BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei their telecommunications provider, Unified National Networks (UNN), has come under scrutiny for alleged corruption and mismanagement after the sultan made an unscheduled visit to the telco on Thursday.
During his visit, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah revealed that in early 2022, UNN was being investigated by the Anti-Corruption Bureau, but that the probe “went nowhere” after key persons of interest left the country.
An audit of UNN and other telcos was ordered in July 2022, but the chairman of Darussalam Assets, UNN’s parent company, instructed the government’s Audit Department not to go ahead.
“The action of the chairman to prevent the Audit Department from conducting this audit shocked many parties, and at the same time raised suspicions that the chairman was trying to cover up all the problems of companies under DA,” His Majesty said.
UNN, a government-linked company owned by Darussalam Assets, was formed in December 2018 to consolidate the network infrastructure of Brunei’s three telcos (DST, Progresif and TelBru) under a single company.
The sultan added that Darussalam Assets’s former chief financial officer had left Brunei, triggering speculation the individual was trying to avoid scrutiny from the authorities.
Another key consultant to UNN, who was not named, had also left Brunei suddenly, His Majesty said, bolstering speculation that he was “desperate to end his service for fear of being investigated”.
The sultan said this became a recurring theme at UNN — highly-paid foreign executives wanting to leave before their contract was up — prompting suspicions of mismanagement within the company.
“Why do they want to leave early when the services offered by UNN are still a mess? They should not leave early but work harder to build UNN to become more successful and prominent, not leaving it in a grim and problematic state,” he said.
“The decision to resign while UNN was still plagued with problems justifies our conclusion that they failed to carry out their duties — or that they chose to leave early to avoid being exposed of possible wrongdoings.”
UNN leadership ‘monopolised by foreigners’
The monarch also questioned UNN’s plans to localise its management after complaints were made that executive positions were “monopolised by foreigners”.
“Five out of the seven highest positions [at UNN] are held by foreigners.
“This has led to various accusations from local employees against Darussalam Assets, suggesting that government officials prefer to hire foreigners and pay them higher salaries than locals, even though the positions held are the same,” His Majesty said.
“In this matter, I will not immediately side with any party, but I am inclined to discover the truth without being clouded by any attempt to hide it.”
He said while foreign executives are hired for their expertise and experience, it does not mean their work is “superior and correct”.
The sultan then went on to inquire over the fate of over 500 locals who were made redundant after the consolidation of the three telcos.
Hundreds of workers were given the option to find alternative employment or join a special scheme run by Darussalam Assets that aims to reskill the telco employees for other jobs.
“When this happened, vacant positions were offered to foreign workers who were considered more skilled. These are among the issues that are never-ending,” he said.