His Majesty approves Sustainability Fund
By Azlan Othman

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam yesterday announced the formation of the Sustainability Fund to further consolidate the nation's financial status in the long term and also announced a $30 million allocation to speed-up renovation, maintenance and upgrading works following the flood and landslide disaster this year.

The announcements were made in the monarch's titah at the opening of this year's Legislative Council meeting yesterday, where the ruler also called on members to express their views without fear, doubt or hesitancy, especially on matters relating to the country and people's welfare.

Also present were His Royal Highness Prince Hj Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister's Office and HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

His Majesty said, as in the past, members should use the Legislative Council as a platform to generate new and relevant ideas in assisting the government to outline the necessary developmental strategies. It is also hoped to portray a better image of our system compared to various systems worldwide that are incapable to even stabilise the situation.

"Through our existing system we have proved our capability to bring more benefits to the country far exceeding the others. We uphold peace and stability with the grace of Allah and are now enjoying peace and prosperity, which others find it hard to achieve of late.

"Less than a month ago, we celebrated the Silver Jubilee anniversary of our National Day. The 25-year period can be categorised as a step forward in testing us whether we are eligible to be called an independent nation.

"In my opinion, the eligibility refers to the nation's capability, whether we are capable to develop on our own and succeed to shape a better future.

"In this context, we feel that we did not lag behind but are in a better position in every field as a result of the achievement of our system. This is not an assumption, but a reality," said the ruler.

"As a matured nation, we also face a big test. But we are safe as we are able to manage on our own in every possible way we can. Among the big tests is the current global economic crisis. It is regarded as the worst since the global recession 80 years ago around 1927-1929.

"The crisis hits the market, devalues currencies, lays off workers and destroys the financial system. At the end of 2008, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted the world's economy to expand at only 2.2 per cent this year.

"But the latest forecast by IMF shows that it may only expand by 0.5 per cent, the lowest in 60 years. But still, certain parties have forecasted that even 0.5 per cent growth is still too optimistic.

"All countries worldwide are experiencing a sluggish growth, be it developed or developing countries. For instance, countries that usually enjoy double-digit growth are now experiencing growth in single digit. For countries that were forecast to experience double-digit growth, the downfall is painful.

"Under such catastrophic economic downturn, many countries have taken emergency steps by laying-off many employees. If it is just 1000-2000, it is a normal phenomenon. But it has reached tens of thousands of employees and in populated nations, some 20 million rural employees working in urban factories and laid-off were forced to go back to their rural areas. It signals that the world is in danger," His Majesty said.

"But praise to Allah, the socio-economic situation of our nation at present remains stable and strong though the government's revenue is slightly affected due to the drop in the global oil prices.

"Our ability to sustain is assisted by our policy and our nation's prudent spending. In addition, our nation's economic and growth activity does not rely on debt (leverage). Dependency on debt has driven many nations into their worst poverty level.

"The drastic drop in oil prices has prompted us to be wise in our spending, including avoiding wastage. There is a need to intensify economic activities, the government sector, in particular, whilst not forgetting to chart new measures in order to face competition once the economy recovers.

"The nation is also fortunate in that the surge in oil prices several years ago contributed to the surplus in the government's revenues. The surplus should be managed wisely to gain returns to further consolidate the nation's fiscal strength in the long term," said the Sultan.

In this context, His Majesty consented for the establishment of the Sustainability Fund under the Ministry of Finance. For the control and management of the fund, the monarch has consented to set up the Sustainability Fund Order effective March 11, 2008.

"In handling the government spending, the monarch said we should also take note of matters beyond our control such as the recent extraordinary floods and landslides. The natural disaster left a huge impact on many people. Besides giving out assistance, we should also make moves in upgrading the infrastructure network to ensure that no basic facilities or necessities are weak that could not be tackled.

In fact, an allocation for such events has been provided and if needed an additional allocation can be recommended. For instance, His Majesty has consented for an allocation totalling $30 million to speed up efforts and renovation works, maintenance and upgrading the level of infrastructure and other public amenities following the recent natural disaster.

"The relevant government agencies are required to work simultaneously in carrying out their respective responsibilities without delay.

"I see that there are many abandoned works that need to be speeded up. Some projects that have just started have suddenly stopped. Why did it stop? What went wrong? Does it possibly indicate the reason for such big floods. All these require analysis and answers to overcome a repeat situation in the future.

"I believe that the Legislative Council members would not neglect such matters, but will give full attention to anything that relates to the welfare of the people and the nation without fear, doubt or hesitancy," His Majesty added.

Earlier, His Majesty received a royal salute and inspected a guard of honour mounted by personnel of the Royal Brunei Police Force. The meeting was adjourned yesterday and will be continued Saturday afternoon. - Borneo Bulletin (12th Mar 2009)