BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The government plans to inject $1.65 billion into the oil and gas sector this year to spur industry expansion and job creation, the Ministry of Energy, Manpower and Industry (MEMI) said on Thursday. 

Speaking on the tenth day of the Legislative Council, MEMI minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mat Suny Hj Md Hussein said expansion of the energy industry could create 45,000 new jobs by 2024, which would bring unemployment down by three percent from its current level of 9.3 percent. 

The $1.65 billion allocation will be used for exploration and development of new oil and gas fields, and repair of existing production facilities. 

The minister said the investment could boost oil and gas production by 30 percent over the next five years, adding that energy companies are currently developing deepwater oil and gas fields with a depth of up to two kilometres. Five new exploration wells have also been planned for 2019, including two which could help identify new fields.

Through these efforts, the government is targeting a five percent increase in domestic oil production to 121,000 barrels/day for 2019.

Natural gas production stood at 234,400 barrels/day in 2018, while methanol production stood at 7.28 million tonnes.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mat Suny said the Hengyi oil refinery and petrochemical plant at Pulau Muara Besar — slated to begin operations by the end of the year — will also contribute to a more secure supply of petroleum products and boost local employment

Budget thrusts: Tackling unemployment

As part of its budget expenditure for 2019/2020, MEMI said it will focus on reducing unemployment; promoting the industrial sector; ensuring stable oil and gas production; and reducing the impact of fluctuating oil prices on national revenue.

The minister tabled a budget of $178.3 million for the upcoming fiscal year, with $18.9 million going to the Department of Energy, Manpower and Industry; and $159 million towards the Electrical Department.

To tackle unemployment, YB Dato Dr Hj Mat Suny said policies must promote more workforce localisation and ensure the job market is compatible with industry needs.  

On average, a total of 6,500 new jobseekers enter the market every year, more than a third of them graduates. 

MEMI’s i-Ready programme, Capacity Development Centre, and Industrial Competency Framework (ICF), all aim to “re-skill and upskill the local workforce” according to industry requirements, the minister said. 

As of March 16, a total of 2,098 graduates have registered with the i-Ready programme since it was established in April 2017. From this figure, 25 percent, or 524 graduates, were able to secure permanent employment. 

The ministry also introduced the i-Usahawan programme in 2018, an entrepreneurship development initiative aimed at supporting new Bruneian businesses. 

The programme aims to tender out a total of 200 contracts to SMEs in the next three years, providing services to government-linked companies, government agencies and statutory bodies.

This article was updated on March 23, 2019 at 11.23pm.