Sultan frowns on series of faults and failures
By Azlan Othman

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam expressed his unhappiness on many issues and made pointed queries during the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) meeting at the Fire and Rescue Department at the Old Airport yesterday.

Also present was His Royal Highness Prince Hj Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister's Office.

His Majesty clearly made his dislike known on the initiative by government agencies in lobbying for donations for the monarch's birthday celebration.

The monarch questioned why the Islamic Religious Knowledge (IRK) is not among the compulsory core subjects in the new Sistem Pendidikan Negara 21 (SPN21).

The ruler wanted to know why low ranking officials travel alone to attend meetings while big groups accompany high-ranking officers when they travel abroad.

The Sultan also expressed his unhappiness as the initiative to boost self-sufficiency in food supply kicked-started only after the monarch himself repeatedly mentioned about food security in many of his titahs.

His Majesty said in his titah that the NDMC should be forward thinking in looking at events that have not happened but could occur at any time such as terrorism, tsunami and earthquake in the country. His Majesty added that he prays to Allah for the nation to be free from such calamities.

"What are the steps taken or our preparations? We should not laugh at this matter. In Brunei, we hardly see big floods and landslides. But recently such phenomenon (big floods) occurred and the flood reached a level hardly seen before and landslides damaged many houses, buildings and also claimed lives.

"These remind us to be cautious and not to wait for such calamities to happen. This is not right. Now, we are facing Influenza A (H1N1) pandemic, a scary global catastrophe where many social activities have been affected including celebrations in Brunei marking the birthday, which have been postponed. However, I believe the celebratory atmosphere and spirit is still in the air," His Majesty said.

Touching on His Majesty's celebration, the monarch thanked all parties who were involved in making the preparations. The celebrations are organised by the government, private sector and individuals and the monarch appreciates such efforts.

"But I want to comment on the initiatives taken by the government all of which don't please me, as they seem to burden the people. The organising committees make big plans by lobbying earnestly and ask the public to donate. Big companies are the main target.

"Those who come forward to donate would be given publicity, and gatherings would be held to accept the donations. It did not end there. Electronic and print media publish the news where the minister or high ranking officials appear to accept the donation as if the celebration is used to lobby for donation," the Sultan said.

"What I want to question here is whether such lobbying or campaigning for donation is appropriate and for the public to rush to donate for the celebration. In other words, the celebration becomes a tool for the public to donate in a swarm.

"I am convinced that in the name of celebration and with such a tagline, the response could be overwhelming. But the question lies in whether all people are sincere or are they forced to donate. This should be looked into and scrutinised and not be made into an annual routine or trend.

"Frankly speaking, I don't like the celebration to be used as a tool to attract donations or to accumulate donations. Is the budget not enough or is it not joyful enough?" His Majesty asked.

"I don't encourage wastage or to burden the people. What is more important, the celebration runs smoothly. We organise the event in large scale. In some other instances, we do the budget allocation and then calculate from it. Once the project runs, we demand a company to pay, and on some occasions the company is incapable to pay. The government in turn ends up paying for it. Is this not a disaster? A disaster in burdening the government and bringing misery to the people," the monarch added.

Touching on the Influenza A (H1N1), the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared it as a pandemic on June 11, requiring all countries to take precautionary measures against the spread of the virus. Brunei is no exception. From time to time, the nation has and will take preventive measures, but the cases continue to rise with one death already recorded.

"Our preventive efforts are to advise the public to maintain cleanliness, reduce social activities and to quarantine travellers who have just returned from abroad for a period of seven days.

"All these are just advices. The most important preventive measure is to temporarily prevent Bruneians from travelling to the affected areas, especially to countries worst affected. But this is not being carried out or thought until a circular was issued by the Prime Minister's Office on July 7, 2009.

"However before this, there were ministries or departments that sent their officials overseas including to the affected countries, even though the officials asked others to refrain from going abroad as the virus could spread to other staff or the individual himself/herself or the family.

"Such officials travelled as instruction was yet to be issued by the PM's Office. This is what I did not like to hear. The Heads of Department work just like a robot with no discretion or common sense.

"They just wait for instructions. If there is no instruction, they will not take any steps even though they are mandated to make certain considerations and take logical steps, especially relating to the safety and welfare of the staff," His Majesty said.

"Whilst we tackle H1N1 through health measures, we also recite doa with 'Qunut Nazilah' or Hajat prayer. The more the better as it is a commendable spiritual weapon in Islam especially when we are running out of options particularly when physical control seems to be ineffective as H1N1 cases continue to rise.

"Is it not appropriate for such spiritual efforts to be multiplied? But as I can see, there is no effort to upgrade this. Hajat prayer at mosques on Friday is not as intense as we would expect.

'Qunut Nazilah' is only confined to Friday prayers when it could be extended to other prayers. In addition, there is no guidance or encouragement to the public to recite 'doa' or 'Zikir'. We have many religious officers but not even a single officer is seen handling a special programme, be it on television or radio to inform and lead the public on the importance of 'doa' and 'Zikir' in an effort to protect oneself from such pandemic.

"We hardly see on TV any guidance or information such as 'Doa Wirid' or 'Zikir' which are good to be read and so on. Do you also have to wait for my order to do that?" the monarch asked his Cabinet Ministers.

"Schools have now reopened but there is yet any initiative to ask the students to recite 'doa' before learning to seek for Allah's blessings. Is it difficult to do, when religious officials are aware that children's 'doa' or prayers are swiftly answered as they are free of sin. Can't you think about this?" His Majesty asked.

"I wish to highlight another example of a big disaster, which is lack of food resources. We have been independent for a long time, but the self-sufficiency of rice production is just 3.12 per cent. It's like nothing has been done. Has anyone ever thought of it seriously?

"Has anyone ever mentioned or highlighted such a 'magical' (3.12 per cent) figure among the ministers? No one," the Sultan said.

"Why is it not highlighted? Is it because we are scared to plan until I myself mention it repeatedly? Imagine if the supplier stops supplying us due to this crisis or other causes. I wish to mention a neighbouring country as an example whereby their self-sufficiency is 70 per cent. But they still continue and plan to go for 100 per cent self-sufficiency.

"After I repeatedly brought up this matter, the concerned ministry answered the call and praise to Allah, I am now glad to hear that in 2010 we will achieve self-sufficiency of 20 per cent and 60 per cent in 2015. This is the way to prepare and counteract disaster in the form of shortage of food supply and this is the way of looking at matters and not just with a 'wait and see' attitude.

"Six months ago, I attended an Islamic Religious Council meeting where I brought up the issue of a huge balance of 'Zakat' money, which reached over $100 million. What puzzled me was that why such a huge balance existed. What was the meaning of such balance?

"Is it right that there are no more eligible recipients to receive them? In this context, I emphasised three categories of recipients namely the poor, needy and debtors or 'Al-Gharimin'.

"Is it true that there are no more poor, needy and 'Al-Gharimin' categories in Brunei? The answer is, they still exist. So, if they still exist, how come such a huge balance existed? Why I raised this matter was, the issue of poverty, if left unchecked, would lead to disaster," said the ruler.

"Haven't we heard of people committing many criminal activities due to poverty? People kill due to poverty, people change religion due to poverty. Are these not a problem? This also goes to those who are in debt.

"Praise to Allah, the Islamic Religious Council has settled dues of 190 people under the 'Al-Gharimin' category for those under the national housing scheme, landless scheme, Kg Sg Bunga and Yayasan housing schemes amounting to two million, three hundred and seventy seven thousand, five hundred and seventy five and fifty four cents, ($2,377,575,54). Money that is still left unspent is around $50 million. Disaster is not just confined to flood, landslide, H1N1 but also many others," His Majesty said.

"In the field of administration and management, the Islamic Religious Council has outlined a guideline to send officers and staff overseas. There are instances whereby some ministries and departments are not aware of their staff welfare when sending them overseas.

"An officer travels alone to attend meetings, seminars and so on. This matter only happens to low ranked officers while directors (and above) as well as ministers, deputy ministers will be accompanied by many officers and staff and possibly with the diplomatic staff for consultations and discussions.

"Aren't there any similar needs for low ranked officers? The officer travels alone and possibly travels without the knowledge of the diplomatic staff. Is it a right approach or is the idea mature enough?" His Majesty asked.

"I believe it is not a mature idea but an idea that is selfish, an idea that doesn't show concern towards the subordinates.

"I do not see the rationale behind sending an officer alone. In addition, there are risks should the person need any assistance, whom to consult or should the person fall ill. These are the disasters faced by the officer who travels alone.

"If an officer is sent, then whom will he or she refer to in order to exchange ideas should the matter relating to policy arises. The managers and administrators should look into this matter.

"Another issue is when the travelling officer is a woman or when male and female officers who have no legitimate relationship travel together. This is worst in the context of religion, which could jeopardise the family," opined His Majesty.

"Several months ago, we were busy with SPN21. When I look at it, there is an obvious weakness. I found that Islamic Religious Knowledge (IRK) is not in the compulsory core subjects along with Malay, English, Mathematics and Science.

"It is astonishing to note that IRK sits together along with other subjects including music and drama. It is surprising to see IRK along with music and drama and not with the four compulsory core subjects.

"Why Malay subject is part of the compulsory core? Maybe, it is because it is mentioned in the Constitution as the official language. What is lacking in Islamic religion? It is also in the Constitution," His Majesty asked.

"In my opinion, it is more than just a compulsory core as it is the religion from Allah that is obligatory for all Muslims, which otherwise would become a sin for them," the monarch said.

"If the religious subject is taught along with drama and music, the latter (drama and music) would certainly be popular, highly in demand than the former (religious subject) in the context of mankind's psychology. Is this not a problem?" asked His Majesty. - Borneo Bulletin (14th July 2009)