Sunday, May 30, 2010

The New Guard …..

Today , the announcement a lot of people, if not everyone was waiting for, came.  His Majesty the Sultan dan Yang DiPertuan Negara Brunei Darussalam in his titah this afternoon announced the new Cabinet Ministers line up.  Details of the appointments can be read here.

To the new guard, we say congratulations and welcome and wish them good luck, all the best and all the success. To the old guard we show our appreciation and say thank you very much, we wish them all the best in their future undertakings, good health and happiness.

On a personal note, today’s announcement means some ‘uncertainties’ but exciting time ahead. May be it is the same for others who share the same position. The weeks, in fact months of speculations ended with today’s announcement. Some of the speculations were spot on. Some did not materialise. That’s the nature of speculations. Many uncertified pundits. Everything was analysed. Rumors flying around left, right and centre. Some were outright outrageous. Nevertheless, it added to the ‘suspense’ feeling. In fact we can feel it in the air.

Somehow, it died down a bit when no announcement came last week. Then came lunch time today. SMSes started coming. To quote a friend, it was raining messages (hujan labat!). Everyone searching for radio and TV to confirm what the sms conveyed. The radios and TVs confirmed it but no timing was mentioned. Form then onwards, our ears on high alert glued to the radio.  The old TVs with the ancient antenna, which was seldom switched on, suddenly, became the centre of attention.

Work must go on. Yet the mind and the head were focused on the impending announcement. Two o’clock passes, three o’clock came still no announcement. SMSes and phone calls ‘belatupan’. Even old friends who had not called for a long long time rang up.  Came Asar time, the mind set for the announcement to come around five o’clock just like last time.  Suddenly, at the end of the doa after Asar azan, appeared His Majesty on TV. The rest was history…..

To my boss, congratulations and all the best wishes and success in the new portfolio. We had our sad farewell too. Thank you Dato. You have been great to us. We will always treasure your advice, guidance and most of all your kindness and generosity. You can always count on us as your friends.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

To whom it may concern .....

P.S. Need I say more? ;)

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Brunei came 63rd in the Network Readiness Index (NRI) 2009-2010. But what does it mean?

NRI measures the propensity for countries to exploit the opportunities offered by information and communications technology. Propensity, to those who does not have access to any dictionary, means simply ‘tendency’ or ‘inclination’. It is part of the Global Information Technology Report published by the World Economic Forum and INSEAD, an internationally renowned graduate business school and research institution. The full report can be read here.

The NRI is a composite of three components: the environment for ICT offered by a given country or community, the readiness of the community’s key stakeholders (individuals, businesses, and governments) to use ICT, and finally the usage of ICT amongst these stakeholders. It covers 133 economies from both the developed and developing world accounting for 98% percent of world’s GDP.
Sweden with a score of 5.65 is the Numero Uno, the most networked economy in the world. Our neighbour, Singapore with a score of 5.64 came a close second. Brunei’s score is 3.77. Among the high-income countries, Brunei is ranked 44th out of 46 economies. At least we are better than Kuwait and Trinidad and Tobago. Among the notable countries that are above us are Vietnam, Thailand, Tunisia and India. Just below us is Azerbaijan.
Let’s dig deeper into the report. Assuming being ranked in the top 40 as doing well, the report indicates Brunei has a good ICT infrastructure especially with very strong support from the Government. Our education system is ranked highly especially in the quality of maths and science education. We also have an ICT friendly taxation and legal framework.
Surprise, surprise, we are outside the top 100, infact ranked 127 out of 133 on the time required to start business and ranked 128 in the number of procedures to start a business. Sounds familiar! Remember what was reported in the Ease of Doing Business Index? May be there is a miscommunication on this. As I recalled, in the Ease of Doing Business Index published by the World Bank, we got the very low ranked due to the part left unanswered by the survey respondent.

Other areas where Brunei can improve are the need to have more competition and in the creative and technology exports sector. May be somebody has looked into this. I do hope the incubates at the iCentre can rise to this challenge.

One other area we did not score well is ‘buyer sophistication’. Are they serious? I thought we Bruneians are quite up to date with the technology and we are crazy just about everything ‘the latest’. Look at how fast we change our high tech gadgets, our mobile phones, our laptops, our computers, our TVs and many more. Even the products not launched in other parts of the world will reach us in just few days. How can they say we are not sophisticated? May be our inclination to buy ‘grade A’ copies aka pirated / not original alternatives had a say in this. May be….

In another ranking done by, Brunei is ranked 146 out of 178 countries in terms of download speed. At an average 0.91Mb/s, we are the tortoise compared to the top ranked South Korea at 33.97 Mb/s. In ASEAN, only Cambodia is ranked lower. Singapore is ranked 31st at 8.47 Mb/s. Even Rwanda at 3.74 MB/s and Mozambique at 1.96 Mb/s have faster download speeds. Hopefully the new Brunei International Gateway project through the Asia-America Gateway due to be completed in 2011 will help us move higher up the speed league. May be we can sit next to the Maldives in the top 50 ……

To summarise, as the familiar phrase written in the school kid report books, 'Well done but there is a lot of room for improvement'.

How do you measure success of the awareness campaign on fuel subsidy? It is not easy and results definitely will come overnight. May be the results can be seen in the coming months or years in terms of fuel consumptions. Any significant drop may point towards a more efficient usage of fuel and more people moving towards ‘green’ lifestyle.

But the TV news seemed to think the massive drop in fuel sales, 85% if I heard correctly, meant the campaign was a success. How can that be? Isn’t it obvious people will not buy petrol on that day? Isn’t it obvious people rather wait till the next day to fill up their tanks the day after? It must be obvious that the sales figure would drop massively when price are double or even tripled in the case of diesel. The drop only points to the fact that Brunei population is a ‘savvy’ and knowledgeable group. They are quite aware to the rise and fall of their daily necessities.

Monday, May 24, 2010


 The last week had been eventful. Had some time off. Some interesting items in the news. Some of us were waiting for some big news that never came, for now.

One news that made headline was the so called destruction of the mangrove area, the habitat of the proboscis monkeys aka Bangkatan. One side claiming we are destroying the Bangka tan’s habitat. Another claiming we have done everything we can not to disturb the Bangka tans. Who is right?

My guess is, nobody is 100% right. Both have sound arguments. One looks after forest and its habitat. Bangkatan is an endangered species. Apparently they can only survive in Borneo and not many of them left. Being rare, and their habitat in Brunei is accessible within a short boat ride, it became a tourist attraction. No wonder the tourism people cry foul when they heard of the clearing of the mangrove area.
On another side are the people trying to alleviate flooding. I am not going to bore everyone with the technical details. Suffice to say they need to widen and deepen the existing river. They did their environmental impact studies and proposed mitigation actions that have minimum impact on the mangrove vegetations and the habitat of the Bangkatans. In short, leaving their habitat on Pulau Luba untouched. The few Bangkatans that ‘migrated’ across the river now must move back to the island.

So the choice goes down to either helping thousands of people in the flood prone area or the few Bangkatans? It is not an easy decision but an obvious one. Choices had to be made. That’s a fact of life.

Talking about choices, another recent headline was the introduction of new regulations on the type of number plates for cars. I may have missed it but I did not hear any explanation on the need to change. Please correct me if I am wrong.  Everyone must change before the end of the year.

Apparently, at the moment only two companies are licensed to produce the new number plates. Lucky them. In the next few months it will be a windfall to them. At $38 per car and with around 180,000 active vehicles in the country, that works out to be almost $7million within 7 months. Cool $1million per month. That’s not including the new cars, around 20,000 annually. I wonder how much is the investment to set up  the number plate business.

Today is Energy Day in Brunei. SOS is the mantra. Switch Off unused lights and water heaters. Set the air conditioner to 24C. Hopefully, we do this not just today but everyday. Make it a habit.  We can make the choice and start saving energy and other green initiatives.

We will also be paying the commercial rate for our petrol today. Double the normal rate. Overheard some complaints already. Nobody likes any price increase. It’s human nature to want everything on the cheap or free whenever possible. Long queues seen at some petrol stations yesterday. Imagine if the increase is for a longer period. May be next year we can try this out for a week especially during long weekends.  Wonder if the queues at the border crossings will be as long.

Hopefully, out of this, our people appreciate better our energy and the subsidy we are getting. Around $200 millions of subsidy annually. We are a lucky lot indeed. But the more important thing is for us to start living responsibly. Realising our resources is limited and scarce. By doing this, we may just secure the future of our future generations.

Sadly, subsidy if not appreciated, admittedly, in most cases will make us ‘misbehave’ and ‘irresponsible’.  

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

We are lucky .....

A few days ago, a big group of us together with the bosses went on a road trip to Ulu Belait and Tutong. Checking progress of a few projects. Kargu, Bang Taong, Buau, Sukang, Biadong and Merangking are among the stops. Longhouses were visited too.

At one of the longhouses, got talking to an old man. About life in the ulu. They seemed to be contented with the life, peaceful life. In the conversation, what struck me most was what the kids went through to get their education. At least two hours walk just to reach the school! The roads were only accessible on a four wheel drive cars. Five in the morning, still in darkness, surrounded by thick greens, they are ready for their two hours daily trek to school. Five in the morning in bandar, most of the kids are still in the dreamland, blanketed, in their air conditioned rooms.

Two hours to school, another two hours heading home. Four hours total. By the time they reached home these kids must be tired yet they endure this daily. That’s the spirit, RASA KAN BELAJAR. For kids in bandar, if can, they want the cars to send them up to the class room doors! Even people live near the school send their kids by car.

May be we need to change this. Need to make the kids feel a bit of hardship. May be the will appreciate how lucky they are. May be they will not take things for granted.

On a flight to the Lion City, listening to old songs, feeling melancholic, savouring my rare time off from work. Almost halfway on the flight, with almost empty stomach, saw the stewardess smiling pulling the food cart. In my head, here comes the best part of the flight. Food! I love airline food despite being less tasty lately. As the cart approaches, the heart beats eager to know what’s on the menu. Longing for the days where they gave out the menu at the beginning o the flight. To us who flies on 'kelas kambing' we no longer have the privilege. We can only intu-intu and subok subok to those in the Business Class who knows in advance what they will be having. Back to food cart. It now stood next to my seat. The lady serving the guys in front of me. Then it moved slowly to the back. May be she was going to the back to get some food so I thought. Minutes passed by yet not food in my view except those of the passengers nearby. Finally saw the cart approaching but sadly it passed by me right to the front serving drinks to others. I sense something not right. I felt annoyed a bit. How could they keep me waiting for my food, my highlight of the flight. Losing my patience but still cool, pressed the call assistant button. A guy came politely attending to my call. Food, where was my food, I asked. Surprise surprise, the lady missed me! I must have gotten the invisible effect I read in the Invisible Man story. It is not as if I am off small built. She apologised albeit belatedly. Me more disappointed than angry. Appetite spoiled. Food not even half eaten. A couple of her colleagues apologised for the mistake. Apologies accepted but my highlight was robbed. Contemplated to make an official complaint. On second thought I better not. I may end up labelled a spoiled adult behaving like a kid who lost his sweets. May be I am ...