A platform for discussion

Hakim Hayat

The Legislative Council (LegCo) that was established in 1959 by virtue of Article 23 of Brunei’s Constitution of 1959, has seen rapid change brought about by developments and modernisation, and has also played a key role in not just formulating policies for the betterment of the people and the country, but also as a platform to ensure transparency in the discussion of national issues that propels the national development agenda.

The LegCo has played a significant role towards Brunei, not only to consider and approve annual budgets and revenue estimates, but also to advise with the government, to review policies implemented by the government and to pass bills and motions brought by the government and other members of the Council.

Its first sitting was held at the Lapau building in the capital on October 21, 1959, before it was dissolved prior to Brunei’s independence in 1984. Brunei had no legislature until September 25, 2004, when His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam reinstated the council based on the amended version of Brunei’s Constitution.

2004 was also the year when Brunei marked the 20th anniversary of its independence, and the reinstatement of the LegCo signalled change, by giving the people more voice to air their ideas and concerns with the government, using a medium that prioritises Brunei’s unique Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB) philosophy and that encourages harmonious and civil discussions.

The LegCo is an avenue for the country’s citizens and residents to voice their ideas, suggestions, opinions and issues through appointed members by the means of discussions and deliberations that adhere to Brunei’s traditional concept of enhancing and strengthening relations between the people and the government.

File photo shows His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam delivering a titah during the opening ceremony of the 15th Legislative Council session in 2019. PHOTO: INFOFOTO
Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam chairing a LegCo meeting in 1952
The LegCo meeting will see members discuss national issues and provide constructive ideas for the country and the people that will be evaluated according to needs and priority

His Majesty in a titah on September 25, 2004 during the reinstatement of the LegCo said, “This will also enable me to consider how the people, through various means, could participate in the development of Brunei Darussalam. This I have indicated in my speech during the recent birthday celebrations, that I wished to establish a more formal consultative structure – that is, to reconvene the Legislative Council. Today’s meeting marks the beginning of a process towards achieving that wish. As we are all aware, Bruneians have their own way of expressing their hopes and problems through various consultations. They will surely look forward to the re-establishment of the Legislative Council which will provide a wider forum or platform to express opinions and views.”

The appointed members are always reminded to represent the people and residents of the country in order to express their views and opinions in a transparent and sincere manner without fear for the interests of society.

Today, members of LegCo comprise 36 individuals of diverse backgrounds, consisting of the appointed ex-officio members of the council, those who were appointed as individuals bestowed with titles and those appointed persons who have achieved distinctions representing the four districts.

Some new members elected since 2017 received attention for being predominantly young, placing emphasis on LegCo’s new angle of youth involvement, invoking optimism from the local community.

This year will mark the 16th sitting of the parliamentary session since its reconvening in 2004, and like previous years, it will focus on the deliberation and approval of the fiscal budget bill for the financial year 2020/2021 that will be in effect April 1.

Apart from the fiscal budget, the LegCo meeting, which normally sits for no more than 14 days, will also see members discuss national issues and provide constructive ideas for the country and the people that will be evaluated according to needs and priority.

His Majesty in a titah at the opening of the 15th LegCo session last year highlighted among others the need for the entire government machinery to take crucial steps to bolster the country’s economic diversification efforts that must also be in sync with the rapid pace of digitalisation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

His Majesty also highlighted the need to prioritise youth development. “They are the nation’s assets and the engine to drive forward economic growth.

“Therefore, the relevant ministries must ensure that youth remain perpetually inspired towards the development agenda.

“This is in step with the rapid pace of technology which has brought about major changes, including the development of the digital industry with its focus on the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and so on, where the Fourth Industrial Revolution will become one of the main agenda in empowering the community, particularly the student community, entrepreneurs and the government, including making changes to the landscape of everyday life.”

Unemployment was also a main issue discussed in last year’s LegCo sitting.

His Majesty in the titah expressed concern over the increasing rate, saying that it must not be taken lightly. “I would like this issue to be studied for possible short or long-term solutions, including the assessment of human resources in both local and foreign higher learning institutions, for their marketability and relevancy to the current situation,” the monarch said. Members of LegCo last year unanimously passed a national budget of BND5.86 billion for the Financial Year 2019/2020 following 10 days of deliberations.

The LegCo is Brunei’s model of democracy that emphasises the deeply treasured Brunei values of harmoniously carrying out discussions in a consultation manner based on MIB, a tradition that Brunei has safeguarded for long as a source of political unity and stability.