Brunei needs to attract skilled and semi-skilled immigrants, says High Commissioner Haris bin Othman. H.E. Haji Haris bin Othman, High Commissioner of Brunei Darussalam, had an exclusive interview with our Special Correspondent MM Rahmatullah on Tuesday at his Baridhara office. Here is the full interview for readers.
Bangladesh and Brunei are two Muslim countries. Both countries are fellow members of many multilateral organizations, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the United Nations. How can we build our relationship further?
H.E. High Commissioner: Our shared objective is to strengthen diplomatic relations between our nations by fostering high-level exchanges, encouraging collaborative initiatives, and engaging in constructive consultations on vital regional and global matters.
We firmly believe that enhancing economic cooperation can improve our nation’s prosperity. This can be done by exploring potential avenues for trade promotion, investment facilitation, and joint ventures in the halal food industry, energy, and technology sectors.
To further strengthen our international relations, our countries/organization must promote sustainable cultural and educational exchanges. Encouraging student exchanges and academic partnerships can foster mutual understanding and create lasting people-to-people connections.
As responsible global citizens, we must engage in constructive and cooperative efforts to address the multifaceted and pressing challenges we face today. One way to achieve this is through multilateral cooperation. Collaborating within multilateral organizations like the OIC and the United Nations can help us address shared challenges, advocate for common interests, and support each other’s initiatives.
Brunei is a long and proven development partner of Bangladesh. Over the past five decades, Bangladesh has received a large amount of foreign remittances from Brunei. It was one of the major markets for the Bangladeshi manpower. The market began to shrink gradually from the 1990s onward. At present, about 30,000 Bangladeshi workers are working there. How can the Brunei government increase job opportunities, wages and salary structure?
High Commissioner: Brunei’s economy has relied heavily on its oil and gas sector, but it needs to expand into other areas for a better economic future. Brunei can achieve this by focusing on industries such as renewable energy, tourism, agriculture, and technology and creating a supportive environment for businesses. This means reducing bureaucracy, improving financing, investing in infrastructure, attracting foreign investment, creating jobs, and making Brunei more competitive.
Education and training are essential for aligning the workforce with labour market needs. Brunei needs to prioritize vocational and technical education, career counselling and targeted training. This will empower Bruneians with the skills required to succeed in the evolving job market.
Improving labour market policies is also crucial. This means streamlining hiring processes, strengthening labour standards and minimum wage, and ensuring fair working conditions and wages for everyone. To create a more diverse and dynamic economy, Brunei needs to attract skilled and semi-skilled immigrants with the available and well-accepted labour laws and regulations that promote fair treatment, safety, and protection of foreign workers’ rights.
Brunei has a strong economy, a high per capita income, rapid GDP growth, an excellent education and health system, and a high standard of living. Although small, Brunei is one of the richest countries in the world. How can we expect more help from Brunei?
High Commissioner: We have been exploring opportunities for joint investment projects, trade partnerships, and technology transfer that could contribute to our two countries economic growth and diversification. We believe that Brunei’s education and healthcare sectors have the potential to enhance their capabilities through collaborative efforts in knowledge sharing. By leveraging each other’s expertise, we can establish high-quality systems that benefit both sectors and contribute to our country’s development.
Brunei has so far demonstrated its unwavering commitment to providing support to Bangladesh during times of crisis in the past, including for the displaced Rohingya people. Utilizing diplomatic channels to raise awareness, we believe that Brunei can continue to play a vital role in ensuring a sustainable solution to this crisis by delivering humanitarian aid in collaboration with regional and international organizations. We remain committed to working together to address this pressing issue and other challenges that our countries may face.
The Sultan of Brunei visited Bangladesh for the first time last year. Several agreements and memorandums of understanding were signed between the two countries following bilateral meetings during the visit of the Sultan of Brunei. How do you want to see the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Brunei in the next five years?
High Commissioner: We have the potential to strengthen our economic ties by expanding trade volumes, exploring new sectors, and promoting high-level political engagement through regular visits, dialogues, and delegation exchanges. Moreover, cultural events, scholarships, and academic collaborations can enhance our mutual understanding, while our cooperation in regional and multilateral organizations such as the OIC and the United Nations can solidify our strategic partnership. We look forward to both nations’ continued progress and prosperity with great optimism.
How do you assess the love and sympathy of Bangladeshis for the persecuted people of Palestine?
High Commissioner: The people of Bangladesh are known for their strong support and love for the oppressed people of Palestine, which is evident in both government and non-governmental levels. Bangladeshis show support by means of humanitarian aid, public demonstrations, fundraising efforts, and vocal support for their rights. They often express their solidarity with these causes through social media, protests, and contributions to humanitarian aid.
The reason behind Bangladesh’s unwavering support and compassion towards Palestine is a combination of shared religion, historical parallels, and consistent political and diplomatic support. The struggle for independence that Bangladesh faced in the past resonates with the Palestinian fight for self-determination, creating a shared identity and understanding. The solidarity between Bangladesh and Palestine remains a powerful force that drives the two nations forward.
Bangladesh is struggling with more than one million Rohingya refugees. The foreign affairs expert also noted that Brunei has always stood by Bangladesh. Even Brunei played a significant and influential role earlier. How can Brunei play more roles in different regional and international platforms for ensuring sustainable Rohingya repatriation?
High Commissioner: Brunei, as an ASEAN member state, has endorsed the ASEAN 5-Point Consensus, which called for a sustainable solution to the crisis, including the safe, dignified, and voluntary return of the Rohingya people to their homes in Myanmar. Thus, Brunei has a unique opportunity to contribute significantly to resolving the Rohingya crisis. The ASEAN 5 Points Consensus guides Brunei as a framework to address the Rohingya crisis.
As a member of ASEAN, Brunei has actively participated in developing and implementing the consensus. Brunei recognizes the importance of this regional framework in creating a conducive environment for the safe, voluntary, and dignified repatriation of Rohingya people to Myanmar. Brunei, along with other ASEAN member states, is committed to supporting the implementation of the consensus, including providing humanitarian assistance, promoting socio-economic development, and protecting the rights of all communities. Brunei also recognizes the need for constructive engagement with Myanmar and other international partners to find a sustainable solution that respects the rights and dignity of the affected communities. By aligning its efforts with the ASEAN 5 Points Consensus, Brunei can contribute to regional stability, human rights, and the rule of law.
The 5 Points Consensus aims to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to those affected, prevent violence, create conditions for the safe and voluntary return of the Rohingya people to their homes in Rakhine State, and engage with the Myanmar government to address the root causes of the crisis and coordinate with the international community to support efforts to address the crisis. These principles are designed to address the immediate humanitarian needs of those affected while also working towards a long-term solution that focuses on the safe and dignified return of the Rohingya people to their homes in Myanmar.
Please share Brunei’s development in the last ten years.
High Commissioner: Brunei has made significant strides in diversifying its economy from its traditional reliance on oil and gas. The government has implemented various measures to promote non-oil and gas sectors, including establishing the Brunei Darussalam Economic Development Board (BEDB), developing industrial parks, and promoting entrepreneurship. These efforts have resulted in a growing non-oil and gas sector, contributing to a more diversified and resilient economy.
Brunei has also invested substantially in social development, particularly healthcare, education, and infrastructure. The government has expanded healthcare facilities, trained medical professionals, and implemented preventive healthcare programs, improving access to quality healthcare for all citizens. It has ensured that all citizens have access to quality education from primary to tertiary levels, providing free education at all levels and enhancing the quality of education through various initiatives. Additionally, Brunei has invested in developing modern infrastructure, including roads, bridges, telecommunications networks, and utilities, facilitating economic growth and enhancing the quality of life for citizens. These advancements have contributed to a higher standard of living and improved well-being for Bruneians.
Brunei has maintained a stable political system, with His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah as the head of state and government. The country has implemented various reforms to enhance transparency and accountability, such as establishing the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and introducing e-government initiatives. These measures have contributed to a more open and accountable government, enhancing citizen participation and trust in the political system.
Brunei’s economy willgradually become less reliant on oil and gas, with the non-oil and gas sector contributing a growing share of GDP. Government initiatives and the growth of tourism, agriculture, and ICT industries have driven this diversification. The government has promoted tourism by developing Brunei’s natural attractions, cultural heritage, and unique experiences, increasing tourist arrivals and tourism revenue. It has supported the development of the agriculture sector through initiatives such as providing subsidies, training farmers, improving agricultural infrastructure, boosting farm production and contributing to food security. Brunei has also invested in developing its ICT infrastructure and promoting the growth of ICT-related industries, resulting in increased adoption of ICT technologies and new digital services. These diversification efforts have made Brunei’s economy more resilient and less vulnerable to fluctuations in oil and gas prices.
What is your observation on the different growth of Bangladesh in the previous years? What did you wish to be in your childhood?
High Commissioner: Bangladesh has experienced impressive economic growth, transitioning from a low-income country to a lower-middle-income country. This growth stems from various factors, including maintaining macroeconomic stability, achieving strong export performance, investing in infrastructure, witnessing growth in the service sector, and benefiting from a favourable demographic dividend. As a result of this economic growth, Bangladesh has significantly improved various socio-economic indicators. Poverty has been reduced considerably, health outcomes have improved, literacy rates have increased, and gender equality indicators have progressed.
Despite these achievements, Bangladesh still faces challenges, such as persistent poverty and inequality, urbanization and infrastructure pressures, and the threat of climate change with its rising sea level and extreme weather events. Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in recent years, and the future holds promise. The country has the potential to continue its growth and development trajectory, addressing its challenges and becoming a prosperous nation.
Has there been any significant change in your past and present perception of the general people in Bangladesh?
High Commissioner: My perception of the general people in Bangladesh has been one of resilience, warmth, and a strong sense of community. Their determination and spirit in the face of challenges, including frequent natural disasters and socio-economic hurdles. Hospitality is a core cultural value, and visitors to Bangladesh are consistently met with open arms, reflecting the country’s deep-rooted tradition of welcoming guests with genuine warmth and generosity.
Bangladeshi society places a high value on community and social bonds. Communities often come together to support one another during times of need, whether celebrating festivals, organizing communal activities, or helping each other in times of crisis. The concept of “community” extends beyond immediate family to neighbours and even strangers in need.
Additionally, Bangladeshis take pride in their rich culture, prioritize education, and often engage in philanthropic endeavours. Their diverse backgrounds add vibrancy to the nation, and their spirit of innovation and hard work is evident in various fields. These all have left a lasting impression on me, and I have deep respect for the people of Bangladesh.
According to the Brunei people, what is the future of Bangladesh?
High Commissioner: From Brunei’s point of view, Bangladesh’s future is highly promising and full of potential. Due to its strategic location in South Asia, it plays a vital role in regional and international trade, making it a crucial player in the global economy. This strategic significance puts Bangladesh in a position to encourage further international collaboration, becoming a key partner in various trade and infrastructure initiatives.
From an economic perspective, Bangladesh is rapidly growing, driven by a thriving manufacturing sector and an expanding middle class, which presents significant development opportunities. Being one of the world’s most densely populated countries, it has a sizable workforce that can contribute significantly to global industries and innovation. Bangladesh’s thriving ICT sector demonstrates its focus on education and technology. It aligns with the worldwide trend towards a knowledge-based economy.
Amidst all these factors, Bangladesh’s vibrant culture, deeply rooted in history and tradition, remains an invaluable asset. Its rich heritage, diverse arts, and deep-rooted cultural practices contribute to its soft power, fostering greater global recognition and influence.
Bangladesh is an important country that is growing and developing. It also actively collaborates with other countries on a global level. Brunei people recognize this potential and view Bangladesh as a partner with a promising future.
Tell our readers about your experience in Dhaka.
High Commissioner: My four and a half years of experience in Dhaka have been characterized by warm hospitality, rich cultural experiences, and engaging diplomatic work. It has been an honour to serve as the Brunei High Commissioner to Bangladesh and contribute to strengthening bilateral relations.
The warmth and kindness of the Bangladeshi people are widely known, and I have experienced it firsthand during my time in Dhaka. I have received friendly smiles and greetings on the streets and invitations to share meals and participate in local celebrations, all of which have made me feel welcomed and embraced by the warmth of Bangladeshi hospitality.
Bangladesh is a culturally diverse country that blends many languages, traditions, and artistic expressions. I have been immersed in the cultural richness of Bangladesh, from vibrant handicrafts to soulful folk music and captivating dance performances.
As the Brunei High Commissioner to Bangladesh, my diplomatic work has played an essential role in strengthening the bilateral relations between the two nations. My efforts have fostered understanding, cooperation, and collaboration, promoting trade, investment, and cultural exchange between Brunei and Bangladesh.
My time in Dhaka has been a memorable chapter in my life, filled with personal and professional growth, cultural immersion, and meaningful contributions to international relations. As I reflect on my experiences, I will always cherish the warmth of Bangladeshi hospitality, the vibrant cultural tapestry of the country, and the honour of serving as a bridge between Brunei and Bangladesh.
We are grateful to you for improving brotherly relations between Bangladesh and Brunei. Thank you very much on behalf of journalists as well as the citizen of Bangladesh.
High Commissioner: I appreciate the kind words from Business Mirror and the citizens of Bangladesh. Strengthening the brotherly relations between Bangladesh and Brunei is a shared goal, and I am committed to continuing to work towards this objective through diplomatic efforts and collaboration in various sectors. Thank you for your support and partnership in this Endeavour.