Let us unite as one to support Syariah Law
Siti Hajar

THE upcoming implementation of Syariah Law in Brunei Darussalam has received mixed reactions not just within the country, but from those beyond the nation’s borders.

Though criticisms are part of the online postings, the decision to introduce Syariah Law, His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam yesterday said “is one significant aspect of our development and is not what some have claimed as being backward or archaic”.

In a titah delivered during the opening of the 10th Legislative Council (LegCo) Meeting, the monarch called on the people of Brunei to “display solidarity because solidarity is a natural foundation”.

His Majesty also noted a number of other issues and progress that has been made thus far, which includes economic diversification and steps that are being taken to achieve financial independence away from oil and gas, welfare of those working in the private sector, the importance of youth entrepreneurs as well as additional funding to help the country’s development.

“We should not be too concerned of what people are saying about Brunei as they do not really understand who we are and how our country is (run),” said His Majesty on the comments the country has received regarding the implementation of the Syariah Penal Code Order 2013. But what is important is that “we as Bruneians must truly be Bruneian and when we unite, we must be united as Bruneians regardless of our race or belief”.

His Majesty continued: “Be the way Bruneians are. We have a government and therefore govern the way of Bruneians. We are a monarchy, or of leadership and therefore, we must exist as Bruneians that look up to monarchy or of leadership with undivided loyalty.”

The implementation of the Syariah Law, said His Majesty, “is our responsibility as the people of Brunei Darussalam and we must be as one in supporting the Syariah Law”.

With the attention that Brunei has been receiving from the international community, His Majesty said: “Please respect us the way we respect (you).”

Over the past years since the commencement of the 10th National Development Plan, His Majesty has taken note of the steady improvements that the country has witnessed and due to yearly spending that has superseded the projected budget allocation, the monarch announced that more funds, amounting to $1.65 billion, will be injected into the government to help in meeting the people’s needs.

Further to government efforts in alleviating the people’s burden, especially following the heavy rain that brought with it floods and landslides, His Majesty announced that as part of a “spontaneous response” an additional $68 million has been set aside to support the country’s mitigation projects to reduce the occurrence of floods and an extra $35 million to repair public infrastructure and government assets that have been damaged during the January incident.

With Brunei Darussalam looking outwards and working towards attracting Foreign Direct Investment as part of its economic diversification plan, His Majesty also shared that he has consented to the setting up of a new unit under the Prime Minister’s Office whose responsibility will include identifying priorities, which are to be carried out by the relevant agencies.

“This unit will work with these agencies in formulating plans, monitor implementations and also provide advice as well as assistance,” explained the monarch.

As part of its plans to encourage the growth of foreign investments, His Majesty also said that the government has allocated a number of “suitable” sites for major investments especially for the accommodation of the needed infrastructure.

“However, each plan will be in need of implementation and if the implementation deviates or is not conducted within its time frame, then the source of these issues must be identified and solutions found,” said His Majesty.

With the private sector described by many as the backbone of any economy, His Majesty also spoke about the importance of providing the necessary support needed for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), and that public service agencies “should multiply their efforts in making the country pro-business especially for SMEs”.

This time around, His Majesty has encouraged members of the LegCo meeting to discuss further the welfare and concerns of individuals working in the private sector, and stated that though the gathering of government officials and people’s representatives is now in its 10th year, the majority of discussions have highlighted issues related to government staff and officials and very little on those in the private sector.

“In my opinion, through development and productivity in this sector, it is hoped that they can contribute towards improving the country’s socio-economic standing.”

Apart from reducing excise tax on low-capacity vehicles to make them more affordable for the benefit of those in the low-income group, the government’s concern for those in the private sector, highlighted His Majesty, can be seen in the form of the country’s Employee Trust Fund (TAP), the Supplemental Contributory Pension scheme (SCP) as well as the Housing Fund Scheme.

The youth, continued His Majesty, “must improve upon their skills and knowledge as this, Insya Allah, will encourage creativity and make them more competitive”, and called for the meeting to also come up with strategies to improve the entrepreneurship environment.

The Ministry of Education and other government agencies, in this regard, were highly commended by the monarch, who pointed out that they have taken the required steps to increase the level of business literacy among the younger generation and methods for this endeavour include incorporating entrepreneurship skills into the educational curriculum.

“It is time for the country to produce even more successful business people among our locals” and the “unique advantage” in the form of peace and stability, which needs to be preserved, will encourage the country’s growth.

“It is important for us to develop without having to rely on the export of oil and gas and though the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted economic growth for the year 2014, there are still risks that can compromise any economy.

“For Brunei, the government will continue to strengthen its micro-economic stability through prudent spending that will stress on value for money and accountability, whilst at the same time, efforts to diversify economic activities will become the country’s priority.” - Borneo Bulletin (7 March 2014)