Brunei Darussalam: Increasing connectivity

As the Sultanate forges ahead with plans to improve air and road transport links with its neighbours as part of plans for regional growth, officials say the Sultanate’s domestic network is in equal need of attention.

At a Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines/East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) meeting on transport, infrastructure, and information and communications technology (ICT) development held in the Sultanate in late June, transport officials from the region finalised an agreement on extended air links and discussed how to further improve air, sea and land connectivity in the region.

Key steps discussed under the memorandum of understanding (MoU) are designating additional air entry points outside the EAGA borders, establishing incentives for airline operators who wish to operate EAGA routes, and strengthening the recently proposed Davao-Manado-Kota Kinabalu route, which will be pioneered by MASwings, a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines.

The BIMP-EAGA project is taking shape as ASEAN pushes ahead with the target of becoming a free trade area by 2015. Located at the centre of the 10-member grouping, Brunei Darussalam aims to become its transport and logistics hub.

However, the recent focus on regional transport links was accompanied by remarks from Mohammad Yusof, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Communications (MoC), who told local media that a more holistic approach needed to be taken to develop land transport.

Noting that 15,000 vehicles are registered in the Sultanate every year, Yusof highlighted Brunei Darussalam’s dependence on private vehicles and increasing traffic congestion, and called for better road safety and integration between transportation and land-use planning.

To this end, a Land Transport Master Plan is being developed that will streamline cooperation between ministries and shake-up the institutional set-up to speed up developments, according to Yusof, who said the master plan will examine examples of how other countries manage transport development with the aim of streamlining the process.

“If you want to build a bus stop or a bridge [today], it is not an MoC or Land Transport Department (job) per se. It takes up two or three other ministries … Some of these components come under a single jurisdiction or perhaps under a single authority,” Yusof told The Brunei Times on June 17.

A 12-month study undertaken by the Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies (CSPS), a government-funded policy and research organisation, is being conducted as part of the process in mapping out the master plan. The study aims to identify easy and quick mobility options within cities, between cities and across borders, the CSPS has said, while also focusing on sustainable transport options such as bicycle lanes and pedestrian-friendly roads.

The study’s emphasis on improving connectivity across borders gels with a series of major projects and initiatives the Sultanate has underway with that aim. A 2.5-km dual carriageway is under construction in Jalan Jerudong, while a toll-free bridge – the Friendship Bridge – spanning the Pandaruan River will link the districts of Brunei-Muara, Tutong and Belait to the Temburong border with Malaysia. The project is expected to be complete by August 2013.

There has also been a focus on improving air links. A major expansion planned for Brunei International Airport (BIA) is expected to be completed by November 2014, and a second international airport being is currently being mulled for the Tutong district.

The three-year BIA project will see the construction of a new terminal, car park, a more efficient baggage handling system and conveyor belt, a new check-in facility and a new arrival corridor and flight transfer area.

However, industry players say the country cannot focus on air travel alone if it aims to emerge as a centre of regional trade.

“If we want to move our cargo from areas within BIMP-EAGA, we cannot rely on air linkages as there is not enough load. So this is a major issue. Transportation advancement is a major factor in determining the success of the region,” said Ismail Damit, the interim chairman of the BIMP-EAGA Business Council (BEBC).

While the focus on the BIMP-EAGA is important for the Sultanate’s development as a regional centre, the development of domestic transport will need to proceed at the same pace so investors and tourists can traverse the Sultanate in safety and comfort.

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