The World Bank and World Economic Forum (WEF) estimate that for almost every USD1 spent on infrastructure, the multiplier effect in terms of economic growth can be five to 15 per cent. 

Brunei and Other States stand to benefit from Borneo’s complete infrastructure connectivity. Borneo, politically administered by three Countries at a time; Malaysia & Brunei and Indonesia. It is the third-largest Island in the world and largest in Asia.

While the Pan Borneo Highway planned by Malaysia is not an extensive Highway Road Network that goes around and connect the whole of Borneo Island.

Borneo Island
Photo: Map of Borneo Island.

Bruneians are looking forward to the day of its completion that may shorten their driving journey by 90 minutes to Kota Kinabalu (saving 1-1/2 hour), besides faster access to other destinations in Sabah, Sarawak or Kalimantan.

Brunei-China One Belt One Road Association Adviser Pengiran Dr. Haji Mohd Yakub Pengiran Haji Othman said on 16th World Islamic Economic Forum 2020 Roundtable pertaining to ‘Indonesia’s Shifting Capital: Opportunities for Borneo’ with regard to Brunei Darussalam.

He said: “The Bruneian diaspora is about one million strong outside the country which is more than Brunei Citizens and a lot of them are residing in Sabah as Malaysians.”

It was premised that the move would provide an impetus for the island of Borneo to thrive economically, benefiting its neighbouring States, be it from Government to Government ties, Business to Business ties or/and People to People ties.

Pengiran Dr Mohd Yakub speaks of integrating within the framework of BIMP-EAGA to boost competitiveness within the region. Brunei has been struggling to achieve economic diversification.

Despite the increasing Trade among ASEAN Countries and the increase in trade between ASEAN and the rest of the world, Brunei’s economic growth is probably the lowest in the region of one to two per cent a year compared to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and matters may improve when Indonesia’s capital is established in East Kalimantan.

Currently, despite improvements on Brunei’s economic environment, investments other than from China aren’t coming and it may be because foreign investors have a choice of 10 countries to invest their money.

ASEAN has been successful in attracting Foreign Direct Investments and ASEAN Free Trade Area has resulted in trade creation effect, where both the intra-trade and trade with the rest of the world, have increased.  

Dr. Mohd Yakub regaled the audience with his experience of travelling by road from Brunei to Kota Kinabalu the way the Bruneians console themselves with the long rigour of what on average a half-day drive or longer to make the experience less stressful and enjoyable.

“In Limbang, Sarawak, we would buy a Malaysian telco sim card if necessary. Then crossing over the border into Sabah, on reaching Sipitang, we would enjoy the satay there. For those who don’t know, Sipitang is famous for its satay dishes.”

“On reaching Beaufort, we would enjoy the ‘pau’ (buns) and coffee. In Bongawan, we would enjoy the ‘sup rusa’ or venison deer soup to fortify our stamina before playing golf at the Borneo Golf & Country Course nearby.”

In the State Capital, some Bruneians like Dr. Mohd Yakub would love to tee off at the Sabah Golf & Country Club, besides others in Karambunai, Tuaran even up to Tawau where there are ties with the various Brunei Golf Courses.

Hence, the networking golf session on March 11 at the Sutera Harbour Golf and Country Club here for the WIEF 2020 Roundtable Series delegates pleased him very much.

It shows the attraction of Sabah’s golf courses to attract tourists not only from Brunei but also Japanese and Korean golfers who love staying at the five-star hotels with attached golf courses.

It was acknowledged that BIMP-EAGA trade ties would be boosted by better road, sea and air connectivity, for example, the road linkage from Tawau’s Serudong to Simanggaris which borders North Kalimantan has yet to materialised, and Brunei which is surrounded by interior highlands of Sarawak needs access connectivity to Kalimantan vide Sabah’s Pan Borneo Highway.

According to Tan Sri Abdul Majid Khan, “When I spoke to Former Prime Minister Najib, he told me that there’s no money for the project then. The Indonesian had already built their road connection to the border, but Malaysia claimed that there’s security matters to consider. But when I spoke to the last Prime Minister Mahathir about it, he promised to make available the funds to build the road.”

Since then, the Philippines Government has been replaced by the Philippines Government which is to oversee the 12th Malaysia Plan development for Sabah that wishes for the road to be linked to North Kalimantan as there is an urgent need for major structural policy reform to invest in greater cross-border investments for Sabah that can benefit Brunei too.

An interesting point of whether regional integration is equally good for member ASEAN Countries. The answer is no if with Vietnam versus Brunei, as an example, because secular Vietnam benefits greatly from the tariff wars of the United States and their exports continue to power ahead at more than 13 per cent, but with a combined Borneo synergy of economic cooperation realised with BIMP-EAGA, things can be brighter for Brunei.

Indonesian capital in Borneo will be a long-term boon overall for all those who call the Island home. As East Kalimantan takes on strategic significance never before seen once the capital of the region’s largest country and economy is ensconced within its shores with the potential of Borneo as one of the region’s last development frontiers.

It will be a game-changer for Brunei with a Pan-Borneo Railway reality sooner around the entire circumference of Borneo Island if focused as an achievable infrastructure priority with China’s assistance as part of the Belt & Road Initiative.

Author: David Thien