BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The Ministry of Finance and Economy (MoFE) on Thursday said that the proposed fees for land border crossings will be implemented with “full force” on October 1.

The new regulations were supposed to come into effect on August 1, but was postponed to allow further discussions with the Malaysian government, second MoFE minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah said.

“We deferred it for two months so we can discuss the matter further with our neighbours. So we hope to be able to sort it out within this month, and we will start implementing it with full force come October 1,” the minister told reporters during a COVID-19 press briefing.

Under the new law, a BND$3 entry and exit fee will be imposed on travellers at land border checkpoints, meaning a return trip across the border will cost BND$6 per person.

The government of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, which borders the sultanate, sent a letter to their Bruneian counterparts last July, expressing concern that the new fees would adversely impact Malaysians from Miri, Limbang and Lawas.

There is currently no road in Sarawak that connects Miri, the state’s second largest city, directly with Limbang or Lawas, forcing commuters to pass through Brunei.

A return trip from Miri to Limbang would potentially cost BND$12 (RM36) per person — since travellers have to go through two border checkpoints — with daily commuters lamenting that the fees would be “exorbitant”.

When asked if the new fees would cause a drop in the number of Sarawakian tourists to Brunei, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah said it is still uncertain when borders will fully reopen, although the government has relaxed some restrictions and is allowing foreign nationals into the country for business and essential travel.

He added that the closure of borders during the COVID-19 pandemic prompted an uptick in domestic tourism and spending — although no figures were immediately available — since Bruneians could not travel abroad.

Brunei is a lucrative tourism market for Malaysia with the latter reporting $1.16 billion in tourism receipts from Bruneians in 2019.

The new $3 exit-entry fee will apply to all land border arrivals and departing passengers, except occupants of government-owned vehicles that are used for official purposes, emergency vehicles, hearses or vehicles used for funerals.

Diplomats, consular officers, children aged two and below as well as civil servants who are on official duties will also be exempted from the levy.

MoFE previously said the new charges were meant to standardise payments imposed on anyone leaving or entering Brunei.