Sultan Omar ‘Ali took the title Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien.

In recognition of his contributions, 41 years ago, on 4 October 1970, His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah renamed Brunei Town as Bandar Seri Begawan, after his father’s title.

Today, the majestic Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Mosque and imposing Legislative Council Chamber (Lapau) and institutions such as the Seri Begawan Religious Teachers University College; the Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Institute of Islamic studies (Universiti Brunei Darussalam); the Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan Science College; and the Taman Haji Sir Muda Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien are testaments to the efforts that Sultan Omar ‘Ali has taken to leave a fitting legacy of his — Bandar Seri Begawan.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Good Bye!

It never is easy leaving any organisation. Leaving the Ministry of Development after 3 years 8 months and 8 days is as sad as any move that I have ever made in the past. In fact this afternoon, my officer asked me how many times I had moved. I said 12 not realising the 13th movement was just a couple of hours away.

To all officers and staff at MOD, I had an enjoyable 3 years 8 months and 8 days. My time is up and it is time for someone else to take over. I wish everyone the best and hope that the bond of friendship will remain.

Radio Television Brunei reported the following news on 5th October 2011:

By command of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar 'Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, the Prime Minister's Office hereby announces that His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam has consented to the transfers of several Permanent Secretaries and the appointment of a Permanent Secretary, as follows:

Yang Mulia Awang Muhammad Lutfi bin Abdullah, Permanent Secretary at the Prime Minister's Office, has been transferred to the Ministry of Development as Permanent Secretary (Administration and Finance), Ministry of Development.

Yang Mulia Dato Paduka Awang Haji Mohamad Roselan bin Haji Mohamad Daud, Permanent Secretary (Policy), Ministry of Finance, has been transferred to the Prime Minister's Office as Permanent Secretary at the Prime Minister's Office.

Yang Mulia Awang Haji Mohamad Rozan bin Dato Paduka Haji Mohamad Yunos, Permanent Secretary (Administration and Finance), Ministry of Development, has been transferred to the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports as Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports.

And Yang Mulia Awang Shahbudin bin Musa, General Manager, Marketing, at BLNG Sendirian Berhad, has been been appointed as Permanent Secretary (Policy), Ministry of Finance.

The transfers and appointment of the said officers will take effect from Thursday, 8th of Zulkaedah, 1432 Hijrah, corresponding to the 6th of October, 2011.


Sunday, October 02, 2011

Medicinal Plants of Brunei

His Majesty's reminder of studying local products such as herbs could not have come at a better time.  There are many aspects of Brunei which we do not have the time to study. It is not just us actually. For instance, I read somewhere in the US that over there, there are many things which have not had adequate research. You probably can find one subject which you can study in depth and find that no one had been there.

Time too plays a part. No one remembered what had been done in the past. My brother-in-law, Dr Yusof Mohiddin who was formerly the Director of Agriculture, before he retired showed me this book recently entitled "Medicinal Plants of Brunei Darussalam". This book was published eleven years ago in 2000.

This book is a result of the ASEAN Committee on Science and Technology (COST) which funded a project entitled Development of Therapeutically and Biologically Important Substance from Plants. The short term objectives was to identify, document and collect all known indigenous plants for insecticide, culinary and medicinal purposes. There were medium and long term objectives as well.

With our biodiversity, Brunei has comparative advantage in the area of natural product biotechnology. Compilation of these plants and hopefully someone else in the future can study and do further research as His Majesty had suggested.

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