Interview: His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah

How will the Energy White Paper help Brunei Darussalam open the next chapter on this key sector?

HIS MAJESTY SULTAN HAJI HASSANAL BOLKIAH: Wawasan Brunei 2035, also known as Brunei Vision 2035, seeks to see Brunei Darussalam recognised everywhere for the accomplishments of its well-educated and highly skilled people, the quality of life, and the dynamic, sustainable economy.

Having the right strategy and long-term plans for the various activities in the oil and gas sector, the nation’s main source of revenue, are crucial in attaining the key targets envisaged by Wawasan Brunei 2035. This is where the Energy White Paper plays a very important role. It helps us by identifying the key performance indicators and charting the route we should take in many important areas, including hydrocarbons exploration and development, attracting foreign direct investment, setting up downstream industries, human resource development, employment of locals, and developing strong and truly Bruneian businesses.

The Energy White Paper not only aims to help us realise the full potential of the oil and gas sector in Brunei Darussalam, but it also helps in other areas including the use of renewable energy, and promoting and instilling a day-to-day culture that places priority and importance on energy efficiency and conservation.

What is being done to encourage more efficient energy use in Brunei Darussalam?

HIS MAJESTY: Brunei Darussalam has been blessed with an abundance of natural resources, which allows us to meet all of our domestic energy needs. It is important that this self-sufficiency be prolonged as much as possible in order to ensure that we continue to enjoy stability in terms of energy security and maintain an environment conducive to continuous economic development. Prudent use of our energy resources is therefore my government’s priority, driven by, among other things, our national aspiration to reduce energy consumption by 45% by 2035. Education, introduction of fiscal and regulatory frameworks, and adoption of the right technologies and best practices suited to Brunei Darussalam are some of the very important measures being undertaken to ensure that our energy resources are prudently utilised. Allow me to touch briefly on some of these measures.

On the fiscal side, my government introduced a new electricity tariff in 2012 that rewards prudent use of power whilst discouraging wastefulness. Furthermore, the replacement of post-paid residential power meters with pre-paid ones has helped users monitor their actual consumption and therefore encourages a culture of energy saving. The combination of these two measures has resulted in significant reductions in the nation’s annual electricity usage in 2012 and 2013.

In education, we are targeting all users, including the younger generations. Efforts include the creation of “energy clubs” at schools and colleges to promote energy conservation amongst students. We will soon be implementing energy standards and labelling for home appliances that let the public understand and compare the energy consumption for a product. We also plan to introduce energy efficiency and conservation guidelines for non-residential buildings to ensure that energy saving is regulated at the design stage.

In the area of technology, we have successfully overhauled and upgraded our old gas-fired power plants to make them more efficient. Newer plants were built, adopting the more efficient co-generation and combined-cycle technologies. The Tenaga Suria Brunei (TSB) photovoltaic (PV) power plant, commissioned in 2010, is our first foray into the use of renewables as an additional source of energy. With an installed capacity of only 1.2 MW, TSB is indeed small, but it is an important step in the development of renewable energy sources in the country. In line with this effort, my government is currently in the process of developing a feed-in tariff mechanism, which may prove to be a lucrative investment opportunity for residents and potential investors who are interested in renewable energy development in the country, particularly for solar PV technology.

How can Brunei Darussalam leverage its strong economic position within the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA)?

HIS MAJESTY: In 2014, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of BIMP-EAGA cooperation and recognise the many achievements toward realising our shared vision for sustainable economic development through increasing trade, investment and tourism. These factors are driven by our four strategic pillars: connectivity, food basket, tourism and environment.

In implementing these strategies, we emphasise the importance of enhancing connectivity with our immediate neighbours. Brunei Darussalam can potentially develop into one of the sub-regional hubs, thus encouraging our people to do business with one another. This is why we continue to capitalise on each other’s strengths, as stepping-stones to building a larger regional market. All these moves complement ASEAN’s efforts to realise its goal for an integrated economic region through the formation of a single market and production base under the ASEAN Economic Community.

What are the government’s main priorities with respect to private sector employment and contribution to the economy?

HIS MAJESTY: The government of Brunei Darussalam has launched several initiatives with respect to boosting private sector employment and increasing the sector’s contribution to the economy. The Department of Labour (DoL) – which carries out its role under the guidance and direction of the Ministry of Home Affairs – is tasked with several important functions, including: 1) the issuance of licences for the recruitment of foreign workers; 2) enforcement of relevant labour laws and regulations; and 3) monitoring and ensuring adherence to the Workplace Safety and Health Order 2009.

Currently, one of the main priority drives for the DoL is the promotion of local employment. This is being done by reducing the economy’s dependence on migrant recruitment. The DoL is pursuing this initiative through a campaign of controlled labour licence reviews for companies, as well as identifying positions that are potentially suitable for locals. This new effort to manage foreign worker recruitment licences aims to assist businesses in determining their ideal number of local workers – without having a shortage or surplus. Furthermore, the DoL plays an instrumental role in prioritising specific positions for citizens.

Besides its operational role, the DoL is also responsible for the protection of employees. Workers are protected by legislation, specifically the Employment Order 2009, and enforcement. Additionally, the Employment Agencies Order 2004 protects employers’ interests by regulating the activities of employment agencies through the issuance of licences. This order also protects employees from being forced to conduct illegal or immoral activities that they themselves may not be aware of. Finally, the Workplace Safety and Health Order 2009, which commenced on August 1, 2013, aims to control or eliminate risk in the workplace.

Another initiative to promote private sector employment is through the Local Employment and Workforce Development Agency, which is under the Ministry of Home Affairs. This organisation was established in 2010 to serve as a national employment centre. The agency provides registration for jobseekers looking for private sector employment; upskilling of workers to meet the requirements of the private sector through training and work schemes; lifelong career guidance; and protection for workers’ welfare and rights.

The government has introduced another process known as the training and employment scheme. This aims to encourage employment and productivity in the private sector with incentives such as wage subsidies during on-the-job training and motivational allowances of up to BN$2500 ($1960) for retaining employees.

These are some of the steps being taken to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign workers, and also to help promote local businesses’ role in the economy.