12th session of LegCo opens today

National 2 minutes, 40 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

THE 12th session of the Legislative Council (LegCo) is set to open today amid growing concerns over Brunei’s economy in the face of weak global oil prices and a $2 billion government deficit.

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, will open the session this morning at the Legislative Council building on Jalan Dewan Majlis.

After the official opening, the first debates of the 12th LegCo session are slated to begin on Monday, with keen interest paid to the announcement of the 2016/17 government budget (known as the supply bill).

With national income falling 70 per cent in the last three years due to the devalued energy market, government ministers have warned of the need to drastically cut spending.

Senior officials have alluded to the need to apply urgent measures to combat the deficit, saying other major energy exporters have had to re-price subsidies or introduce goods and services tax.

In his New Year titah, His Majesty also stressed the pressing need for economic diversification, saying an economy dependent on just one sector is not sustainable.

He listed several sectors outside oil and gas that have potential for growth such as agriculture and fisheries, manufacturing, financial services, logistics, telecommunications, and tourism.

The Sultan also announced new measures to attract more foreign direct investment to the sultanate, and welcomed the establishment of the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Centre, which is aimed at increasing private sector growth.

These issues will be hot topics at this year’s LegCo, with the public eager to hear more details of various government initiatives.

Despite the economic slowdown, major infrastructure projects are still ploughing ahead, including the construction of the $1.6 billion Temburong Bridge, a crucial development project that will connect Brunei’s most remote district to the capital.

Slated for completion in 2018, the bridge is expected to breathe new life into Temburong by growing the district’s economy and boosting cross-border trade with Malaysia.

There are several outstanding issues that people are keen to see discussed at LegCo, including long-awaited amendments to the Land Code and Criminal Procedure Code, and the fate of Tamu Kianggeh, a historic market which is slated for demolition despite public outcry.

The annual parliamentary session will be overseen by the Speaker of the Council, Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Lela Dato Seri Setia Hj Abdul Rahman Dato Setia Hj Mohamed Taib.

A former education minister, Pehin Dato Hj Abdul Rahman is a long-serving member of His Majesty’s Government, having held various cabinet posts since 1986. He retired from public service in 2010 but was appointed as the new LegCo speaker in February 2015.

In 2015, the Legislative Council counted a total of 33 members, including the 11 cabinet ministers and 19 appointed members who represent the cheteria, the four districts and various professional, social and ethnic groups.

After the conclusion of the official opening ceremony today, the LegCo proceedings will be open to the public from Monday to Thursday and Saturday, from 9am to 12pm and 2pm to 4.30pm.

Members of the public and government officials who wish to attend the proceedings are requested to present their identity cards at security posts to get their clearance.

The Brunei Times