BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN- The Ministry of Defence has proposed a budget of $589 million for the 2019/2020 fiscal year, with a focus on promoting defence diplomacy and improving operational capabilities.

The amount is a $35 million, or six percent, increase from last year. However, there was no breakdown given on specific allocations under the proposed budget.

Speaking on the third day of the Legislative Council meeting, Second Minister of Defence, YB Pehin Datu Lailaraja Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Hj Halbi Hj Mohammad Yussof, highlighted the need to update the Defence White Paper 2011 in light of Brunei’s changing strategic environment.

Defence strategies need to be continuously re-evaluated and updated in line with national development strategies, the minister said. 

He noted how the country’s strategic environment has changed dramatically as a result of rapid development, including the building of new infrastructure in Muara Town; Pulau Muara Besar; and the construction of the Temburong Bridge.

These developments will necessitate changes to military operations and the procurement of new equipment and weapons, YB Pehin Dato Hj Halbi said, setting the year 2021 as the deadline to realise these updates, in time for RBAF’s 60th anniversary.

During the budget readout, he outlined the ministry’s core thrusts: enhancing deterrence and response capabilities; promoting defence diplomacy; and creating a holistic approach to defence. 

The minister said the Royal Brunei Armed Forces must be responsive and adaptable. Existing infrastructure must be maintained, while new equipment and technology will be acquired to close any gaps in capability.

Supporting Brunei’s foreign policy

YB Pehin Dato Hj Halbi said promoting defence diplomacy by increasing  bilateral and multilateral engagements would support Brunei’s foreign policy.

The sultanate’s international defence interactions have covered more than 60 countries, with the ministry signing agreements with strategic partners from 18 nations.

The Ministry of Defence will also support capacity-building with friendly nations, and any Brunei-led initiatives in the international arena, the minister said.

“Enhancing understanding, confidence, transparency and openness will create mutual trust and respect among the parties involved.” 

He said that Brunei will maintain its active involvement under the ASEAN, ADMM and the ADMM-Plus framework.”

This includes participation in training organised by ADMM-Plus Experts’ Working Group, which includes humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, maritime security, military medicine, counter-terrorism, peacekeeping operations and cybersecurity.

Multi-agency approach

YB Pehin Dato Hj Halbi also stressed the importance of coordination between national agencies to provide a holistic approach to defence.

The defence ministry is part of the National Security Committee, which formulates national security strategies and multi-agency operations.

He added that the military can provide specialised expertise and asset capabilities to national operations, such as bomb disposal, search and rescue, humanitarian assistance, anti-piracy, and medical evacuation.

According to the latest data, the Royal Brunei Armed Forces comprises 89 percent youth aged 18 to 40. 

The minister said the armed forces continues to provide job opportunities for young people through its recruitment programme. The RBAF takes in 960 male recruits and 60 female recruits each year.