B R U N E I r e s o u r c e sTM
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CLOSING REMARKS BY
BISMILLAHIR RAHMANIR RAHIM
First of all I would like to thank the organising committee for giving me the honour to be the chief guest at this closing ceremony. To all the foreign speakers and participants I would also like to extend our appreciation of your participation and hope that you have enjoyed your brief stay in Brunei Darussalam and we would be most happy to welcome you again in the future.
For the past two days I understand the idea of good governance ranging from the macro to the micro country-specifics have been widely discussed. I believe it has not only enhanced the understanding on the issues evolving around the agenda but also the difficulties in realising the spirit of good governance in the terms that has been prescribed as universal by its sponsors.
After two days of this conference, I do not think that there is any participant here who has any ambiguity by what is meant by good governance.
Even though there are many definitions of good governance, the most interesting one, I found, was defined at the 1999 World Conference on Governance in the Philippines as "a system that is transparent, accountable, just, fair, democratic, participatory and responsive to people's needs".
That definition is the ideal that all nations will try to pursue. Yet it has also been made abundantly clear in many international forums even at the United Nations that good governance is an ideal that is difficult to achieve in totality. Very few countries and societies have come close to achieving good governance.
This is where we must apply caution. While the term good governance itself is a generic term, its application and its many interpretations have at times led to unjust comparisons. The popular usage of the term good governance in the international media especially amongst some, has become synonymous with political systems that govern western, developed nations. According to this view, good governance can only be discharged by the liberal democracy of the western world.
It has been pointed out that good governance is a key factor in any broad understanding of effective development strategy. However, studies have also dismissed the relationship between democracy and development, stressing that decisive economic change in many Third World countries has often been associated with some form of authoritarian government.
The free market by no means guarantee a smooth journey towards development. Whilst successful economic transformation requires effective political leadership, strongly committed to the right economic policies, it is also necessary to sustain a state structure which depends not merely on criteria for good governance derived from Western models, but on the deeply embedded social attitudes and cultures which are needed to make such governance work.
Significantly, democracy (and liberalism) means different things and works in different ways, not only at different stages of economic transformation, but also in different societies with different structures and values. We may submit therefore that there can therefore be no single relationship between democracy, reform and economic success.
While the characteristics of good governance are universally acceptable, their application to different societies and nations should be seen in the context of the local circumstances and according to local conditions. The ideals of good governance is also not static. It is a dynamic process and requires on-going changes all the time from various sectors. It will take time to achieve, even if we all can agree on what is the term defined as ‘good governance’.
So different countries may differ on what it is that makes good governance even though all may agree that good governance is important. It has not been my intention to be too technical and to be bogged down with these different definitions.
But, I believe it is worth emphasising that for us here in Brunei Darussalam, we aim for a system of good governance that enriches and protects our society. This is very clearly embodied in the proclamation made by His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah , Sultan and Yang Di Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam during Brunei’s independence in 1984. In which among others His Majesty proclaimed that
"Brunei shall be forever a sovereign, democratic and independent Malay, Muslim Monarchy upon the teachings of Islam according to Ahlis Sunnah Waljemaah and based upon the principle of liberty, trust and justice and ever seeking………..the peace and security, welfare and happiness of our people………."
Ladies and gentlemen:
Let me quote the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, UNHCR. It stated that -
‘Governance is the process whereby public institutions conduct public affairs, manage public resources and guarantee the realization of human rights. Good governance accomplishes this in a manner essentially free of abuse and corruption, and with due regard to the rule of law . . . . . . The key question is: are the institutions of governance effectively guaranteeing the right to health, adequate housing, sufficient food, quality education, fair justice and personal security?’
Have the government of Brunei Darussalam achieve this key question being asked by UNHCR?
Let me address the first item - right to health. The government of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam has offered free medical to all its citizens and for non-citizens, a subsidized medical services. The services include being sent overseas for medical treatment. These medical services has been provided at considerable cost to the government but to the government, these are its obligations to the people of Brunei Darussalam regardless of its costs so that all the people in the nation will enjoy a very high standard of health. By every account of the World Health Organisation, Brunei scores very highly in its health and medical services.
The second item is adequate housing. The Government of His Majesty has equally been working very hard to ensure that everyone in the country is adequately housed. Several housing schemes have been introduced since the late 1950s and until now to the point that many Bruneians now owned their own homes and some at very heavily subsidized costs to the government. Just outside this compound, the various housing areas have shown just how much the government has spent not just in building houses but the infrastructure that goes with those housings. The government’s efforts in providing these housings are still on-going and continues unabated into the future. Again to the government, its housing policy is to ensure that everyone in the nation will be adequately housed.
The third measure is sufficient food. Again the government has strived to ensure that food is available in the country to the point that staple food such as rice and sugar are imported by the government and subsidized by the government when the world prices are high. This ensures that staple food prices will always be affordable to everyone in the country. The government has also ensured that food will always be affordable by helping farmers in its various agricultural and fishery programs. The Brunei government even keeps cattle farms outside Brunei to ensure that continuous fresh supply of meat will always continue. For the needy, the government also has assistance program in providing free staple food and so on.
Quality education is another item. As with medical services, the Government of His Majesty has provided free education from kindergarten all the way to university including for university education overseas when necessary. In ensuring quality education, the government provides excellent infrastructure by building schools and colleges throughout the country. Education policies now include ICT so that there will not be any digital divide amongst Bruneians in this increasingly digitized world.
Fair justice. Our judiciary system is independent and free from interference. Our judges are professionally trained to the point that the government appoint experienced judges from outside Brunei Darussalam to ensure the professionalism as well as the integrity of the Brunei judicial system.
And the final item in the check list, personal security. What more can I say? Many people can freely walk in Brunei Darussalam. Cases of mugging, burglary, murders, commonplace in many capital cities and countries throughout the world is almost non-existent in Brunei Darussalam. We have a professional police force in the country. And We do not have such a militant work force or militant trade unions.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We cannot rest on our laurels. Admittedly, there are a great number of many things which we have not done or have not done well. As the saying goes "Rome was not built in a day". The government continues its efforts to improve the administrative mechanism. Services are continuously being improved. There are still complaints from members of the public. The expectations from the public as our clients is ever increasing and our services not only have to be tailored to be customer-focused and customer-friendly but also to be sensitive to the needs of the public and the needs of the government.
The key to achieving good governance requires us to constantly look for good practices around us that can be fitted in to our local environment. At the same time we must also be ready to accept the challenge of changing mindsets and to move away from impractical old practices. Change in mindsets not just on the part of the government but everybody. And the change is a continuous one where we all have to work.
Modernising or improving the government with the purpose of ensuring good governance is always the top agenda in His Majesty’s Government. His Majesty personally always stresses in his many speeches on the need the government machinery to be always efficient, effective, innovative, competitive, productive and proactive as well as customer focused and friendly.
Economic growth is important to the government. Many projects have been identified and funded under the development funds. Efforts to diversify the economy have always been the Government’s top priorities. All these are done to ensure that the economy will continue to grow in the future to sustain everyone living here.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Good governance to the Government of Brunei Darussalam is making sure that everybody in the country is secure, everyone has enough food to eat, everyone has a comfortable place to live in, everyone is given good education, everyone can make a living in an economy which is sustainable and growing, and at the same time, have access to many creature comforts that to many other people outside Brunei Darussalam can only dream about. The Government has and always will continue to do this.
Good governance is not just a term to be bandied about. To some, we have not achieved what some so-called global intellectuals term as ‘good governance’. But to us, we have achieved good governance and more, and will always continue to pursue this good governance ideal.
Let me reiterate once more that for us here in Brunei Darussalam, the government has always aimed for a system of good governance that "enriches and protects our society".
Ladies and Gentlemen:
On that note, let me wish everyone here all the best in your future undertakings. I hope you all have enjoyed attending the conference. For those from outside Brunei Darussalam, thank you for coming to Brunei. I hope you too have enjoyed your short stay in Brunei Darussalam and let this not be your last visit here to Brunei Darussalam.
Wabillahit Taufik Walhidayah, Wassalamu ‘Alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh
(c) Pehin Hazair/Rozan Yunos