Social Policy and Domestic Affairs

Southeast Asian Affairs, January 1, 1998 | Go to article overview

Social Policy and Domestic Affairs


Economic goals cannot be pursued in isolation as they have important and direct implications for the broader well-being of the population. The official launching of the Seventh National Development Plan in March this year highlighted the Brunei Government's important role both as a facilitator and an active participant in the socio-political and economic development of the nation. The thrust of all government plans has always been the improvement of the well-being of the people, the subjects of His Majesty the Sultan. The emphasis on social development in Brunei Darussalam has always been that it must proceed in tandem with the Islamic code of conduct. The official ideology Malay, Islamic, Monarchy (that is, Melay u, Isla m, Beraja , or MIB) is central to Bruneian beliefs, and the government in promoting social development in the country has always made devoted reference to this ideology.

Transparency and accountability in the civil service is of fundamental interest to the society as a whole. In this respect, the local print media --- the government weekly Pelita Brune i, the privately owned Media Permata (weekly), and Borneo Bulletin (daily) --- have been instrumental not only in disseminating social and other policies, but also as a public channel for expressing concern about inefficiency and inconsistency in the civil service and government policies. The government has been open-minded and responded positively to these grievances. In line with this development, a new ruling has been implemented which requires journalists in Brunei Darussalam to register with the Prime Minister's Office. The move has been initiated to encourage ethical and responsible journalism in the country. Similarly, to enable government policies to be better understood, the Prime Minister's Office formed a national committee on public relations, comprising heads of public relations officials from various departments.8

Throughout 1997 relentless efforts were carried out to maintain civil service efficiency. To ensure bureaucratic renewal the government of His Majesty appointed five senior officials as new permanent secretaries in October. The ministries of Home Affairs, Education, Culture, Youth, and Sports now have two permanent secretaries.

The monarch's keen interest in the running of the government was demonstrated by the unscheduled visits he made to key ministries. The first, in March, was for a closer look at the Ministry of Communications, to review progress in transportation and communication. His visit was related to the vision of making Brunei Darussalam a service hub for trade and tourism by the year 2003 (see below). In April the nation's safety and security were the focus of the ruler's attention as he visited the Home Affairs Ministry. His Majesty's main concern was the influx of illegal immigrants, in addition to the already large presence of legal foreign workers. He emphasized the need to monitor the employment of foreign workers while at the same time taking precautions against immigration and labour law infringements.

In May a royal visit was made to the Ministry of Development, during which His Majesty reminded staff about efficiency with regard to the processing of land titles, and cost-effectiveness and prudence in road construction, and other developmental projects. He emphasized the well-being of the nation, which among other things requires the provision of better amenities in the form of improved roads, electricity, water, housing, and other basic needs.

In some societies, women have occasionally been the victims of unfair treatment both in the work-place and at home. In Brunei Darussalam this has not generally been the case because the government of His Majesty has long recognized the important role women play in developing the nation. Included in the October appointments of new permanent secretaries were two senior female officials from the Ministry of Education. This development shows that there is no gender discrimination in Brunei Darussalam, and it accepts women as partners in administering the nation. …

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