On February 7, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah delivered an official speech addressing the major cabinet reshuffle that took place on January 30. Cabinet reshuffles typically happen every five years in Brunei and therefore caught many by surprise. The announcement followed a surprise dismissal of the Health Minister last December and saw several other long-serving cabinet members replaced mid-term. The reshuffle also took place ahead of Brunei’s parliamentary session which is held in March annually.
In his speech, the Sultan expressed his disappointment that some of the dismissed officials were working for their own personal agendas and that some wanted “to conform to the wishes of outsiders and foreigners”, not having Brunei’s best interest in mind. The cabinet shake-up includes the replacement of Second Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Lim Jock Seng; and Minister of Energy and Industry Mohammad Yasmin – both traditionally are known as the officials closest to the Sultan.
There is some speculation that Yasmin's dismissal may be related to a USD45 million dispute involving Brunei Shell Petroleum (a 50:50 joint venture between the Government of Brunei and Royal Dutch Shell) in which Yasmin was named as one of the parties. Amrtur Corp, a pipeline and maintenance company founded by Mahmod Yakop, a former military officer in Brunei had sent a legal letter (which then leaked) claiming that Brunei Shell Petroleum breached its contracts causing Armtur to suffer lost revenues of USD45 million between 2012-2016. The letter itself was a preliminary step and it is not clear whether it was ever lodged in court. With Yasmin being named as one of the parties, the news became a notably high-profile confrontation in the tightly politically controlled sultanate. This however was never confirmed.
It is also interesting to monitor how Brunei will proceed further with the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership following Lim Jock Seng's departure. Lim Jock Seng is one of the early proponents of the Trans Pacific Partnership which led to Brunei being a founding member of the Trans Pacific Partnership.
Despite the cabinet change, we do not expect a significant change in government policy that would affect the US-Brunei bilateral relationship. Below is the summary of the reshuffle:
- Second Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Dato Seri Setia Lim Jock Seng, who served in the post for 12 years, is replaced by Deputy Minister Dato Paduka Hj Erywan. Dato Paduka Hj Erywan served as Director of Brunei LNG Sendirian Berhad, Brunei Shell Petroleum Company Sendirian Berhad and its subsidiaries.
- Second Minister of Finance Dato Seri Setia Hj Abd Rahman Hj Ibrahim, who held the post for 12 years, is replaced by Deputy Minister Dato Seri Paduka Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah. Dato Seri Paduka Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah also serves as Chairman of the Brunei Economic Development Board.
- Energy and Industry Minister Dato Seri Setia (Dr) Hj Mohammad Yasmin is replaced by Dato Paduka Dr Hj Mat Suny, a former Deputy Minister of Development and former deputy managing director of Brunei Shell Petroleum
- Education Minister Dato Seri Setia Hj Suyoi, who held several ministerial portfolios over the past 12 years including health and development, is now replaced by Dato Paduka Hj Hamzah, a Permanent Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO)
- Communications Minister Dato Seri Setia Hj Mustappa, appointed to the position just two years ago, is now replaced by Abdul Mutalib, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs
- Development Minister Dato Seri Setia Bahrin Abdullah, first appointed in 2015, is replaced by Deputy Minister Dato Seri Paduka Hj Suhaimi
- Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Zulkarnain bin Haji Hanafi replaced by Dato Paduka Dr Haji Md Isham bin Jaafar, previously Executive Director, Medical Director and member of the Board of Directors of Jerudong Park Medical Centre.
- Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Dato Paduka Seri Awang Hj Halbi is replaced by Dato Paduka Seri Hj Aminuddin Ihsan, currently Brunei’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and a former commander of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces (RBAF) from 2009 to 2014. Dato Paduka Seri Awang Hj Halbi is now appointed as the Second Minister of Defense. Before joining MCYS in 2015, he served as Commander of the RBAF from 2003 to 2009.
The cabinet reshuffle also marks the following changes:
- Dato Seri Paduka Hj Abdul Mokti is promoted from Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs to Minister at PMO
- Dato Laila Utama Hj Awang Isa, the former Home Affairs Minister, is appointed as a Minister at PMO and special advisor to His Majesty
- Datin Hjh Elinda, permanent secretary for PMO and director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, is appointed as Deputy Minister at PMO
- Datin Paduka Dr Hjh Romaizah, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education, is appointed as Deputy Minister of Education
- Dato Paduka Ahmaddin, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Finance, is appointed as Deputy Minister of Finance
- Dato Seri Paduka Hj Bahrom is transferred from his post as Deputy Minister of Education to become Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs
- Dato Paduka Hj Matsatejo Sokiaw, former managing director of state-owned oil company PetroleumBRUNEI, has been made Deputy Minister of Energy and Industry.