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Jakarta Post

Civic engagement essential to promote SDGs in Brunei

  • Simone Galimberti

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Kathmandu   /   Fri, September 18, 2020   /   09:58 am
Civic engagement essential to promote SDGs in Brunei Traditional stilt village Kampong Ayer on the Brunei River in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei Darussalam. (Shutterstock.com/Leonid Andronov)

Brunei Darussalam submitted its first ever voluntary national review (VNR) at the 2020 United Nations HighLevel Political Forum, a global platform that helps governments respect their pledges toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The report is a key document that all nations have to submit as part of their obligation toward implementing the Agenda 2030, the global blueprint for a more just and sustainable future.

Unlike many other nations, Brunei Darussalam is in an enviable situation with limited poverty, high level of education, a generous welfare state and continuous attempt toward women’s empowerment.

It has been highly successful in stemming the worst consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and it registered a remarkable 2.4 percent growth in the first quarter of the year.

The nation can proudly boast a considerable number of achievements, from targeted social protection schemes for the most vulnerable segments of the population to up-skilling and training initiatives to further enhance the employability rate to efforts to propel its citizens toward a more sustainable, greener development.

To some extent, it was concerning that, given its strengths and wealth, Brunei Darussalam was among the few nations that had yet to present its voluntary report.

The fact that Brunei Darussalam finally made it should be considered a remarkable milestone itself.

Can such a move herald a new path toward higher levels of commitment, not only toward the SDGs but also as a stepping stone toward higher levels of community engagement, a sine qua non ingredient to achieve the goals and an ineludible premise for more participatory governance?

This comes with another important development, the recent endorsement of the National Climate Change Policy setting requirements for green gas industrial polluters to the disclosure of its carbon footprint from 2021.

Ownership and alignment are essential: The national SDGs efforts are fully aligned and instrumental to achieve the Wawasan Brunei 2035, the national vision through which Brunei Darussalam aspires to be recognized, regionally and globally, as a dynamic and sustainable and highly educated society.

While the VNR lacks data and targets, an area that must be greatly improved, one of the most inspiring aspects of the document is the whole of society approach being used where local not-forprofit organizations and the private sector join a national effort, forming effective partnerships with the government.

You will find interesting case studies, from environmental conservation to the holistic development of citizens living with disabilities just to mention two areas, on the work being done by local nonprofits, many of them run by youths, local changemakers who strive to make the country better.

Many of these best practices are driven by the spirit of volunteerism and active citizenship.

For example, Hand4Hand Brunei and Society for Community Outreach and Training (SCOT) are not just focused on development assistance and care but are also geared toward the development of skills of local youths and volunteerism is a key element that propels positive change both at the personal and community levels.

Creating more and more volunteerism opportunities can be fundamental to achieving Wawasan Brunei 2035 and the national goals linked to the SDGs.

Volunteerism can truly make the difference at the community level, helping to create more cohesive societies, enhancing a sense of belonging, creating the conditions not only for a more caring society but also for a society where people are active and engage.

People’s participation and involvement are indispensable as, despite many success stories and achievements already pursued, challenges remain.

The government of Brunei is introducing reform to the welfare system that will drastically improve efforts to further reduce the remaining pockets of vulnerability, creating more efficiency and generating stronger data, indispensable in the pursuit of the SDGs and the Integrated Plan of Action on Poverty Eradication is being reviewed.

For these initiatives to be fully successful, it is going to be essential to involve the citizenry, especially the youth, in all the national development efforts.

The SDGs offer an incredible opportunity to leverage people’s creativity and ingenuity, creating opportunities for bottom-up solutions, driven by people in partnership with the government.

It should not be surprising that one of the imperatives to the successful implementation of the goals is localizing them in forms of both geographically smaller targets to be achieved at community levels but also in terms of allowing citizens to have venues to participate and partner with the government.

This is an area where Indonesia has world-class expertise and the two nations could forge partnerships for localizing SDGs, including sharing of expertise at the policy level but also through people-to-people interactions.

This should be a priority for a country like Brunei Darussalam that is committed to promote self-reliance and higher levels of sustainability.

The upcoming chairmanship of ASEAN could offer an opportunity for Brunei Darussalam to show leadership and vision to come up with a stronger regional approach to the SDGs, one that puts the youth of the region at the center.

Its own are creative and innovative, as for example the MyActionForSDGs, an award winning campaign that involved and engaged the youth of Brunei Darussalam in a long journey for a better tomorrow, demonstrated.

Following up on the VNR with also stronger data and better targets, continuing supporting and enabling non state actors, especially those led by youths is the right way forward for Brunei Darussalam to strengthen the level of civic engagement and civic involvement in ensuring that the country’s future will be SDGs driven.

Localizing the SDGs will also create a new sense of active participation that is so indispensible to create a stronger sense of citizenship’s ownership in local affairs.

The path toward a steps-wise and progressive opening of the political landscape of the country could start with the SDGs.

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Cofounder of ENGAGE who writes on social inclusion, youth development and regional integration as an engine to improve people’s lives in Asia

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.