HM inspecting the guard of honour
Bandar Seri Begawan - Every year since 2004, prominent members of Brunei society meet to deliberate and discuss pressing issues that are of public concern during the Legislative Council (LegCo) meeting.
The LegCo meeting that opens today at the Legislative Council Building, apart from passing the budget for the year 2011-2012, will tackle issues ranging from unemployment, public infrastructure, housing and other pressing issues that have a direct bearing on the citizens.
Since being reinstated in 2004, many key topics have been brought to the table by the people's representatives and though the government has pledged to rectify certain agendas or improve in areas that need attention, a number of recurring topics has continued to emerge during the once-a-year deliberations.
Unemployment, being one of the topics that has always dominated discussions, was one of the issues raised during the first meeting in September 2004.
Though it was noted that the government back then was addressing the problem, a member of the Legislative Council commented that "measures are still ineffective".
For years to come unemployment and the effects that it brings including poverty, remained the focus among members and only in March 2009 did the relevant government ministry announce that a committee was to be formed to identify and tackle the situation.
Though the then relevant minister pointed that Bruneians, especially the under-qualified, are choosy and that their mindsets needed to change, LegCo members continued to air their ideas to help overcome the national concern.
Members had called to provide training and programmes for the unemployed as well as to reduce the required qualifications in some fields. Members also suggested to cut the "red tape" in 2004 that was blamed for the lack of foreign investors in Brunei Darussalam, which, they said, could help alleviate the unemployment issue as private companies would provide job opportunities for the people of Brunei.
The so-called red tape was also one of the faults that were pointed out during sessions whereby members stated that the slow processing of licences, quotas and permits was hampering the development of local Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
The government has taken numerous steps towards assisting SMEs including millions of dollars in financial aid, further reduction in corporate taxes in 2011 despite the money owed to the government and more reduction to encourage the hiring of locals, but members still believed that more could be done.
During last year's meeting, a member suggested for further incentives to be given to private firms including tax rebates if they hire locals and a few other incentives for private companies that hire 50 per cent local staff.
Another issue that continues to fill the agenda among representatives since 2006 was the infrastructure development, or the lack of it, in the four districts and how it has affected the people of Brunei.
Noting that the government has spent large sums of money towards improving Brunei's roads, buildings, bridges and so on, the word "flooding" continued to echo especially among those who represent the rural and distant areas.
Though relevant ministries 'have said that they would "look into the matter" and reassured that plans are in the pipeline, representatives aired the issue and said that the impact on their constituents were of serious concern.
The Tutong District in March 2006 was the first to open the topic of submerged roads followed by many other representatives since then in which they asked for the relevant government department to take care of the situation that has plagued their constituents.
Their arguments included the difficulty of the people to continue with daily life as children had to miss schools and adults having great difficulty to get to work.
Though the government since 2006 has carried out many flood mitigation works, during the 2010 sessions, members still queried as to what else was being done.
After five years of presenting the topic to those concerned, Tutong, symbolically, became the last of the four districts to ask what more was being done to help the people despite the $30 million project that still has not solved their flood woes.
Water retention in paddy fields were also brought up in 2008 whereby members asked for proper drainage systems to ensure that farmers would not have to face the adverse effects of destroyed crops especially during heavy rain.
This scenario, however, took place in 2009 that caused several farmers in Tutong to lose their income and the relevant ministry, since then, has pledged to upgrade the infrastructure in areas to ensure that similar incidences would not be repeated.
The long wait for houses has also taken centre stage during Legislative Council meetings. Representatives from all four districts, at one time or the other have brought up issues pertaining to the slow processes of obtaining houses, which, in some instances, take decades.
In the initial years, the answer to this question would be because of the high number of applicants and the minimal number of housing units that were being built in a year.
Noting that the Brunei population is fast growing, the government has invested a lot of time, money and resource to meet the ever-growing demand for houses and, just last year, the relevant ministry announced that high-rises would be built to accommodate applicants on top of thousands of houses that are being built in all the districts.
With the notable progress that has been made thus far, and the rise of new topics deliberated over the past few years, this year's Legislative Council meeting will perhaps see new grounds covered and more pledges to help Brunei's people.
The Singapore High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam, Mr Joseph K H Koh, said, "The Legislative Council plays an important role in the Brunei System.
It is one of the bridges between the rakyat and the government. It serves as a conduit through which matters that concern the people are voiced.
"It also provides an equally important platform for the government to listen to inputs and suggestions from the ground, and to explain government policies.
These are the ingredients that make the LegCo tick."
Mr Koh, who is also currently the Dean of Diplomatic Corps, added, "We should not see the LegCo as a single event but a process."
The British High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam, Mr Rob Fenn, said members of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (UK branch) came to Brunei three years ago and members of Brunei's Legislative Council went to the United Kingdom, with the latest visit in 2009, to take part in a CPA seminar that discussed the various forms of governance within the Commonwealth.
In 2010, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association visited Brunei as a guest of the Legislative Council and said, "As a country whose own institutions have developed gradually, and continue to evolve, the UK has benefited from international exchanges of best practices.
"So, we stand ready to work with LegCo in its own development and evolution." (Borneo Bulletin)
You always know this (band) is my favourite part!
Upon arrival HM was greeted by LegCo's Speaker
HRH The Crown Prince upon arrival
Members of the Cabinet Ministers
HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah upon arrival
The LegCo Appointed members
HRH Prince Haji Sufri Bolkiah
State's Radio broadcasters for live commentary. I would say the space given is quite comfortable and very strategic. Easy access too.
I came so early, very very quite.
The only opportunity for me to take a snap
Both the Commander & Commisioner looking at their swords, it never be the same design.
The Secret Service at work *cool*
Guess what? It ain't ordinary shuttle service, we were onboard black Mercedes BG11**.