Month back Brunei’s ruler announced a major shake-up of his cabinet on Tuesday replacing six top ministers just over a couple of years after they were appointed.
Brunei‘s northern tip on the South China Sea, thousands of Chinese workers are building a refinery and petrochemical complex, along with a bridge connecting it to the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan.
When completed, the first phase of the $3.4 billion complex on Muara Besar island, run by China’s Hengyi Group, will be Brunei’s largest-ever foreign investment project, and comes at a time when the oil-dependent country needs it the most.
Brunei’s oil and gas reserves are expected to run out within two decades. As production falls, oil firms won’t be investing much into existing facilities, further hampering output, oil analysts say. As a result, the country’s oil revenues, which provide virtually all of Brunei’s government spending, are in steady decline.
With youth unemployment rising, Brunei’s ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, is trying to quickly reform the economy and diversify its sources of income, while fighting graft and cracking down on dissent.
Brunei’s changing fortunes have been reflected its financial industry. HSBC pulled out of Brunei last year, while Citibank exited in 2014 after 41 years. Bank of China, meanwhile, opened its first branch in the sultanate in December 2016.
The Muara Besar project is promising over 10,000 jobs, at least half of which would go to fresh graduates, media reports in Brunei said. But claims that thousands of Chinese workers have been shipped in to build the complex has angered some local residents.
“There are no jobs for us, so why create some for the Chinese?” asked one shopkeeper in the capital city.
‘Maritime Silk Road’
Hengyi Industries, the local company building the refinery, did not respond to requests for comment. The company, founded in 2011 and based in Bandar Seri Begawan, expects to complete the first phase of the refinery and petrochemical complex on Muara Besar by the end of the year, according to its website.
A $12 billion second phase will expand the refinery capacity to 281,150 barrels per day, and build units to produce 1.5 million tonnes per year of ethylene and 2 million tpy of paraxylene, the company said last month.
Total Chinese investment in Brunei is now estimated at $4.1 billion, according to the American Enterprise Institute’s China Global investment tracker.
That will almost certainly rise as China ramps its“Belt and Road” initiative. Sometimes called the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road, it envisages linking China with Southeast Asia, Africa and Eurasia through a complex network of ports, roads, railways and industrial parks.
“Brunei is an important country along the 21st century Maritime Silk Road,” China’s Ambassador to Brunei Yang Jian said at the opening ceremony in February 2017 for a joint venture, running Brunei’s largest container terminal.
Accumulated US foreign investment in Brunei, by contrast, was just $116 million in 2012, the latest figures available, according to the U.S. State Department.
China has invested about $205 billion in East Asia between 2010 and 2017, according to the China Global investment tracker.
It’s been increasing those investments while tussling with four other Southeast Asian nations, including Brunei, over competing claims to islets and atolls in the South China Sea.
Building good relations and offering big investments are part of China’s strategy to split Southeast Asian nations to ensure there is no consensus on South China Sea matters,” said Jatswan Singh, associate professor at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, who has authored four books on Brunei.
“The Sultanate is hard-pressed for investments to diversify its economy, and in this sense the Chinese investments are important to (Brunei),” he said.
Brunei has not commented publicly about its territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Whittling back benefits
There was a time not so long ago, with oil prices over $100 a barrel, when Brunei citizens could care less about jobs at a refinery.
Squeezed between two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo, Brunei provided cradle-to-grave benefits for its 420,000 citizens, including zero taxes, subsidized housing and free education and health care.
But the sultan has had to whittle back some of those benefits — Brunei has been in recession for three straight years — and tighten up the ship of state.
The 71-year-old Bolkiah, the world’s second-longest reigning monarch, reshuffled his cabinet again last month, replacing six top ministers — just over a couple of years after they were appointed. No explanation was given.
Sources close to the government and foreign diplomats say Bolkiah wanted to weed out corruption, and address grumbling among the Malay-Muslim majority who are unhappy with the pullback in welfare programs, budget cuts and unemployment.
In the last available official report in 2014, the unemployment rate was put at 6.9 percent. Unofficial figures suggest youth unemployment could be as high as 15 percent.
“A majority in Brunei expect a job in the government, state linked firms or in the oil and gas sector. But all three have been hit pretty hard,” said one Western diplomat.
Bolkiah, who is also the prime minister, controls the key portfolios of defense, finance and foreign affairs.
The Sultan’s office did not respond to a request for comment and newly appointed ministers refused to comment during national day celebrations last week.
The Sultan, however, is still popular. He marked 50 years in power last October, with a glittering procession through the capital on a gilded chariot, cheered by well-wishers.
But in the long run, an economy based on dwindling single source of income could erode the relationship between the ruler and his subjects, said Muang Zarni, democracy advocate and a former research fellow at the London School of Economics.
“That doesn’t mean that will translate into street protests. But Bruneians know things are not as rosy as they appear in the Sultan’s newspapers and TV channels,” said Zarni, who quit the University Brunei Darussalam in 2013 over what he said was a lack of academic freedom.
The Academy Awards, or Oscars, the highest honors in the movie industry, were handed out on Sunday at a ceremony in Hollywood hosted by comedian Jimmy Kimmel.
Fantastical romance The Shape of Water won best picture, the film industry’s most prestigious honour, at Sunday’s Oscar ceremony.
Sam Rockwell (Best Supporting Actor, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Frances McDormand (Best Actress award, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Allison Janney (Best Supporting Actress, I, Tonya) and Gary Oldman (Best Actor, Darkest Hour)
The Fox Searchlight movie’s Mexican filmmaker, Guillermo del Toro, took home the best director Oscar, dashing the hopes of a rare win by a woman or a black filmmaker.
The movie about a mute cleaning woman who falls in love with a strange river creature had gone into the ceremony with a leading 13 nominations, and won a total of four Academy Awards.
As expected, Britain’s Gary Oldman was named best actor for playing World War Two leader Winston Churchill in Warner Bros’. Darkest Hour, while Frances McDormand’s woman in a fury was a popular best actress winner for Fox Searchlight’s dark comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
A Fantastic Woman, Chile’s groundbreaking story about a transgender woman, played by transgender actress Daniela Vega, won best foreign language film, and Mexican-inspired Coco was named best animated feature.
Sam Rockwell, and Allison Janney took home their first Oscars for their supporting roles Three Billboards and independent ice-skating movie I, Tonya, respectively.
Following is a list of winners in key categories for the awards:
Best Picture: The Shape of Water
Best Actor : Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
Best Actress: Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Director: Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water
Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Best Original Screenplay: Get Out
Best Adapted Screenplay: Call Me By Your Name
Best Animated Film: Coco
Best Documentary Film: Icarus
Best Foreign Language Film: A Fantastic Woman – Chile
Original Song: Remember Me – Coco
China said on Monday that it would never tolerate any separatist schemes for self-ruled Taiwan and would safeguard China’s territorial integrity with the aim of“reunification” with an island it considers its sacred territory.
Premier Li Keqiang issued the warning in a speech at the opening of the annual session of China’s parliament, his stern words coming amid mounting Chinese anger over a US bill that seeks to raise official contacts between Washington and Taipei.
On Friday, China said Taiwan would only get burnt if it sought to rely on foreigners, adding to the warnings from state media about the risk of war.
The US legislation, which only needs President Donald Trump’s signature to become law, says it should be US policy to allow officials at all levels to travel to Taiwan to meet their counterparts, permit high-level Taiwan officials to enter the United States “under respectful conditions” and meet US officials.
In his address to the largely rubber-stamp assembly, Li said China would promote the peaceful growth of relations across the Taiwan Strait and “advance China’s peaceful reunification”.
“We will remain firm in safeguarding China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and will never tolerate any separatist schemes or activities for Taiwan independence,” Li said, to applause from the 3,000-odd legislators at the Great Hall of the People.
“As fellow Chinese living on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, we share a bond of kinship. As long as we go with the tide of history and work together for our nation’s greater good, we will together create the future — a beautiful future of national rejuvenation.”
Taiwan’s China policy-making Mainland Affairs Council said it could not immediately comment.
Democratic Taiwan has shown no interest in being run by mainland China.
The OSCARS, 2018: 90 the Academy award Best Actor goes to Gary Oldman for Darkest hour. Best Actress Frances McDonald Guillermo del Toro wins best director award for ‘The Shape of Water.Nolan’s Dunkirk win 3 Oscars.Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney win support.
Frances McDormand goes eclectic on Sunday for her the Oscar for best actress for her role as a rage-filled woman seeking answers over her daughter’s murder in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
“I’m hyperventilating a little bit. If I fall over pick me up cause I’ve got some things to say,” she said. “I want to thank Martin McDonagh look what you did. We are a bunch of hooligans and anarchists but we do clean up nice.”
McDormand, who won her second Oscar after her performance in Fargo placed her statuette on the stage and dedicated the prize to all female nominees, across categories.
“If I may be so honoured to have all the female nominees stand with me in this room tonight. The film-makers the producers the directors, the writers, the cinematographers, the songwirters, the designers,” she said as many women in the audience got to their feet.
She bested Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) and Meryl Streep (The Post).
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri also won the award for best supporting actor, which went to Sam Rockwell for his acclaimed turn as a racist, violent police officer in the film.
RBI releases Priority Sector Lending-Targets and Classification
This is in reference to the revised priority sector guidelines issued to banks vide FIDD.CO.Plan.BC.54/04.09.01/2014-15 circular dated April 23, 2015 by RBI. It was stipulated therein under Para (II) (i) that the sub-targets for lending to small and marginal farmers and micro enterprises shall be made applicable for foreign banks with 20 branches and above, post 2018 after a review in 2017.
Accordingly, after undertaking a review of the priority sector lending profile of the above banks and to create a level-playing field within banks, it has been decided by RBI that the sub-target of 8 percent of Adjusted Net Bank Credit (ANBC) or Credit Equivalent Amount of Off-Balance Sheet Exposure (CEOBE), whichever is higher, shall become applicable for the foreign banks with 20 branches and above, for lending to the small and marginal farmers from FY 2018-19. Further, the sub-target of 7.50 percent of ANBC or CEOBE, whichever is higher, for bank lending to the Micro Enterprises shall also become applicable for the foreign banks with 20 branches and above from FY 2018-19.
Additionally, in the light of feedback received from various stakeholders and in line with the increasing importance of services sector in our economy, it has been decided by RBI to remove the currently applicable loan limits of Rs 5 crore and Rs 10 crore per borrower to Micro/ Small and Medium Enterprises (Services) respectively, for classification under priority sector. Accordingly, all bank loans to MSMEs, engaged in providing or rendering of services as defined in terms of investment in equipment under MSMED Act, 2006, shall qualify under priority sector without any credit cap.
Nearly 67 people were killed by a major earthquake that devastated Papua New Guinea’s remote highlands last week, the Red Cross said Monday, with thousands homeless and without food and clean water.
Terrified locals in the Southern Highlands, Western, Enga and Hela provinces have also had to deal with strong aftershocks, including two 6.0-magnitude tremors early Monday.
Terrified locals in the Southern Highlands, Western, Enga and Hela provinces have also had to deal with strong aftershocks, including two 6.0-magnitude tremors early Monday.
Compounding the fallout was an announcement Monday that the impoverished country’s biggest-ever development — the PNG LNG project operated by US energy giant ExxonMobil — will be offline for up to eight weeks as the quake-hit facilities undergo repairs.
National Disaster Centre and disaster management teams on Friday is 67,” the PNG country head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Udaya Regmi told AFP from the capital Port Moresby.
“Around 143,000 people are affected and 17,000 people have been generally displaced because their homes are either fully or partially damaged and not in a condition to live in.”
Regmi added that water and sanitation were major concerns for local communities, with relief workers unable to get bigger trucks carrying food through to some areas because of damage to roads by landslides.
Relief efforts are slowly being ramped up, with millions of dollars in aid pledged by the government, ExxonMobil and the Australian energy producers, Oil Search and Santos, involved in the gas project.
The Australian and New Zealand defence forces have began delivering aid, while the China Red Cross and Beijing have pledged financial assistance, according to the PNG Post-Courier.
Oil Search managing director Peter Botten, who travelled to the Highlands to survey the damage, said the impact “has been enormous, with many deaths in the region as well as the destruction of houses, schools, roads and bridges”.
“Many communities are without basic necessities, such as food, clean water, shelter and medical support.”
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said last week the shutdown of the gas plant would have a “huge impact” on the economy, which is heavily dependent on its natural resources.
ExxonMobil PNG managing director Andrew Barry said production at the US$19 billion project would be restored as quickly as possible, adding that it was an “unprecedented event for the country” and the firm.
Shubhankar Sharma posts creditable tied ninth at WGC – Mexico Championship
Twenty-one-year-old climbs nine places to 66 in world ranking after posting top-10 at first PGA Tour and WGC appearance
March 5, 2018: Twenty-one-year-old Indian sensation Shubhankar Sharma, playing his first PGA Tour and WGC event at the US$ 10 million WGC – Mexico Championship in Mexico City, posted a creditable tied ninth finish.
With his top-10 finish at the event that featured an elite field of 64 and the who’s who of international golf, the European Tour and Asian Tour Order of Merit leader has now moved up from 75 to 66 in the world rankings.
Shubhankar (65-66-69-74), a two-time European Tour winner, became the talk of the golfing world after emerging as the solo leader after 36 and 54 holes.
Sharma led by two shots going into the final round with the chasing pack consisting of the world’s best such as Major winners Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas.
At the start of round four, the Chandigarh lad was on the cusp of creating history as he looked to conquer uncharted territory by achieving the biggest win by an Indian golfer in terms of prize money earned (US$ 1,660,000), stature of the event (only second to the Majors) and world ranking points earned.
However, as the putts didn’t roll in for him on the final day, Shubhankar posted a three-over-74 to end the week in tied ninth with a total score of 10-under-274. He made four bogeys on the last six holes.
American star Phil Mickelson (66), playing alongside Shubhankar in the leader group, went on to win the tournament after defeating compatriot Justin Thomas (64) in a playoff. Mickelson and Thomas were tied at the top with totals of 16-under-268 after the regulation 72 holes.
Shubhankar now returns home to India for this week’s Indian Open, a tournament co-sanctioned by the European and Asian Tours.