BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — Brunei residents can expect the installation of new smart electricity and water meters to start sometime this year, Development Minister YB Dato Seri Setia Hj Suhaimi Hj Gafar said at the Legislative Council on Tuesday.

The government will also set new water tariffs as part of the prepaid utility meter installation to cut the wastage of resources and address arrears on utility bills.

Consumers paid 11 cents per cubic metre for water – a subsidised rate of 88 percent, according to a 2018 news report.

A pilot project on the smart utility meters was conducted last year after the government first announced its plan to introduce the prepaid system in 2018.

Telco DST had been tasked to install the meters in about 200,000 households over the next five years.

The new meters will replace the existing prepaid electricity meters introduced in 2012.

In his budget readout, YB Dato Hj Suhaimi said increasing public awareness has led to a drop in domestic water consumption from an average of 420 litres per person a day in 2018 to 380 litres per person a day.

However, Brunei still has the highest water consumption in the region, double than the rate in Singapore and Malaysia.

The minister said his ministry will undertake a number of initiatives to improve water supply, including conducting a study on non-revenue water to address losses from leaking and broken water pipes.

The development ministry proposed a budget of $222.12 million for the 2021/2022 fiscal year, an uptick from the previous financial year.

A total of $211.4 million has been also been allocated for 11th National Development Plan projects.

Under its development budget, the minister said $58 million has been earmarked for eight projects that will ensure water sustainability.

Another $24.8 million has been set aside for water supply management as part of the ministry’s recurring expenditure.

The minister said improving water security requires “high financial investment” and that the country needs to change the way water is managed at homes, offices and other facilities.

A “Level 8” water treatment plant will be built in Tutong’s Bukit Barun, which can process 120 million litres per day.

The Agis-Agis water treatment plant in Kuala Belait will also be upgraded to produce 36 million litres of water a day, he added.

Addressing the issue of yellow tap water in some areas, the minister said “high organic content” during the rainy season resulted in discoloured water.

He said the cleaning of reservoirs and replacement of water pipes are underway to improve the quality of water supply.

The smart electricity and water meters will be rolled out to households in Brunei in 2021. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Development ministry to grant Lambak Kanan apartments soon

The 300 units of H40 apartments in Lambak Kanan will soon be offered to eligible applicants, the minister said.

As the first vertical public housing programme in Brunei, the apartments have remained vacant since it was completed in 2018.

A total of $65 million has been allocated for National Housing Scheme projects for the 2021/2022 fiscal year.

The proposed budget will fund the construction of 1,750 houses in Kg Lugu and Kg Tanah Jambu.

Vacant and abandoned houses in RPN Kampung Rimba and Kampung Bukit Beruang are being repaired for the next batch of housing applicants, YB Dato Hj Suhaimi said.

He added that the ministry is working with government-linked company P Cube to provide public housing through public-private partnerships.

More plots of state land available for leasing

The government has identified more sites that allow domestic and foreign investors to lease land.

YB Dato Hj Suhaimi said one of the initiatives currently being studied is Government Land Lease (GLL), which involves an open bidding process to lease state-owned land.

“A task force has been proposed to look into this matter, involving relevant agencies to examine the assessment process, mechanism of land release that can contribute to the increase in GDP,” he said.

The minister added that land use policies and regulations will be updated to facilitate a conducive business environment through the National Land Use Planning Council.

Gov’t mulls mandatory residential trash collection

The development ministry is studying the possibility of making it mandatory for all households to sign up for residential waste collection services.

Only 30 percent of households have subscribed to waste pickup services, the minister said.

“This step is in line with the ministry’s strategy to shift from the use of landfills to incinerators for waste disposal in the future,” he continued.

The government spent $8.4 million last year to manage the country’s waste disposal and sanitation issues. 

Plans to spruce up abandoned buildings

Speaking on old government buildings that appeared to be abandoned, YB Dato Hj Suhaimi said there are more than 5,580 government buildings registered with the Public Works Department.

A total of 3,270 buildings or 58.59 percent were constructed over the past 30 years, with  most of the derelict buildings made up of barracks and flats.

“Most of these buildings are located in prime areas that have the potential to be redeveloped, said the minister.

The ministry will assess whether the vacant and derelict buildings can be repaired and reused for government agencies and non-government organisations, or demolished and redeveloped.

“All these options will be examined in more detail because it involves not only changes in existing policies and regulations, but also the involvement of various parties and government agencies and requires a high amount of expenditure,” he added.

YB Dato Hj Suhaimi further said the Manpower Industry Steering Committee has identified 11 jobs for Bruneians in the construction sector.

Data from the Manpower Planning and Employment Council (MPEC) showed that 83 percent of the 32,000 workers employed in the construction sector are foreign nationals.

“This shows that there are vast employment opportunities in the construction sector, but most of the jobs are labour-intensive, which Bruneians may find difficult to pursue,” said the minister.