Sunday, July 28, 2013

Brunei's Only Gold Pitis (Coin)

As someone who is interested in the history of Brunei, I have bought a number of coins especially pitis which were issued during the past by the various Sultans of Brunei. I have also purchased coins from our neighbouring countries.

The Brunei pitis which I have found so far and from what I have seen from the collection of other people who are into coins, are mostly made of from iron. From the other countries, most of them were also made from iron. However I have also found a number of gold and silver coins especially from the Acheh Sultanate. I have always wondered why is it that there has not been any gold coins from the Brunei Sultanate in the past.

The answer to that is that apparently there is. Today, members of the online Brunei Numismatic Club or Kelab Numis Brunei went to visit Dato Suny Idris, a well renowned local coin collector. He probably is the longest coin collector in Brunei and his vast collection include many fine examples of the coins and notes that Brunei and its predecessor government have issued in the past.

Today, the KNB members were pleasantly surprised by this particular coin in Dato's collections:



This is probably the one and only surviving gold pitis of Brunei. I don't know much about this coin to talk about it. All I can do is to admire it and hope that one day I can find one that I can keep for my collection.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Libraries in Brunei - what the public wants

I received an email from Rinni Amran about libraries and the importance of reading. While we at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports are currently taking a very proactive role in addressing many of the issues raised here, clearly we are not doing it as fast as the public wanted due to a number of factors. For instance, upgrading works at the main library in Bandar Seri Begawan is currently halted because of the need to determine building lines as is required by PWD. Anyway, take a good read at the many good ideas by Rinni Amran:

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I just wanted to comment on the government's emphasis this year on the importance of literacy and encouraging good reading habits. It appears to me that books in general suffer from a lack of good publicity in the nation. I don't think it right to say that there's a lack of enthusiasm for reading among the population - there are a couple of book swap events, for example, that can be found to be going around lately, and of course, there is an increasing number of literature students in both A-levels and at university level. But even for these students, finding access to the books required on their courses is a difficulty - they occasionally rely on photocopies of the texts instead. So although there may be enthusiasm from the government for reading and literacy, the lack of access to these books/funding for these courses to provide these texts indicates otherwise.

I've always wondered whether Brunei could benefit from a well-stocked, modern national library that can be compared to the likes of the British Library or the Library of Congress in the United States, and as iconic as the New York Public Library, for example. These institutions, apart from being libraries, are also national landmarks, i.e. reasons in themselves to visit the particular country/area. The Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka in Brunei is, I believe, not as efficient as a promoter/advertiser/face for reading and books. I remember going there once for research on my thesis into modern Brunei Malay literature and was disappointed to be turned away because they didn't actually have the works I was looking for - they were, rather, being sold at the bookstore at the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports, if I'm not mistaken. I must say that that little bookstore was an even better "library" than the DBP - they had all sorts of interesting resources for a researcher and avid reader like myself. It is also thanks to this bookstore that I discovered Mussidi's works. Mussidi's works, I must say as an aside, are national treasures.

The DBP as a building is also a bit of a disappointment - great books should be housed in buildings of great architectural feats. I'm sure you would agree that the outside should reflect the inside if it wants to promote what is inside. Books are fantastical things, the building that houses them should itself be fantastic. It should not be intimidating, of course. It should be open, hospitable, and accommodating. It should be inviting and appealing. It should be all of these things if it wants to rival the movie theater/cafe culture that the young generation of today indulges in. If books were advertised as attractively and aggressively as food and movies are in Brunei, then there will undoubtedly be curious readers-to-be coming to the library. It couldn't hurt to promote the idea of a glamorous reading culture.

The library should be the number one resource of knowledge, and as such it should be well-stocked, reflecting the hopes that the nation be well-read and well-educated. It should be filled with books from all disciplines - not just science, technology, and management, but history, politics, modern literature, world literatures, ancient literatures, philosophy, critical theory, etc. It should be the number one resource for primary materials in Brunei studies, history, and literature, and besides books and novels, the library should also house a special collection of archives and manuscripts of poems, stories, novels, letters, newspapers, journals, even photographs and artworks. The DBP perhaps is already quite well-stocked, but there is no way of knowing this because there is no online catalogue or even an informative website. If reading is to be promoted, then it should be promoted through the foremost advertising space, i.e. the internet.

It is important also to be selective in what is being promoted. There are books of all kinds, but if we are to encourage reading, then we should promote great works of literature - texts that have proven through generations their appeal, their intrigue, their influence. Libraries should be different to commercial bookstores that sell textbooks, popular romances and children's books. They should guide, influence, and educate in creative, rather than instructional, ways. Libraries are, if you like, an alternative form of school.

A library is much more than a place to store books and a place to read. It's also a place where traditions, culture, and heritage are preserved and exhibited with pride. In light of this, it should exhibit works/portraits of Brunei's greatest artists, writers, academics, thinkers. In this place, let these creative minds take the spotlight and show future generations that the nation does value creative thinkers, not merely the more logically-oriented. If Brunei is to invest in its local talent, this is one of the ways to do it. Bruneian art and literature should not be underestimated. With the recent turn in critical fields towards Asia, there will certainly be (perhaps there already is) growing interest in Brunei's unique position as one of the last monarchies in the world today, and the unique art and literature that can be found from the nation.

I think it is a step in the right direction for the government to emphasize the importance of reading. Indeed, the first instruction to the Prophet (saw) was to "Read!" in the name of the Almighty. Reading, then, should never be underestimated and books should never be unappreciated or devalued. And if so, then it is a duty to promote it in the best way possible.

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Mega Bridges in Brunei

The Oxford Business Guide had this report on 12 July 2013:

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Brunei Darussalam: Questions on ‘mega-bridges’ financing 
Asia | 12 Jul 2013





As plans for three new ‘mega-bridges’ take shape, the government intends to impose stringent environmental assessments for the vast structures. However, critics say equal emphasis should also be placed on identifying financing options to avoid construction delays.

On June 20, the Ministry of Development signed a $138.9m deal with domestic firm Swee Sdn and South Korea’s Daelim Industrial to build the Sungai Brunei Bridge, a cable-stayed bridge, which, at 607 metres in length, will connect Kampung Sungai Kebun to Jalan Residency. Daelim will assume responsibility from design to construction and have a 67% stake in the venture.

Set to be complete in 2016, the bridge will cut the journey time for local residents, who currently have to travel around 30 km via Jalan Bengkurong-Masin and Jalan Tutong to reach the capital. The new bridge will have a two-lane carriageway and pedestrian walkways.

Three weeks earlier, while discussing the proposed Temburong Bridge that will stretch 30 km to link Brunei-Mura District and Temburong District, Permanent Secretary (Administration and Finance) Awang Haji Mohammad Lutfi bin Abdullah said efforts must be made to ensure bridge projects do not harm the environment.

“The protection of the environment is of paramount importance to Brunei Darussalam and it is imperative that there are minimal adverse effects arising from the construction of the [Temburong] Bridge,” said Awang, advising an environment impact survey to leave “no stone unturned”.

On June 27, the government announced tenders for the Temburong project, saying it involved the construction of a 13.4-km marine viaduct across the Brunei Bay, an 8.1-km viaduct across the Brunei channel and a viaduct across the Eastern channel stretching 5.3 km.

Officials say that the bridge, set to be complete by 2018, will boost development in Temburong, which is currently separated from the other three districts by Malaysian territory. Completion will also mean that the country has realised a key section of the Pan Borneo Highway.

Contracts were awarded for the bridge’s initial assessments in May, with the director of the London-based Arup Group – which was appointed the civil and structural consultant – saying that the project would be “fast-tracked” for completion. Six local firms were also contracted to conduct environmental impact assessments, soil investigation, and marine and land surveying. Construction contracts are set to be divided into a number of packages, with the first tender scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2013.

A third bridge is planned to connect the mainland to the island of Pulau Muara Besar, located at the mouth of the Brunei River, which would form part of a $4bn project to develop an integrated refinery and aromatic complex there. Last August, it was revealed that South Korean engineering firm Pyunghwa Engineering Consultants was undertaking consultancy work for the planned structure.

The three mega-projects will create financing challenges, and senior officials are calling for an innovative approach to raising capital.

On July 1, the chairman of the board of directors for Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam, Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Hj Yahya bin Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar, said Islamic bonds could be used to raise funds.

"If [the government is] to offer papers that are in compliance with Islamic principles, in the big numbers, we will buy. They should issue Islamic papers because, after all, the projects are in Brunei … [It is] exciting times for banks and people who invest," he said.

Funding decisions are seen as a key factor in why the bridges, planned since 2011, have taken so long to see meaningful progress, with critics saying that the private sector wasn’t needed to raise funds given the Sultanate’s oil and gas wealth.

Last September, the chairman of Malaysia’s UEM Group, an engineering and construction firm, said that, due to Brunei Darussalam's small economy, he does not think that the Temburong Bridge project would follow other ASEAN economies' model of build-operate-transfer.

"[The bridge project] will be more government funded, so how the government does that – through deferred payment or through direct contract – will be looked at," he said, adding that in other South-east Asian countries these types of projects are often privatised and the investment is recovered through tolls.

While the contract tendering and environmental impact assessments underline that mega-bridge projects have stepped up a gear in their development, only through greater transparency over their long-term funding will the government reassure investors and Bruneians that they will be completed on schedule.

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