BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Even though Brunei’s economy is expected to see a modest recovery in 2018 — after four years of negative growth — His Majesty the Sultan on Sunday called on the government to develop growth sectors with more urgency.

In a televised national address to mark his 72nd birthday, the monarch said even though GDP is forecasted to grow in the short and medium term, there is no room for complacency.

“It is not wise to be dependent entirely on oil and gas, the economy is capable of more diverse growth,” he said before thousands of guests at Istana Nurul Iman.

Brunei’s economy is expected to see  modest growth of 1.3 percent this year, on the back recovering oil prices. The sultanate’s economy is still heavily reliant on the energy sector, with 75% of Brunei’s total revenue coming from oil and gas.

In his annual birthday titah, His Majesty outlined several policy thrusts he urged his cabinet pursue, with agriculture and entrepreneurship at the top of the list.

Agri development requires more urgency 

His Majesty said for a country with abundant rain and plenty of undeveloped land, it is no longer practical to continue to import staple foods without striving for food self-sufficiency.

He urged relevant agencies to “not delay in fulfilling this obligation”, saying that agriculture played a major role in “civilisation-building”.

Statistics from the Department of Agriculture and Agrifood showed that the country’s self-sufficiency in rice stood at just 4.58 per cent in 2016. However, the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT) said it aims to hit at least 20 per cent self-sufficiency by 2020.

Empowering SMEs to spur economic growth

The monarch said improving ease of doing business — as well as building the capacity of micro, small and medium enterprises — was crucial for the future of the economy.

Basic programmes in record keeping, accounting and business planning are already being offered for free by several government agencies.

His Majesty said the government is also reviewing the need to upgrade the country’s telecommunications infrastructure, with the aim of facilitating business and increasing productivity.

‘Make Islamic history compulsory in schools’

In his titah, the sultan also called on relevant ministries to make ‘History of Islam’ a core subject at all public and private schools.

“Education is the nerve of life, whose function is to shape mankind… Our education should not be devoid of religion, it must be its axis.”

In an interview with The Scoop, Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office, Dato Seri Setia Hj Abdul Mokti Hj Mohd Daud, said while the Islamic history syllabus taught in religious schools is adequate, an expansion of the subject would include other aspects such as economy and development.

Be green, curb pollution

His Majesty stressed that the need for Brunei to be an environmentally-friendly country goes beyond maintaining cleanliness, but must also tackle the negative impact of pollution.

“Brunei should be clean, this is the foundation of our shared pride,” he said. “Pollution causes disease, and that includes pollution caused by smoking which contains harmful chemicals.”

‘We will continue to pursue multilateralism’

Closing his speech, the monarch said Brunei would exercise a policy of friendship and mutual respect towards other nations. He also highlighted the importance of mulitateralism, saying the sultanate will continue to strengthen its participation in regional and international organisations.