His Majesty wants more jobs for locals in oil & gas sector
Azlan Othman

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam has announced initiatives to further strengthen institutions relating to economic activities, to promote more local employment and to improve the acquisition of basic skills amongst school children as well as finding a solution to tackle traffic congestions.

In addressing the nation in his New Year 2013 titah last night, His Majesty said, "With the blessing of Allah the Almighty, we have enjoyed priceless rewards in the form of peace and prosperity throughout 2012 and we pray that in 2013, too, such rewards would continue to be received. In an uncertain global economy, we are thankful that throughout 2012, our country recorded a positive economic growth of 1.6 per cent. With such growth coupled with efforts to consolidate the fiscal position, by Allah the Almighty's Will, we would be able to continue the development programme in 2013," His Majesty said.

"Throughout 2012 and in the past, many efforts have been made to strengthen our institutions especially relating to generating economic activities. And in continuing this effort, my government has set up an investment holding company under the Ministry for Finance Corporation called Darussalam Assets Sdn Bhd aimed at managing actively government investments in government-linked companies (GLCs). This company is hoped to play a strategic role in government investment activities in achieving development and economic diversification, in providing job opportunities for locals whilst at the same time gain economic returns in the long-term.

"The restructuring would enable the ownership and managing of government-linked companies to be implemented more effectively based on commercial principles with corporate governance practices. Our aspiration is clear, as we want our nation to be pro-business and pro-investment.

"We have setup a business licensing system allowing the issuance of business licences. We have also made amendments to the Income Tax Act which among others include reducing the corporate tax to 20 per cent. Effective January 2012, we have enforced the Patent Order 2011 to protect copyrights. This is crucial for businesses.

"This law would encourage among others investment in research and innovation activities. The next development in the institution is to protect the security of both parties, consumers and businesses. We have strengthened the laws pertaining to money laundering in the form of Criminal Asset Recovery Order 2012. Likewise, we have also enforced Consumer Protection Fair Trading Order 2011, which is aimed at establishing fair business to protect the interest of consumers.

"With the steps taken, I hope that the private sector would develop rapidly including the capability to generate job opportunities for locals. To date, investment in the oil and gas sector in the form of foreign direct investment is indeed very encouraging," His Majesty said.

Besides upstream industry, downstream industry has also recorded promising progress. As an addition to LNG and methanol production, the government is currently considering several other downstream oil and gas industry, the monarch said.

"The development in this field would certainly improve the country's revenue and generate employment. Statistics have shown that at present only 40 per cent of locals are employed in the oil and gas industry. In my opinion, the percentage could be increased.

"Towards this, the Energy Department at the Prime Minister's Office has implemented several initiatives with Brunei Shell Petroleum Sdn Bhd and other stakeholders. In this context, the Ministry of Education too should review the position of technical and vocational education in ensuring that education in this sector could contribute to the industry needs and employment for locals.

"We have provided technical and vocational education scholarships as well as human resource capacity enhancement scheme to enhance the skills of locals who have already been or will serve in the private sector.

"These are among our efforts to acquire quality workforce, especially among students. But this effort is difficult to bear fruits, if we fail to equip school children with basic skills such as reading, writing and numeracy. This is crucial and should become a culture as progressive people are those who are strong in reading, writing and know how to calculate.

"This is why the recent Primary School Assessment (PSR) result should be looked into and serious efforts are undertaken to improve it and find the root cause as to why some of the students could not master these basic skills. Probably, the teacher education and training needs to be stepped up," said the ruler.

"Speaking on development, I am pleased to note the current rise in the implementation of the National Development Plan (NDP). In the first year of 10th NDP, my government has allocated additional expenditures to finance projects that are in full swing, including the provision of infrastructures.

"This also covers several decisions to facilitate communications, among others to build bridges that will link Bandar Seri Begawan and Lumapas and the Temburong District. However, traffic congestion should become the priority and tackled comprehensively. Studies on it for a long-term solution are needed," His Majesty said.

"In the international arena, we still contribute positively towards regional and global peace and prosperity.

"In 2013, the nation is taking over the Chairmanship of Asean and becomes host to meetings which among others include the Asean Summit with heads of government of Asean and Asean Summit with its dialogue partners.

"By Allah the Almighty's Will, we will take this opportunity to leverage our role in terms of contributing towards peace and prosperity both regionally and internationally.

"Besides, as a host, it is an opportunity for us to showcase to the world our capability in attaining progress, peace and harmony in our society, including in welcoming our guests warmly and with respect.

"And as people with dignity, we have no choice but to be firm in telling other people and the world that we would not allow any provocation on our rights to religious living. Hence, we also condemned strongly any acts meant to insult the Islamic religion or Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in any form, such as through the Innocence of Muslim film or the most recent, a film called Innocent Prophet, as both are clearly a bad provocation and uncivilised acts."

In conclusion, His Majesty urged citizens and residents to strengthen their efforts and determination to become a more progressive society and strong in facing challenges in the 21st century. - Borneo Bulletin (1 January 2013)