Heading towards sustainable goals

Azlan Othman

Brunei Darussalam submitted its Voluntary National Review (VNR) recently to the 2020 United Nations (UN) High Level Political Forum, a global platform that encourages governments respect their pledges towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The report is a key document that all nations have to submit as part of their obligation towards implementing the Agenda 2030, the global blueprint for a more just and sustainable future.

Unlike many other nations, Brunei is in an enviable position with limited poverty, high level of education, a generous welfare state and continuous attempt towards women’s empowerment.

It has been highly successful in stemming the worst consequences as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; It registered a remarkable 2.4-per-cent growth in the first quarter and 2.8 per cent in second quarter of the year.

The nation can proudly boast a considerable number of achievements, from targetted social protection schemes for the most vulnerable to up-skilling initiatives to improve the employability rate to efforts to propel its citizens toward a more sustainable, greener future.

The citizens of Brunei continue to enjoy a high quality of life in a safe, secure and prosperous environment as a result of the provision of essential services and high-standard infrastructure including health, education, clean water and sanitation, housing, legal institutions, tele-communications and decent employment.

Brunei has no record of extreme poverty, and is progressively implementing and improving on most of the SDGs. The government has implemented national policies and plans of action that ensure inclusive economic participation, through the empowerment of women, youth, low-income earners and the differently abled.

In Brunei, the universal access to high-standard education at all levels and nine years of formal compulsory education has resulted in a high literacy rate of 97.2 per cent. Health indicators show that Brunei’s efforts have matched those of developed nations. Significant measures have been taken to ensure that infectious diseases are well-controlled, as recently exemplified by the country’s successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The protection of the environment and natural resources has always been a priority to Brunei; 72 per cent of total land area is still covered with forests, 41 per cent of which is gazetted as forest reserves.

Brunei has actively participated in regional and international meetings as well as workshops aimed at enhancing understanding and promoting closer cooperation, capacity building, and sharing of best practices towards achieving the 2030 Agenda.

The country also continues to be a part of the global partnership for development, supporting collaboration for mutual benefit for all.

To effectively implement the 2030 Agenda, Brunei has taken an inclusive and whole-of-nation approach, collaborating and engaging with stakeholders, namely the private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), researchers and academia.

A multi-stakeholder ‘Special Committee for the Implementation of the SDGs’, comprising senior officers from ministries and agencies, was established in 2016 to facilitate the inclusion of SDG indicators in development plans as well as to ensure the implementation of the SDGs in line with national priorities.

In gearing for the country’s VNR at the 2020 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, Brunei established another special committee, co-chaired at the ministerial level by the Ministry of Finance and Economy (MOFE) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). This special committee spearheads the preparation of Brunei’s VNR report and efforts, taking stock of the country’s progress towards the achievement of the SDGs.

To promote inclusivity and generate beneficial dialogues, direct consultations have also been conducted with relevant and diverse range of stakeholders, including NGOs and academia.

A workshop was organised on January 8-9, 2020 in Bandar Seri Begawan to provide stakeholders an in-depth understanding of the VNR process.

Brunei has also attended several workshops organised by the UN and ASEAN, to take advantage of other countries’ experiences and best practices these include: the ASEAN Forum on SDGs with National Development Planning Agencies – Accelerating SDGs Implementation in ASEAN jointly organised by the ASEAN Secretariat and the Embassy of Switzerland in the Republic of Indonesia (July 2019); the 3rd South-East Asia Forum on Implementation of the SDGs organised by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP) (October 2019); regional and international webinar workshops organised by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and UN ESCAP (March 2020); and the 7th Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (May 2020).