BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The newly established Manpower Planning and Employment Council (MPEC) has been tasked to ensure Brunei’s graduates remain competitive amid high unemployment in the country.

In his titah broadcasted on Radio Televisyen Brunei to mark the new year, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah said the council – under the purview of Prime Minister’s Office – will manage unemployment issues in an “efficient, effective and transparent manner”.

Brunei’s unemployment rate stood at 8.7 percent in 2018, down from 9.3 percent in the previous year, according to statistics from the Department of Economic Planning and Development.

The sultan said cooperation between government agencies and the private sector is essential to reduce unemployment.

This includes fostering partnerships with the industry players and education institutions to ensure local graduates are employable.

“We want jobs in the industry or the private sector to be filled without [jobseekers] being too picky or fussy. And if they venture into entrepreneurship, they should not just establish a company and let foreigners run it,” he said.

In March last year, Education Minister YB Dato Paduka Hj Hamzah Hj Sulaiman said a Manpower Planning Council had set up a labour management information system aimed at tracking and reducing graduate unemployment.

The council was established in 2016 to reduce unemployment and channel human resources into growth industries. The system would be able to provide data on job demand in various industries.

His Majesty said Brunei has not left behind in digital era development, where technologies such as edge, cloud, artificial intelligence and extended reality will drive the transformation of the digital industry.

He added that Brunei continues to defend and strengthen its economy, including challenges resulting from external factors. Political stability also needs to be highlighted to attract foreign direct investments.

“In our efforts to improve the economy, especially in food security, my government through a joint venture with Darussalam Assets and the relevant ministry has commenced the commercial rice planting of the Sembada variety covering 500 hectares in Belait.

“We hope that this will also be followed by the cultivation of fruits to at least meet our own needs and it can serve as an export commodity for Brunei in the long run,” he added.

The monarch said the country is also exploring the “Blue Economy”, defined by the World Bank as the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth.

“Brunei has marine resources that are still unexplored to its optimal level. It is also an opportunity to boost economic growth and provide jobs to locals,” he added.

He also urged relevant stakeholders to seek opportunities to provide long-term green energy programmes or initiatives to preserve and protect the environment.

At the same time, he also called for the involvement of the public, students, the private sector and NGOs to work with government agencies to address the causes of environmental degradation.

Touching on the government’s Monthly Welfare Assistance Programme, the sultan said opportunities will be given to those who are able-bodied and able-to-work, providing them with entrepreneurial guidance and aid if they wish to start their own business.

His Majesty said this is intended to change the local mindset from solely relying on government aid to self-reliance.

In the international arena, His Majesty said Brunei will continue to foster and deepen relations and cooperation with ASEAN member states and partners.

“We must take advantage of opportunities to achieve stability and development in economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields. Brunei will host ASEAN in 2021,” he said.

The sultan also congratulated Bruneian athletes’ for their achievements at the recent 30th Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines.

“The success we have achieved can be seen a benchmark that our athletes’ performance has improved compared to our first participation in 1977,” he added.

Brunei brought home two gold, five silver and six bronze medals from the SEA Games, the sultanate’s best performance since the 1999 SEA Games, when Brunei was the host country.