Food, energy security nation's top priorities
By Azlan Othman

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam yesterday touched some of the pressing issues under global spotlight that are also felt in Brunei like soaring food and oil prices and urged retailers and suppliers not to increase the price of goods as they wish and urged people to be prudent in their spending, change their lifestyle from being a consumer to saving society, enhance rice production and protect the environment.

In a titah at the audience and investiture ceremony to mark the monarch's 62nd birthday anniversary, held at the Istana Nurul Iman, the benevolent ruler stressed the need to increase rice production as the country is still far from being self-sufficient and to fine-tune the human resource plan, while applauding the control against usage and marketing of tobacco products.

The monarch also said the government is reviewing the mechanism to guarantee a secured life after retirement and to enhance the policy of retirement system in the country.

His Majesty said, "Looking back, we have witnessed various events in the form of turbulences and disasters striking several countries, especially in this region. This brings the need for us to be thankful to Allah for saving the nation from such calamities.

"We are convinced that such safety comes from Allah as a result of the blessings that have been showered upon our country as a 'Zikir' nation.

"This year, we are experiencing soaring oil prices in the global market leading to turbulent times in the world.

"Praise to Allah, my government still maintains the domestic oil price for vehicles at the existing price. We are aware that with the soaring oil price, the subsidy has also increased. In 2007, it reached $200 million, which means the subsidy this year will also continue to increase.

"Hence, in line with the government's saving initiative to maintain this subsidy mechanism, every walk of life should jointly shoulder the responsibility to practise the saving culture, especially in the use of vehicle fuel. In addition, we should not neglect efforts to curb fuel smuggling activities by irresponsible parties," the Sultan said.

His Majesty added prudent electricity usage is also important.

Another hot issue is the soaring food prices, a global phenomenon no country is spared from.

"Praise to Allah, the people in our country have dealt with the situation patiently and maturely. However, for the benefit of all, the suppliers and retailers are urged not to hike prices as they wish.

"Besides, we must also be aware of the current global food crisis that has sparked global anxieties with the production of basic cereals including rice plummeting drastically in producing countries.

"The producing countries have to release their rice stocks to their people. The crisis escalates when the agricultural production continues to plummet in comparison to the expanding world population," the ruler said.

"The world population is forecast to increase from 6.5 billion in 2006 to seven billion in 2012. The increase is definitely not in proportion with the declining food production. This is further aggravated by the climate change. Global warming impacts the surrounding environment and has become a new threat to life.

"Globally, horrific natural disasters have occurred like earthquake, flood and storms which have affected the food source. My government has made rice as the basic necessity and it has been subsidised for a long time.

"Like car fuel, the expenditure for rice subsidy has also increased. But for the sake of the people in this country, the price of rice has been kept stable. But it does not mean that we are free from such alarming rise in food products, particularly when several producing countries have stopped exporting cereals to others.

Hence, in view of this, Brunei should no longer be at the mercy of vagaries of nature in other countries to maintain our rice stocks, said His Majesty.

"The attitude of depending on our cash assets to support our livelihood is no longer relevant particularly with the current food crisis. If other producing countries that are now capable of fulfilling 70 per cent self-sufficiency are to review policies towards attaining 100 per cent self-sufficiency, there is no reason why our country with only 3.12 per cent self-sufficiency in rice production should not make efforts to increase the production.

"This matter has been repeatedly highlighted since many years ago. Hence it is appropriate for us to have a strategic plan and national agricultural policy, which among others will guarantee national food security," said the monarch.

Touching on the efforts to pump-prime the economy, His Majesty called on the need for Bruneians to step-up efforts to overcome all forms of needs. Hence, the need to fine-tune the human resource plan and policies relating to it.

"For instance, the government has allocated close to $28 million from the human resource fund for the training scheme for graduates seeking jobs and also school leavers.

"It is hoped to reduce reliance on foreign workforce in the private sector and at the same time reduce unemployment. Lately, there are discussions on social safety especially on supporting one's livelihood and family after retirement, be it in the public or private sector or those who are self-employed.

"Towards this, the government is now reviewing a more guaranteed mechanism during the retirement period of the people and to improve the policy of retirement system in the country. The programme to change the lifestyle from consumer society to that of saving society should be generated early," said the ruler.

In development, His Majesty highlighted the disposal of waste and rubbish including dangerous chemicals and bio-chemicals. "It is appropriate for us to tackle the issue seriously as the consequences will be huge if we fail to tackle and maintain our environment.

"We do not gain if we leave rubbish to clog and remain uncollected. The developed nation status that we dream of will not succeed if rubbish management continues to be weak. Hence, relevant agencies must be firm, forward looking and quick in solving the problem.

"The public should cooperate in using the rubbish disposal area wisely. With joint action, we will be blessed with a clean and healthy environment. Health must be maintained and looked after. Among ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle is through controlling food intake and regular exercise," said the monarch.

His Majesty applauded the control against usage and marketing of tobacco products. "With the enforcement of Tobacco Act 2005 effective June this year, I hope that diseases relating to tobacco usage will reduce and the quality of life will improve.

"The action to curb cigarette smoking is not a difficult issue unlike in other countries because we do not have any interest in smoking. I feel that we are capable enough to become the first country in the world to reject smoking. We should not forget that it is "Haram" (forbidden) to smoke. The lesser number of serious diseases caused by smoking will also help to reduce the government's health expenditure," said His Majesty.

On education, His Majesty said the government is now fine-tuning the national education system in order to introduce the 21st century educational system (SPN 21). The implementation will kick start early next year and is hoped to answer economic and human development challenges and support the national aspiration.

"In the international arena, relations between our neighbours and friendly nations are getting closer and enhanced due to our principles and pragmatic foreign policies. Our commitment towards regional peace and security is further strengthened by the ratification of the Asean Charter in Singapore last year.

"The government through bilateral trade, membership and cooperation in Asean and in other international organisations including APEC, OIC, WTO and Commonwealth will be further enhanced to explore more market opportunities.

"The government will not neglect security and will jointly uphold it regionally and internationally. Challenges to the security are unpredictable and the ability of the nation to overcome it is crucial. Diplomacy and defence cooperation are strengthened through training and forums that create the sharing of ideas on joint security issues," His Majesty said. - Borneo Bulletin (16th July 2008)