- Brunei DarussalamA Time for Stock Taking
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After a year of busy schedules as ASEAN Chair in 2013, Brunei Darussalam settled into its more routine national activities and concerns in 2014. It was also a year of reflection as it observed its thirtieth year of full sovereignty. As the year progressed it was evident that two main areas of national interest would preoccupy policymakers: the economy, and the recently gazetted Syariah law. In other areas of domestic and international affairs, the sultanate fared reasonably well in accordance with its projected policies.
Hauling the Economy Forward
The long-term forward looking Wawasan 2035 (Vision 2035) continued to provide the national goals for economic and social development while the 10th Five Year Development Plan (2012–17) provided the more immediate targets in development. By 2035, Brunei aims to achieve a sustainable and dynamic economy, with a well-educated and skilled people enjoying a high quality of life. The integrated approach calls for strategic development in such areas as domestic business, education, environment, infrastructure, institutions and social security. Progressive and sustainable growth has been identified as vital in achieving the goals of Vision 2035. Some strategies seem to be working while others are still lagging. For instance, educational, infrastructural and institutional development have been given more emphasis, while economic development, as [End Page 67] a result of structural inadequacies and external dependencies has not contributed to a comfortable growth rate. In a titah (speech), Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, Head of State and Government, announced the establishment of the Council for Vision 2035 (Majlis Wawasan 2035) to assess and ensure the targets of the Vision were realized.1
The national economy grew at a slow pace, reaching an average of about 1 per cent. According to the Department of Economic Planning and Development, Brunei’s second quarter recorded a growth of 0.8 per cent. It noted that the prevailing conditions in the third and fourth quarters were not favourable to Brunei’s GDP growth.2 A report from the OECD stated that ASEAN can expect an average of 5.6 per cent while Brunei is expected to average 1.6 per cent from 2015–19; that would be higher than the 0.9 per cent growth between 2011 and 2013.3
Income from hydrocarbon sources — crude oil and natural gas — has continued to fuel the economy. In the last few years over 90 per cent of export earnings have been derived from the export of these two basic commodities. However reduced earnings have been recorded as a result of a reduction in oil production and exports and falling oil prices, especially in the third quarter. According to the Department of Economic Planning and Development, there was a decline from the previous 135,000 barrels per day to 121,000 in July 2014. For the third quarter Brunei had nevertheless increased its exports due to demand and to the surplus of crude oil in its reserves. Globally, from a high of US$106 in the beginning of the year, the price for Bent crude had dropped to below US$70 by November (for January’s future trade).4
The oil and gas industry was also in the national limelight as a source of employment to the local job seekers. A few years earlier the Minister of Energy in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had chided the oil industry (especially the major player, Brunei Shell Petroleum Company) for not employing more Bruneians. Over the last two years there has been a marked increase in local interest in the industry through various schemes. The number of local and joint-venture companies engaged in the hydrocarbon sector has increased, thus providing more opportunities at various levels of employment. The First Energy White Paper was launched by the Sultan in March 2014 during the opening of Energy Week. This paper attempts to take stock of the country’s energy sources, needs and prospects.5 The Energy Department had revealed that the planned recruitment of 3,000 locals in the energy sector in 2014 would most likely exceed expectations; 2,473 jobs...