Sunday Jul 05

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Potholes: A Chip in Brunei's Society

2013 was the year where Brunei's structures renovated itself to fulfil the tagline of 'Abode of Peace'. This is more evident if you live near the capital, where the roads leading towards critical places like the ICC, Prime Minister's Office building, Gadong and Jerudong went through massive road renovations. What once filled the tyre of our cars with dread was now replaced by smooth driving from one place to another. It has been a very good year for our roads.

ASEAN and East Asian Summit were the culprits for these road improvements. Where once people complained about how the area around the stadium was not fit for running, there were less fuss despite the occasional flaws to the sidewalks and roads. People ran this year's many 5Ks with a good footing below their running shoes. The roads have improved!

For me though, this is a troubling sign as our position as citizens. It took foreign dignitaries and delegations to come to Brunei--from the prospect of Barack Obama gracing our soils (and asphalt!) to the hundreds of media personnels--for Brunei's authorities to finally take a step forward in improving the state of our roads. And even so, these improvements are only done at strategic areas, most of which went through extremely last minute push to cover the potholes that graces our roads here, there and everywhere.

The roads in Lambak (Kanan, Kiri, Tengah, Atas, Bawah, etc) are still heavily damaged.

The roads I use around my Kampong, for instance, have been damaged for an extremely long time. They are infested with potholes that are incredibly damaged that they can potentially cause accidents. Drivers are forced to take different sides of the roads despite their speed, zooming left and right like a pinball to avoid the deep potholes that can be found almost everywhere. This is extremely dangerous, and more so as these potholes plagued areas are also in close proximity to schools.

Year after year, people write letters to the editors of newspapers about this problem. Year after year, people complain to their Ketua Kampongs to get the roads fixed. But authorities would only fix it every so often. Even if they've fixed the roads, the potholes come back in a time span that is incredibly quick. I left Brunei earlier this year for nearly two months. Before I left, I saw people fixing an incredibly damaged road, one that is not safe to drive through at all, but is one of the main roads of my kampong. I was excited to finally see the area being fixed because it looked like a war broke out on that stretch of road. But when I came back two months later, the roads were already broken--black and fresh asphalt falling into the previous filled in pothole, unable to carry the weight of heavy trucks, my neighbours' towing their boats or a parent bringing a van filled with their family.

To fix an area to impress foreigners is crucial, I think, but what's even more important is the fact that citizens who have to deal with these problems every single day for years now. We don't have a space where our opinions are taken into heavy considerations, and when we bring the problems to Ketua Kampongs, they don't have much authority either. We are powerless, but foreigners are made to stay in Brunei and make it their home. They don't have to deal with the potholes for a long time, but we do. Every single day, I drive through dangerous roads, whether it's in Berakas or Gadong or Bunut or Seria. It makes me question what my worth is as a citizen in Brunei, that my country--that is gorgeous and I think has the best skies in the world--is made ugly because no one wants to fix the road.

There is an authority whose job it is to look into the road conditions in Brunei. They were recently featured on Rampai Pagi to talk about their duties. Their job is to find broken roads, particularly potholes, and get it fixed as soon as they can. However, on the edges of the Hassanal Bolkiah highway leading towards residential areas, you would notice how the roads went from smooth to bumpy and broken after you pass the Airport. These roads have been like that for a majority of the year--where are these authorities?

The budget for Jabatan Kerja Raya (JKR) has grown in the past four years. In 2012, the budget for road structures alone was raised by 5.3 million BND as part of the preparation for ASEAN and EAS. Although I can't find the statistics for 2013's, I can safely say that with the amount of smooth roads in front of the JPM building, that they have more money this year than previously. But a majority of the money to fixing roads are not spent on citizens, they are spent on keeping appearance to people who only have to be in Brunei for a week. Why are we--as people who live in Brunei, who are the cogs and screw that runs the country--not worthy of good roads?

I've concluded this: Potholes is a metaphor in Brunei. It's a chip, a massive chip, in our society. It's a chip that no one wants to fix because it isn't viewed as important to appear good for your citizens. We talk big to foreigners--like how Brunei is great, peaceful and calm--but we ourselves can't seem to improve our own livelihoods. We are so invested on caring for people that we forget our own worth and value. You can advise me--or anyone--to avoid the potholes or to deal with it, but avoiding it means not fixing it. We need to fix broken things. Would you leave the leak on your roof alone when there are other consequences to it ranging from having your house collapsing and losing your loved ones? You wouldn't.

We all have value as citizens and our government should try to impress us too. Subsidies are great, but it's also the government's job to ensure our roads are safe for us to drive and walk through. Brunei is my home and the broken roads have been forced to be a part of my home, and I don't like seeing my home broken and abandoned underneath the weight that will make it collapse.

teahprofAbout the Contributor: Teah is the co-founder of Bruneians:Read, an organisation aiming to strengthen literacy and education in Brunei through reading. She is also the editor-in-chief of the Brunei based writing zine, Songket Alliance.

Be sure to also read Teah's previous piece - 5 Things Bruneians Need to Talk About.


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