PRs: Setting the record straight

Saturday, December 16, 2006

DOES Brunei divide its permanent residents into two categories, namely PRs who are stateless and PRs who hold foreign passports? More specifically, does this country discriminate PRs with foreign passports, forbidding them from becoming officebearers or ordinary committee members of local associations? The Government, through its Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs Dato Awang Hj Yusoff bin Hj Ismail and the Director of Immigration and National Registration Awang Zainal Abidin bin Dato Paduka Hj Ahmad, has answered this poser, which has caused considerable concern inthe Chinese community in recent years.

Their reply, made during a recent public forum, was clear and comprehensive: The Government of Brunei does not, as a matter of policy, prevent PRs who hold foreign passports from actively taking part in local Chinese associations by becoming their office-bearers or committee members. The Brunei Government understands fully well the good intention of PRs who hold foreign passports but are anxious to be admitted into the main stream society.

The forum themed ‘‘PR Applications: Impact on the Business Community’’ was organised by the French- Bruneian Business Association under the auspices of the French Ambassador who is also honorary president of the business association. Foreign ambassadors, diplomats, officers from the Ministry of Home Affairs, prominent figures in the business community and various professionals attended the forum.

Who are Brunei’s permanent residents? The Director of Immigration replied: ‘‘A person to whom a Residence Permit has been issued under subsection (1) of Section 67 of the Immigration Enactment 1956 ( Enactment No 23 of 1956) or to whom an Entry Permit has been issued under subsection (2) of Section 10 of the Immigration Act (Chapter 17).’’

He said that since July 1, 1958, there have been 52,450 applicants granted Permanent Resident status irrespective of whether they ‘‘possess foreign nationality’’ or are ‘‘without any nationality’’.

The applicants eligible for PR status fall under one of the following four categories, namely:

¦ Wife of a Bruneian citizen (requirement: two years of marriage and residence in Brunei );

¦ Wife of a Brunei PR (requirement: five years of marriage and residence in Brunei );

¦ Child whose mother is Bruneian citizen (two years of age and residence in Brunei); and

¦ Child whose father is a Brunei PR (two years and six months of age and residence in Brunei).

Effective May15, 2006, the following three new categories were added:

¦ Applicants who contribute to the economic growth and development of the country;

¦ Professionals who contribute to the economic growth and development of the country; and

¦ Husband of a Bruneian citizen.

This new measure is very popular and considered a major breakthrough in Brunei’s thinking on economic development and national construction in line with the nation’s overall and long-term interest. And in concept, the measure encourages the various races in the country to forge ahead into the new century of globalisation.

When the talk was over, during the tea break, when the mingling crowd were able to seek answers to lingering questions, the message one got was clear: In granting PR status to foreign investors, entrepreneurs, businessmen and professionals, His Majesty’s Government means to recognise the fact that many of them have long been residents of Brunei, and giving them PR status would enhance their sense of belonging so that they would be encouraged to increase their investment or make long-term investment with confidence. It would also provide them an incentive to make greater and more brilliant contributions to Brunei. It was made clear to those present that to stop the PRs from becoming part of Brunei was contrary to the Government’s intention. To allege that the Brunei Government would exclude PRs holding foreign passports from local associations would be misrepresentation. If ever any government servant has made such disturbing statement, it would be his personal opinion, not government policy. Spread no such misinformation, lest confusion may ensue.

It is necessary topoint out that there is no provision in the Societies Order 2005 that disallows PRs with foreign passports from becoming president, secretary, treasurer or committee members of an association. The Societies Order 2005 replaces The Societies Act 1948 (Chapter 66) and becomes law with effect from January 4, 2005. It adds more provisions and increases the powers of the Registrar. These changes in the law are obviously necessary for the better control and management of societies.

However, the powers vested in the Registrar are not absolute or beyond challenge in accordance with the law.

The position of Registrar of Societies has always been, since the time of Britishrule, assumed by the Commissioner of Police, answerable, now under present Constitutional arrangement, to the Prime Minister’s Office. Not only does he have to follow the principle of rule of law, he is of necessity, to set a law-abiding example.

Though his powers may be formidable, he has no power to legislate for himself or to act in a manner ultra vires.

For instance, has the Registrar the power to direct a particular association to amend its constitution so that its members who are PRs holding foreign passports might be disqualified from becoming office-bearers or committee members?

The appropriate answer would be: If you are of the view that the Registrar’s direction is not consistent with the provisions in Societies Order 2005, or that he is actually acting ultra vires, you may then take issue with him. To do so would not be disrespectful or tant amount to disloyalty to the country.

If arguing with a powerful government servant leads nowhere, you may still have a recourse – to appeal to his boss, the Minister of Home Affairs. Brunei has inherited the British system of law and administrative tradition, and minds very much its system of checks and balances it learnt from the British.

We should treasure and keep in good order the precious legacy left by our former administrator. Let no one make trouble toour much admired Government. However, let us not condone harmful error or deviation. This writer prays the Chinese associations would set a law a biding example by not introducing into their respective constitution provisions that discriminate their own kind, contrary to official position.

The author was born in Miri, Malaysia and has been a Brunei PR for more that 60 years. He retired fromlegal practice in late 1980s. He is an honorary adviser to a few Chinese associations.