Proposal to amend Brunei's law on citizenship turned down

LegCo members discussed the citizenship issue during the meeting.

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN - The Minister of Home Affairs turned down a proposal for the government to amend Brunei's National Citizenship Act of 1961.

Yang Berhormat Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Hj Awg Badaruddin Pengarah Dato Paduka Hj Awg Othman said there is no need to amend the Act, in response to a suggestion by Yang Berhormat Pehin Kapitan Lela Diraja Dato Paduka Goh King Chin.

During the Legislative Council meeting yesterday, YB Pehin Dato Goh King Chin proposed that stateless individuals who are aged 60 and above be granted citizenship and for the Nationality Act be amended.

The Act states that any person born in the Sultanate "who is commonly accepted as belonging to one of the seven indigenous groups of the Malay race: Belait, Bisaya, Brunei, Dusun, Kedayan, Murut or Tutong is a citizen by operation of law".

YB Pehin Dato Goh King Chin said that before Brunei achieved independence, every resident held a British passport. Upon independence, only those belonging to the seven Malay indigenous groups became citizens.

He cited the case of Australia, Canada, Malaysia and Singapore, which were under the British Colony. When they achieved independence, every resident in those countries received citizenship, he said.

This was not the case for Hong Kong and Brunei as the two were British Protectorates, YB Pehin Dato Goh King Chin said.

"In the 1950s, the Tiong Hwa community also held the Certificate of Identity (CI). If they wanted to become Bruneian citizens, they needed to abide by the Nationality Act by taking a brief oral exam."

But now, he said the processes have become more difficult.

The LegCo member thus suggested that the government grant citizenship to those who are born in the country, those who are more than 60 years old and those who have contributed to the nation in aspects of business, professional and others.

In response, the Home Affairs minister clarified that people in the seven indigenous groups did not necessarily become citizens after independence in 1984 because the Nationality Act already existed in 1961.

This Act confirmed that people in the seven groups can get citizenship, while the rest can apply provided they fulfil the requirements.

Among these are length of stay in the country and passing the Malay language test.

The minister said "every nation nearby also had stateless citizens and they are given the CI to travel outside the country".

Citing the agreement made in 1979 between the British and government that allowed Brunei to take over its international responsibility as a sovereign nation, the minister said the matter of citizenship for those who did not belong in the seven groups was raised in the exchange of notes between the Monarch and the English government.

"In the exchange of notes, it was explained that they can become citizens and live in Brunei once the requirements under the existing laws are fulfilled. Hence the independence did not change the Act, it actually preserved it and that is why (the Act) is very fundamental to Brunei.

"In conclusion, I feel confident in the National Citizenship Act, it is important for Brunei Darussalam in the long term, and that I feel there is not yet a need to amend the Act," the minister said.