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Poverty in Brunei

Brunei, a high development country that benefits from a wealth of natural resources, has one of the highest gross domestic products in the world. While there is no reported poverty line, all signs point to a very successful population and a government structure that could act as a model to the world. In other words, poverty in Brunei is not nonexistent, but it is minimized. Unfortunately, even though Brunei is highly developed and their infrastructure is smoothly run and effective, the nation is a special case, and thus their model cannot be applied to the rest of the world that does struggle with high levels of poverty and strife.

The government of Brunei has not only set up an excellent infrastructure, but the population is also highly educated and benefits from not having to pay income taxes or for medical care. Yet, the government can only afford this social system because of the breadth of natural resources they have at their disposal. Brunei refines crude oil, which is then exported to economic powerhouses around the world such as Japan, which is the primary export market. Since the natural resources are so abundant for the time being, Brunei does not have to worry about them running out, leading to a recession or worse.

Yet, despite the strength of industry, the nation does struggle to make modern adjustments, raising the possibility of a future where poverty in Brunei could become an issue. The recent decline in oil prices has made this concern more plausible, and officials have made it a priority to diversify industry and bring in more foreign investment. The wealth of the country allows them to fix problems before they begin, and the threat of a “resource curse” is one such issue.

Another concern lies in the very small level of poverty in Brunei. While the country has no official measurement of a poverty line, the UN Millennium Development Goals report in 2011 indicated that 5.04 percent of the population is impoverished. The government is already taking steps to deal with the issue, creating a Poverty Issue Special Committee and drafting an action plan for eradicating poverty. While this committee has not led to an official poverty line, it does show that the government of Brunei is proactive and willing to fight for their citizens’ interests.

While Brunei does not struggle with a high percentage of poverty, they still remain an example on how to combat poverty through government action. Creating a committee to deal with this issue before it becomes too problematic and planning to diversify industry and modernize makes the government of Brunei an idealistic, forward-thinking country to observe and emulate.

Rachael Blandau

Photo: Flickr

The Hidden Face of Poverty in Brunei

Brunei Darussalam, the Abode of Peace, is a small Southeast Asian country with a population of approximately 350,000 people. Data on poverty in Brunei is scarce, but it shows that roughly five percent of the country’s population lives in poverty. Nevertheless, there is another face of poverty in the small nation: the poverty of freedom and opportunity.

Brunei is an Islamic Sultanate Kingdom ruled by a monarch in whom rests the executive, legislative and judicial powers of the State. The reigning monarch, Hassanal Bolkiah, is the 29th ruler in an unbroken line of succession for the past six centuries. The country’s citizenry has allowed the monarchical rule to survive for this long because of two reasons: welfare benefits and the respect for social and political order enforced by the state.

Economic poverty in Brunei is not a big problem because it is a rich nation and the third largest exporter of oil and gas, which allows the subjects of the King to enjoy a high per capita income of nearly $24,000 annually. The human development index (HDI) ranks it 30, which falls in a very high human development category, over countries such as Malta, Qatar and Cyprus, which rank 33. Brunei also ranks well in the gender development index (GDI). According to the 2015 HDI report, the female HDI value for Brunei is 0.854 which is a GDI value of 0.986, placing it into Group 1 with countries such as Norway, Australia and Singapore.

However, poverty in Brunei exists in the sense that there are reported problems of smaller economic inequalities and the lack of freedom and opportunity. Development across some areas is uneven and opportunities for younger generations to participate actively in the State affairs through education, employment and promotions on merit are less than encouraging. Brunei has no representative institutions due to the total control of the King’s authoritarian regime. Analysts believe that the State has been able to maintain harmony due to the vast wealth at its disposal for welfare activities.

The less diversified nature of economy, dependency on the oil and gas industry and the spread of ideas due to the rise of Internet and globalization among the younger generation do seem to pose a challenge for the current socioeconomic and political model. Economic and political measures in Brunei must be taken to address the emergent issue of poverty of opportunity and freedom and, simultaneously, sustain growth and prosperity.

Aslam Kakar

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Brunei
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

Photo: Flickr