Next Frontier for BSB’s Inclusive Development: A Mayoral System like London’s?

Studying and living in a global city like London is probably one of the most powerful things that any young person can do to draw inspiration on how developed cities work. Such knowledge, if judiciously taken into account of, could enhance a developed-developing city such as BSB into becoming ever more inclusive and innovative. Here are the suggestions that can be made in order to enable BSB to succeed based on what I have personally learned about the great British city.

London has a devolved form of government. Here the central government empowers a sub-government to govern the city on its behalf. The sub-government is led by the Mayor of London and a board of directors, persons entrusted to shaping policies and who are elected by those living in the city. Being elected to the positions give legitimacy and representation to those who are living in London. While it may not have direct control of the finances – them still being controlled by the UK treasury – it can utilise its lobbying power to to request and suggest improvements to the city.

As BSB evolves, it would probably best if Brunei can emulate such model. First, it can empower the present municipal board department with greater authority in order to govern the city. Next, the chairman and members of the board could be elected, as opposed of being appointed. The chairman title should be changed to “Datuk Bandaran” or “DB”. Collectively, they should represent the city community. If someone who can prove and promise that he or she can be better than the incumbent, then the person will have a shot in contesting in the next election. To maintain control over the municipal board, the central government can control the finances so they should be kept disciplined and orderly.

Stability in governing a city is important in the evolutionary process. That is why when Tony Blair passed the Greater Authority London Act in 1999 to create the Mayoral institution, he did not immediately give the sub-government full authority over the finances. Rather he set upon limits – the financial control are still the prerogative of the central government, not the city institution then – so once the institution matured then his predecessors, such as David Cameron, can gradually give more room for the institution to grow. Indeed, it has provided stability and growth over the years since the passing of the GLA Act 1999.

Elections for public office such as the Mayoral position should be seen as an opportunity to help a community grow and get representation vis-a-vie the MPK institution model. Indeed many existing village institutions have village elections across the country and the village leaders have done their part in representing their villagers in various areas. Modelling upon a similar process at the city-level enables city residents to mature in their civic duty towards society and to get much needed representation. Moreover it will help in making the city more inclusive.

Nonetheless, the election process must be supported by the government. The introduction of Brunei’s Electoral Commission can be a crucial first step. The election of the Datuk Bandaran and members of BSB’s municipal board should follow the suggested rules. First, the process must be inclusive in that everyone regardless of their race, gender, etc. should be allowed to contest in the election. If London was not inclusive, they may have never allowed Sadiq Khan to run for office. Second, the term tenure of Mayors should be set at every five-years. Finally, among many of the activities of the mayor, he or she should organise monthly city hall sessions so as to hear and act upon the voices of the people.

The merits of elections will keep these representative on their toes. It keeps them accountable to the promises they made to the people. If they fail and consistently fail to keep their words, then they should be booted out of office in the next election cycle. Let someone more competent takes his or her place to lead the city forward. In a similar vein, the Datuk Bandaran and the board must work at designing and implementing evidence-based moderate policies that will constantly seek broad-based consensus and public feedback. The policies must also be based upon the concept of respect for the state officials and residents.

The form of representative government at the city-level could go a long-way to help the government attain economic efficiency, social justice and inclusive development for the people. It may also enable the state to promote public participation in the running of the city. There are challenges that may entail in this policy implementation, but as the late Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew would have said it to his trusted allies and followers, “place someone competent in office; if the person fails to deliver, then sack him.” The government can also retain full control of the budget to ensure that the group in charge of BSB continue to promote moderation in areas of policy design and implementation. 

London may not be a perfect city to model upon. It too has its problems too, but if Brunei wants to evolve itself, then I highly invite young people to go to the city and observe its governance model. Research into its history and system, particularly its mayoral system and judge it to the situation in BSB’s context. For a wise man once said, whatever is good should be emulated and whatever that is irrelevant must be done away with. Revamping the city system is not an easy thing to do, but if Brunei is serious in its path toward inclusive development then it should never stop innovating itself. 

The least BSB can do now is to research the London’s mayoral system. If the idea fails, it fails. If the idea is good then retain and solidify it. The only risk I personally see here is inaction. It is time to change.

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