Livelihoods in Brunei are ImprovingBrunei is an independent Islamic sultanate on the northern coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Some statistics about the country still remain unknown like the percentage of Bruneians that live in poverty. This is due to the fact that Brunei still does not have a poverty line as of 2018. However, one can use other means to measure Brunei’s poverty. Additionally, other data can help ascertain whether or not livelihoods in Brunei are improving their unquantified impoverished situations.

One way to look at this is the Economic Freedom Index Score (EFIS). One can think of this as Bruneians’ freedom of choice as well as their ability to acquire and use goods. Brunei’s EFIS is 66.6, and it ranks 61 out of 180 countries. Singapore, the top country, comes in at 89.4, making it the world’s most free economy in the 2020 Index. Then there is North Korea, the bottom country, which has a score of 4.2. Despite Brunei’s moderate EFIS score, the country is working to boost that number. Here are three ways livelihoods in Brunei are improving.

1. Self-Empowerment Initiatives

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah says Brunei has drafted “self-empowerment initiatives” to create more job and entrepreneurship freedoms. Oil and gas production supply 90% of government revenue and 90% of exports. However, these industries have limited job opportunities.

Now, the country strives for economic diversification to reduce reliance on oil and gas. To support these endeavors, the administration will simplify the processes to start a business and develop business regulations. The most significant changes were amending certain laws allowing businesses and investors to operate without a license and reducing the wait times for a business to open.

2. Employment

Unemployment rates — regardless of education level — are high. Although, Bruneians with a vocational background have the highest rates of unemployment. The youth are also at risk of higher rates of unemployment. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the unemployment rate among young Brunei increased from 25.3% to 28.9% in 2019 — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was the highest percentage.

A suggestion from the IMF is to invest in technology and digitalization to capitalize on the tech-savvy generation. Also, the Manpower Planning Council is setting up a labor-management information system to lower unemployment among college graduates. This will be a cooperation between government agencies, the private sector and education institutions to ensure the turnout of employable graduates.

3. Welfare

The Sultan also says that people’s welfare is of utmost importance. This assertion stems from taqwa, the basic Islamic principle of God-consciousness together with brotherhood, equality, fairness and justice. This concept is the basis of true Islamic societies.

With this in mind, livelihoods in Brunei are improving by adjusting the financial aid requirements. This effort attempts to lift benefit recipients out of poverty and continue to provide assistance to citizens who need it. With these new rules, the government will be able to map welfare recipients and learn where there is a need to advance workforce skills and job opportunities. The implementation of this new system is more important than ever before due to COVID-19 and an expected increase of benefit recipients. Now, however, Brunei authorities can better prepare themselves to leave no one behind, per taqwa.

Overall, livelihoods in Brunei are improving. The administration has focused itself on economic diversification to be less reliant on oil and gas. The unemployment rate has increased, but the country is undergoing steps to combat that with education and jobs. Also, Brunei is updating welfare programs to include further applicant information. This will assist in financial help as well as learning where education or job options are a factor in poverty.

These changes could create a cycle of prosperity and bring more Bruneians out of poverty. However, Brunei needs to create a poverty line. That way, it can more accurately assess its poverty situation and how much progress it still needs.

Heather Babka
Photo: Flickr