Self-sufficiency in commercial rice production, wise leadership, an influx of foreign goods and illegal logging were some of the issues raised in a titah by 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, during an unscheduled visit to the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT) and all the departments under it yesterday.
His Majesty said, “I was made to understand that on January 9, 2017, the 2016-2020 Strategic Plan was launched for the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism and the departments under it, specifically the Agriculture and Agrifood Department, the Fisheries Department, the Forestry Department, and the Tourism Development Department.
“With this Strategic Plan, the ministry is targetting a gross production increase of primary resources from BND511 million in 2015 to BND1.8 billion by 2020, which is up by an average of 28.8 per cent per year.
“For the tourism sector, the ministry has targetted tourist arrivals from 218,000 in 2015 to 450,000 by 2020, which is up by 5.9 per cent per year.”
His Majesty then asked, “But what extent has this target been achieved, especially in the agricultural and fisheries sector? It is hard to determine, due to a lack of data. The same could be said of job opportunities in these sectors which are also unknown, apart from citing figures on targetted job opportunities.
“It is not just about citing targets or figures, but more importantly on accomplishing the stated target. In other words, anyone can cite targets and figures, but it is more important to achieve the main goal of those figures.
“Take for instance, rice production in 2017, where we managed to attain five per cent of self-sufficiency. Meanwhile, in 2020, the ministry is targeting 11 per cent of self-sufficiency.
“When the target has been set as 11 per cent, then all attention must be centred on that figure. We should not look back to the five per cent figure, but instead look forward to achieving the 11 per cent.
“This is how people should reach their targets. I would advise all personnel within the ministry not to have apathy for the words ‘motivation’ and ‘self-sufficiency’ which embody the purpose of meeting our needs. Who utilises these words, or when, should not be taken into account, as long as they are appropriate and effective. And they will continue to be used, until we meet our objective of self-sufficiency.
“In implementing the vision and mission of the ministry, leadership is the pillar. Hence leadership should be on-course and undeviating in entertaining all manners of applications or complaints.
“A leader should not be too focussed on a certain district or too family-centred, but should attend to others equitably, in accordance with the specified rules.
“A leader should think first before making any decisions. All matters should be subject to thorough examination. It is a mark of weakness or a deficiency when a leader does not trust his subordinates, or if he is not ready to receive helpful suggestions from other officers.
“Such an attitude goes against the concept of consultation (permesyuaratan). An example would be an eagerness to privatise agricultural areas, even though the objective is viewed as beneficial and capable of boosting production. Nevertheless, deciding on who should manage this requires deep consideration.
“The ministry should not look at wealth as a qualifying factor for a project to be given to a private sector. If this happens, then all projects will be monopolised by the rich or big companies. Privatisation is not intended to diminish the structure of government, nor should government agencies be merely content with the achievements or high output from the private sector, while the government assumes the role of spectator.
“This should be understood by policymakers and policy-holders. At present, we are facing a major challenge, which is a large-scale commercial paddy-planting project at Kandol site in the Belait District. A 500 hectare site has been allocated for this project.
“The relevant agencies for this project are expected to be engaged in determining its success, ensure that it functions properly and be prepared to handle all problems should any occur.
“In addition, they should continue to study and carry out research on sites, rivers, fields and the risk of using pesticides. By now, they should be ready for the second phase of the project which will be more exacting, as the area is hilly and not conducive for excavation and flattening work. This is also the right time for us to see the effective role of the consultant chosen for this project.
“In 2009, we launched the Bio-Innovation Corridor Industrial Park at the Tungku Agricultural Development Area in Gadong. But this project, costing over BND20 million, is viewed as an overall failure in meeting its target, although there have been efforts to make it into an agricultural site, as well as offers to local and foreign investors for the cultivation of fruits and vegetables. But the response was far from encouraging. This corridor is therefore, presumed dead.
“This matter should not be taken lightly. What is certain is that it can be attributed to flawed and ineffective planning. Such gaps are also present with regard to regulation, where currently Brunei is flooded with vegetables and fruits from outside the country, leading to competition on production and cost.
“Produce and prices from other countries are competing with local products. The costs of fruits and vegetables from outside are far cheaper compared to local products. As a result, foreign produce have better sales, thus affecting local farmers and cultivators.
“Stalls in market-places are also an issue. Some of these stalls are rented by foreigners. One example is the Farmers’ Market (Pasar Tani) in Selayun, Mukim Sengkurong ‘B’, where foreigners are monopolising the stalls. Even more worryingly, they are increasing or reducing the prices of their goods according to their whim and without any regulation or control from the relevant parties.
“Another matter for concern is the regulation on goods such as fruits and vegetables, as well as fish. Were these goods monitored and regulated before being sold to the public? By regulation, I mean that care should be made in ensuring that these goods are free from pesticides that are hazardous and excessive in use.
“The same applies to fish brought from outside the country, which could have been steeped in preservatives to make it appear fresh. This touches the aspect of responsibility for the safety of consumers. Has this responsibility been executed consistently and properly?
“We are aware that the agriculture sector poses many challenges and problems, among which is how to instil a love of cultivation among farmers. Another challenge is how to encourage more people to take up farming. Currently, interest in farming and the number of farmers are still low. Some of the farmers are retirees who are not on a full-time basis, but to fill up their spare time.
“If this situation continues, then it is doubtful that the agricultural sector can flourish and develop. We must make changes as soon as possible.
“On fisheries, are the fish resources adequate to meet the nation’s requirements? The answer is no. The nation is still heavily dependent on fish from neighbouring countries. Local entrepreneurs are a rarity. At the Fisheries Department’s Fish Landing Complex in Muara, most of the trawling vessels are monopolised by local workers, but their catch is incapable of competing with fish brought in from other countries. Then there are reports about these vessels being sub-contracted to foreigners without any regulation. It would not be surprising if their catch was still being sold to restaurants in the country, thus preventing local people from buying them.
“If this is true, relevant agencies should not overlook this issue. Marine resources are among the industry capable of boosting the nation’s revenue. But initiating it requires a workforce, assets and expertise. Towards this, this industry needs innovative and organised planning. The time has come for us to possess great powers of entrepreneurship.
“Also equally important is our forest resources. Brunei Darussalam is renowned for its high-quality agarwood (kayu gaharu) but its monitoring and regulation are questionable, when illegal logging at our borders is still ongoing. If this is allowed to continue, then one of our priceless assets will be greatly diminished.
“On tourism, we desire to make this nation into an attractive tourist destination. We understand that we are still lacking places of interest and facilities. But this can be tackled slowly, through future national development plans. What is important now is to preserve and maintain existing facilities, and make them attractive and clean instead of neglecting them. Then there are grievances that many tourist attractions are not properly maintained on a consistent basis, and some are allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. If this is true, then this is an embarrassment.”