Private Sector must be strengthened
By Azlan Othman

Strengthening private sector is the core message in His Majesty's Birthday Titah.

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam consented to grant several educational schemes to improve the livelihood of the people and create more job opportunities, to encourage private sector employment and to strengthen the private sector.

In the 'Titah' at an Audience and Investiture Ceremony yesterday at the Balai Singgahsana of Istana Nurul Iman to mark the monarch's 65th birthday, the benevolent ruler also consented for changes on passage allowances including extending to all women officers and staff in the public service and making provisions on copyright laws for research and innovation.

His Majesty also called for prudent usage of natural resources and energy, enhancing energy efficiency, exploring renewable energy, mulling new tariffs to assist low-income earners and to avoid wastage, replacing post-paid electricity metres to prepaid metres at residential houses, mulling fund saving scheme for housing applicants, focus on prevention than cure in health.

His Majesty also consented for a special assistance to NGO's who support the needy groups. While the monarch lauded the high percentage of the population possessing tertiary education, the Sultan noted the alarming trend of school drop-outs among primary and secondary students as well as a deficiency of four or more GCE 'O' Level pass holders to fill-up certain posts as well as shortage of requirements to follow vocational and technical courses locally and lack of financial resources to study at private institutions. His Majesty began the royal address by reminding everyone that development efforts worldwide are moving at a rapid pace exerting extraordinary pressure towards the environmental resources and ecosystem, which are limited.

As a result, there are negative consequences to the world which among others include uncertain climate patterns, global warming, floods, bushfires, droughts and environmental pollution.

To add to the woes are earthquakes, tsunami, landslides and health issues such as chronic diseases and epidemics. In reality, the world is grappling with extraordinary future challenges. In this context, our choice is obvious, that is to continue our development agenda sustainably. Firstly, the national development plan should be based on the strategic needs with effective implementation. Secondly, human resource development needs to be appropriate. Thirdly, the review of legal network and adequate regulations are needed to uphold the interest for development.

By Allah the Almighty's will, through this, our economy would continue to grow and the nation would be able to provide wider job opportunities to the younger generation and our financial position would continue to strengthen and be sustainable. Meanwhile, our development approach would continue through healthy livelihood, loyal to the religion and to the monarch based on the national philosophy, Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB).

And to strengthen such an approach, we should nurture the habit of self-building, to be hardworking, determined, prudent and learn to invest for the future. Hence we should have focus on educational development. In this field, praise be to Allah the Almighty, we have reached many milestones. Our educational infrastructure and investment are among the best. Relatively, the percentage of our citizens in literacy is among the highest in the world. However we need to see areas in which we are still weak. For instance, school drop-outs among primary and secondary students is alarming. It shows that our basic education still needs to be improved, the sultan observed.

Currently, we are also facing a situation whereby those who obtained four GCE 'O Levels or more is less to fulfill certain vacancies. Some of them who possess 'O' and 'A' level qualifications, but inadequate to follow courses at limited government vocational and technical institutions. At the same time, they are not able to pursue their education at private sector institutions recognised by the government as they are unable to finance it.

"I believe that these people need to be assisted to undergo appropriate training to open them up to more job opportunities. Hence, as an immediate step towards this group, I have consented three schemes under the human resource development scheme, to be implemented in stages. First is the improvement on Training and Job Scheme which is currently ongoing by providing financial incentive to locals that have been trained with right skills, so long as they continue to work in the private sector.

"Second is the Human Resource Empowerment Development Scheme in the form of scholarship to allow locals working in the private sectors to continue their studies abroad or in the country, to enhance their expertise and qualification. Third is the Scholarship Scheme to study at Local Private Technical and Vocational institutions, especially to eligible 'O' and 'A' Level holders, who have not got the opportunity to study at the government technical and vocational institutions.

"And in addition to these schemes, I also consented to changes to educational allowances granted to officers and staff in the public service, especially to their children who study at private institutions locally and recognised by the government and undergo tertiary courses like certificate, pre-diploma, diploma, higher diploma and reading for degrees.

"Educational allowance for courses at the tertiary level is also extended to children of citizens and residents who work in the private sector and become an active member of Employees Provident Fund (TAP). The allowance grant took effect beginning January 1,2012.

"I hope that these steps would enhance the capacity and strengthen the private sectors especially in producing more job opportunities to locals. Speaking on public service," His Majesty said it is crucial to know the human resource needs and ensure that its capability is in line with current needs.

"Towards this, I want service schemes to be strengthened. Any schemes that are not aligned with the current needs have to be reviewed, for it to be relevant and meet the current needs. It should also emphasise eligibility, expertise and training aspects. Schemes should also show career development pathway, so long as they meet the requirements.

"In the field of teaching and medical, praise be to Allah, we have provided new service schemes aimed at improving career prospects as well attract more people interested in enrolling in these fields.

"I am convinced that, these new schemes could contribute to human development, provided it is used wisely and not abused. "For the purpose of aligning the benefits for public service, I consented to changes to passage allowance, including extending it to all female officers and staff in public service. It will take effect from 1st January 2012. "And as one of the perks that is still provided to the public service at present, passage leave allowance would continue to be reviewed from time to time, depending on the government resources capability," His Majesty observed.

Another important factor towards sustainable development is upgrading the productivity in the public and private sectors in the use of latest technology and investment in research and innovation.

Through research and innovation, many ideas and thinking could be developed. Hence both research and innovation should have a strong foothold and be part of our economy, in line with our small population.

"We should strengthen the required institution and infrastructure. Towards this, the government is currently making provisions on legal protection on copyrights, in the form of patent order or copyrights which by Allah the Almighty's will, would be enforced shortly. The government would also make provision for appropriate financial allocation in the future national development plans for innovation and research.

"In whatever matter, the use of the nation resources would be implemented prudently. For instance, the use of local natural gas as burning fuel is on the rise. The energy per capita consumption in this country, is the highest among the Asean countries. At the same time, electricity dues for residential and business premises continue to increase. The government subsidy on petroleum products has also increased to more than 45% last year, compared to the previous year. Hence the nation needs to save these natural resources as an effort to ensure that the country's revenue is not affected in terms of export and for use in downstream industry. These include enhancing efficiency on energy usage and to explore the use of alternative energy that is renewable.

"In this context, my government is reviewing a new tariff, which aims at assisting low income group and at the same time to call on the public to avoid wastage. This new tariff will take effect on 1st January 2012. And in tackling electricity dues, I have consented for the replacement of post paid metre to pre-paid metres at private residential houses, which would be implemented free of charge and wholly financed by the government," The Sultan said. Touching on housing for the people, such programmes would not only be implemented quickly, but also sustainable in terms of land use, construction cost and the provision of government subsidy as well as the ability of the owner to pay back.

"Speaking on the ability of the housing owner, I have consented for a study to be carried out to identify fund-saving system, whereby housing applicant would be able to save for housing the earliest possible. By Allah the Almighty's will, such fund-saving systems will be introduced as soon as such study is completed. In the field of health, we have no choice but to shift our focus of service from cure to prevention so that it is sustainable in the long run. This could be implemented by enhancing public awareness on the importance of 'Health in All Policies' in our daily life as a key towards effective prevention.

"Community wise, I am glad and appreciate the concerned attitude of citizens and residents in jointly assisting the special needs groups through efforts put up by the NGOs. To enable the NGOs to give more effective contribution, I have also consented for special assistance to NGOs in the form of providing land sites, designs and approval for them to build and maintain amenities for welfare including infrastructure so long as they are is not against regulations.

"Besides, I also consented for annual financial assistance of an appropriate amount to finance part of the respective operational cost. In international affairs, we continue to practise friendships with foreign nations and practise mutual respect. Likewise existing international relations would continue to be strengthened and maintained. In the context of Asean, cooperation in upholding regional stability is a priority. Stability is crucial, in ensuring cooperation at enhancing socio-economic growth in member countries and to make Asean a renowned regional grouping respected globally, particularly our dialogue partners. The government would not neglect security affairs and always alert on security challenges. We would continue to strengthen the development of security institution internally and strengthen cooperation regionally and internationally for peace and prosperity for all," Sultan concluded. - Borneo Bulletin (16th July 2011)