Brunei is a small nation on the South China Sea, bordering Malaysia on the same island as Borneo and part of Indonesia. When the federation forming Malaysia began to gain traction in 1963, Brunei was the only Malay state that opted for independence. The sultan of Brunei is the most recent in a bloodline that has ruled over the country for 600 years.
Hassanal Bolkiah, Brunei’s sultan, is not only from one of the world’s oldest ruling families but is also one of the richest men in the world. An abundance of natural gas and other fossil fuels in the country have earned copious wealth for Brunei’s ruling class.
The Brunei Darussalam Sultanate purchased 50 percent of the world’s Rolls-Royce vehicles in the 1990s. It also reported that the sultan’s residence contains 1,700 rooms full of lavish decoration and a collection of 7,000 luxury cars.
Despite this economic advantage and the country’s high development index, poverty in Brunei remains an ongoing issue. A recorded 46 percent of the rather small population, just over 400,000 people, earned below $1,000 in 2012 and half of the country depends on welfare to survive.
The sultan initiated programs for free education and health care, but those who cannot maintain an income for basic needs tend to leave secondary school to find work. This is especially alarming considering that low levels of education and lack of work heavily contribute to poverty in Brunei.
To combat the nation’s existing poverty, the Brunei Council on Social Welfare called for the government to establish a poverty line. Creating a poverty threshold would help government officials and statisticians collect precise data on those living in poverty.
Additionally, the Department of Economic Planning and Development is conducting a study to determine the nation’s minimum cost of basic needs. The study, in the form of a survey, will be distributed to 3,000 households in each of Brunei’s four districts.
Poverty is a real problem for people that many overlook due to the extreme wealth of the Sultanate and relatively small size of the country. However, accepting the presence of poverty and taking the path towards finding a solution are both key to progress.
Such progress and growth is helping Brunei not only graduate from its need for foreign aid but also to becoming a country that could one day be entirely free of poverty.
– Aaron Walsh