Brunei Darussalam: Increasing connectivity
by Paulius Kuncinas. Posted on July 29, 2012, Sunday
As the Sultanate forges ahead with plans to improve air and road transport links with its neighbours as part of plans for regional growth, officials say the Sultanate’s domestic network is in equal need of attention.
At a Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) meeting on transport, infrastructure, and information and communications technology (ICT) development held in the Sultanate late June, transport officials from the region finalised an agreement on extended air links and discussed how to further improve air, sea and land connectivity in the region.
Key steps discussed under the memorandum of understanding (MoU) were designating additional air entry points outside the EAGA borders, establishing incentives for airline operators who wish to operate EAGA routes and strengthening the recently proposed Davao-Manado-Kota Kinabalu route, which would be pioneered by MASwings, a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines.
The BIMP-EAGA project is taking shape as the Asean region pushes ahead with its target of becoming a free trade area by 2015. Located at the centre of the 10-member grouping, Brunei Darussalam aimed to become its transport and logistics hub.
However, the recent focus on regional transport links was accompanied by remarks from Mohammad Yusof, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Communications (MoC), who told local media that a more holistic approach needed to be taken to develop land transport.
Noting that 15,000 vehicles were registered in the Sultanate every year, Yusof highlighted Brunei Darussalam’s dependence on private vehicles and increasing traffic congestion and called for better road safety and integration between transportation and land-use planning.
To this end, a Land Transport Master Plan was being developed that would streamline cooperation between ministries and shake up the institutional set-up to speed up developments, according to Yusof, who said the master plan would examine examples of how other countries manage transport development with the aim of streamlining the process.
“If you want to build a bus stop or a bridge (today), it is not an MoC or Land Transport Department (job) per se. It takes up two or three other ministries … Some of these components come under a single jurisdiction or perhaps under a single authority,” Yusof told The Brunei Times on June 17.
A 12-month study undertaken by the Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies (CSPS), a government-funded policy and research organisation, was being conducted as part of the process in mapping out the master plan.
The study aimed to identify easy and quick mobility options within cities, between cities and across borders, the CSPS said, while also focusing on sustainable transport options such as bicycle lanes and pedestrian-friendly roads.
The study’s emphasis on improving connectivity across borders gelled with a series of major projects and initiatives the Sultanate has underway with that aim. A 2.5 kilometre dual carriageway was under construction in Jalan Jerudong, while a toll-free bridge – the Friendship Bridge – spanning the Pandaruan River would link the districts of Brunei-Muara, Tutong and Belait to the Temburong border with Malaysia. The project was expected to be completed by August 2013.
There has also been a focus on improving air links. A major expansion planned for Brunei International Airport (BIA) is expected to be completed by November 2014, and a second international airport was currently being mulled for the Tutong district.
The three-year BIA project would see the construction of a new terminal, car park, a more efficient baggage handling system and conveyor belt, a new check-in facility and a new arrival corridor and flight transfer area.
However, industry players said the country should not focus on air travel alone if it aimed to emerge as a centre of regional trade.
“If we want to move our cargo from areas within BIMP-EAGA, we cannot rely on air linkages as there is not enough load. So this is a major issue. Transportation advancement is a major factor in determining the success of the region,” said Ismail Damit, the interim chairman of the BIMP-EAGA Business Council.
While the focus on the BIMP-EAGA was important for the Sultanate’s development as a regional centre, the development of domestic transport would need to proceed at the same pace so that investors and tourists could traverse the Sultanate in safety and comfort.