BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – His Majesty issued a stern warning to development officials on Monday, saying “corruption is a bridge to hell” after he questioned the lax oversight on several public infrastructure projects.

Looking at the ministry’s involvement in various infrastructure — from building roads, housing, water management, land management and regulation of the construction industry — there is opportunity for crime or misconduct, the monarch said. 

He cast scrutiny on four national housing projects that had been abandoned, left vacant, or deemed structurally unsafe — all within a few years since construction began.

His Majesty first referenced the H40 apartment building in Lambak Kanan, which contains 300 apartment units as part of the country’s first vertical housing scheme. Despite the apartment complex being completed in February 2018, it still remains vacant to this day.

The second project is the abandoned terrace houses in the Rimba National Housing Scheme (Jalan 99), where construction was halted years ago leaving shells of empty houses overgrown with shrub.

The third was the 1,000 units in the Kg Mengkubau National Housing Scheme that experienced several construction delays leading to permanent to damage to the homes.

“One thousand houses is not a small number, and the construction cost is not cheap. So whose fault is this?,” the sultan queried. 

The units are part of a $388 million project to build 4,000 homes in order to meet rising housing demand. The project is managed by the Brunei Economic Development Board and was contracted out to a Malaysian developer in 2010. 

The sultan added that there were also several houses on Jalan Binglu, which is within the Kg Meragang National Housing Scheme, that were left vacant because they were deemed structurally unsafe.

He said the right contractors and suppliers must be selected for government projects, and officials should not be swayed by foreign developers on the pretext of quality results.

“There are swindlers using cheap materials to rake in more profits… Why did the parties responsible allow cheap materials to be used? And why didn’t they ensure safety before construction on the buildings began?

This is not the first time poor public infrastructure has drawn the ire of the king. In early 2019 the $48 million Rimba Arabic Secondary School was found to have similar issues with structural integrity due to shoddy construction.

His Majesty added: “What is most unfortunate is that if the responsible party in government does not monitor this matter — or that they are aware of attempts to defraud [the government] — they become complicit in these activities, in the hopes of obtaining financial gain.” 

The sultan warned that corruption would weaken the government: “As a nation with religion, we must remember that corruption is the bridge to hell”.

His Majesty is briefed by an officer of the Ministry of Development. Photo: Infofoto

On a separate matter, he said the Ministry of Development needs to take stricter action against people who rent out government-subsidised housing to other tenants.

Under the regulations, government-subsidised housing cannot be sold or rented to others, and no business or food stalls can be operated.

Since the 1980s, the government has provided over 28,000 units of housing through the National Housing Scheme and Landless Indigenous Citizens Housing Scheme.