Many want the LegCo to debate on the spiralling cost of living
Bandar Seri Begawan - Since 2004 when the Legislative Council (LegCo) was reconvened, the public has been listening to the debates and discussions taking place between appointed representative members of the council that represent the "voice of the people" and the Cabinet Ministers.
Issues raised in the Legislative Council session (which is open to the public) find their way to the general population through various platforms like television, radio and newspapers.
In the present digital age, it spreads through sophisticated contemporary means such as websites and blogs and even through Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook etc.
These were not possible before 2004, and observers have said that these have somewhat injected further transparency and accountability into the government machineries and given a much bigger say to the general public in raising matters of common concern.
Although traditionally in Brunei Darussalam, the Legislative Council session is synonymous with the passing of the next national budget, the expectations of the public for the 9th Legislative Council Meeting, which officially begins tomorrow (Thursday) are quite high.
The Borneo Bulletin spoke to people to find out what they expect the members to raise &ring the session. It didn't come as a surprise that the issues were diverse.
Government servant Haji Maraud bin Murni said the government should look into the rise in prices of some daily commodities such as processed food that have seen a marked increase over the last few years.
"The prices may also vary in different shops."
He believes this inconsistency shows there is no strict control in pricing.
He believes a Consumer Act should be in place to protect the interest of consumers and prevent exploitation.
The Bulletin found out that quite a number of people expressed similar concerns as Haji Muraud did.
On another matters of common interest, a secondary school teacher who wished to be called Salawati believes that it is time for the government to look into the salary scale of government servants in the country.
She said, "Salary scales have to be improved especially for teachers as the cost of living is getting more expensive in the country. There should be a review to ensure that salaries received today commensurate with the amount of work and cost of living."
Other people the Bulletin spoke to also said price control and salary revision need to be checked and reviewed by the government.
Razimi Ahmad, a private sector employee, also shared the same sentiment with Salawati by saying that the government should look into introducing a minimum salary scale guideline for the private sector to avoid employees being 'underpaid' and being deprived of benefits.
Zainah binti Haji Jimbol, 37, raised the issue of the prices of goods that have gone up recently without the consumers' noticing it especially when it comes to onions, spices and others excluding products subsidised by the government.
"I hope that during the Legislative Council, the government will make some initiatives to stabilise the prices of staple products by reducing the number of imported goods that might causes them to fluctuate."
Meanwhile, another private sector employee, Hj Asri bin Md Yaakub, said he would like to see more deliberation on employment rights in the private sector in the country.
He said he wants to see more work being done in enforcing the Employee Act in Brunei, adding that the act is currently 'weak' and not widely 'enforced' by the authority
"I have seen many cases of unfair dismissal of employees from the private sector and complaints have been filed to the relevant agencies such as the Labour Department and the Ministry of Home Affairs but it seems that they never have the right solution to it," he added.
On the otherhand, issues on economic diversification are still pretty much a hot topic in the country.
An academician, Hj Aliakbar believed that despite mega projects being done in the country to help in the country's economic diversification efforts, the nation still largely is dependent on its petroleum resources. Therefore, efforts should be augmented on economic diversification as urgent matters need to be addressed during the LegCo session.
"Forget other things, economic diversification has to be done now," he said passionately.
He was afraid that without strong economic diversification efforts, many educated people who have benefited from the excellent education infrastructure in Brunei may have to leave the country to find jobs. He said a possible brain drain cannot just be swept aside.
He believed economic diversification efforts should not just focus on development of SMEs, but heavy industries that have the ability to provide thousands of jobs in the future may also be necessary.
Hj Yusof, who is passionate on education issues, wishes to see SPN21 discussed in this year session.
"SPN21 has been around and are parents beginning to accept it and see the superiority of this new curriculum against the old one, and also are the teachers accepting it?" he asked.
He also wishes to know about the nation's sports achievements, such as progress or improvement or the lack of it and a government blueprint to be debated in this year's session.
Another interviewee, Aisyah Az-Zahra binti Idris, 32, who is concerned about the education of youths in Brunei who are currently under the "EDEXCEL" Special Applied Programme of the Ministry of Education, want this issue to be raised during the Legislative Council session.
"I believe that parents whose children are under the programme are worried about its success because there is still no proof to convince these parents that this programme will succeed since most of the advertised job vacancies for the government sector require only those who have '0' Level, BVTEC, NTC and others. However, the eligibility to apply for job vacancies for this programme has not been enacted by the government".
Aisyah Az-Zahra hoped that the local authorities such as the Ministry of Education would assure parents that MoE will not cease the programme while it is still in progress and give job opportunities for these EDEXCEL students in accordance with the courses that they have undertaken. She also emphasised that the Public Service Commission should also take the initiative to standardise the EDEXCEL qualification with the advertised job description.
Florenza Abd Rahman wants courses in UBD to be consistent with the job opportunities available after students graduate. "The number of graduates is increasing. However, jobs offered are sometimes not suitable for their qualification".
Kris Fiona talked about "Seni Budaya" or cultural arts. Her concern was that currently there is no focal point or "badan" for those who love arts.
Her hope was that the government could help in providing a place so that whatever activities that touch on arts and creativity such as musicians, professional poets, singers, actors and others can come together and contribute ideas.
She said, for example, in our neighbouring country, there is "Istana Budaya" to attract the public interest and this, according to her could provide jobs for those who are in the field.
She also spoke about the importance of the government sector to take experience as important criteria when providing employment.
In a nutshell, the Legislative Council session provides a golden opportunity for the public, through their representatives, to voice issues that concern most.--Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin