Saturday, December 02, 2006

Prince Jefri and Brunei

There was article about Brunei's Prince Jefri in the Telegraph yesterday. Prince Jefri is the current Sultan's youngest brother.
(Prince Jefri is on the left, the other guy is the HM Sultan of Brunei)

Prince Jefri used to be Brunei's Minister of Finance before it all went wrong in the late 90s. In short, he had grand (but ultimately unrealistic) plans for Brunei's development through a company he set up called Amedeo. Unfortunately, as the world now knows, he didn't seem to have the business sense to make sure the projects were "best-value", so to speak. He was taken for a ride by con-men who charged $2,000 for $2 lightbulbs. This coupled with over-ambitious ideas and bad taste, led a period in Brunei's history that shall be known as the "cloud-cuckooland phase", when expatriates from all over the world feasted on Brunei's expense account. To be fair, a few Bruneians made a lot of money too and we got a nice free amusement park as well as a fine hotel.

At the time, most people were swept along with it - hey, everyone who came to Brunei at the time thought - My God, this country is swimming in money! And let's face it, who doesn't like to be rich? (Or at least have all their neighbours think that they are rich....) No one likes it when the bill from the credit card company arrives.
Slowly, inevitably, the cracks started to appear and one day, it seemed that the people who were really in charge woke up. Like, uh, where have you been for the last five years?? All the projects came to standstill and there was talk of misappropriation of funds, scandalous behaviour, house arrest, international lawsuits etc etc. The word on the street was that Brunei's coffers were empty.
So yes, Prince Jefri has been a very bad boy. But when he says he is being made into a scapegoat, there is an element of truth there. I mean, Brunei is a smaaall country ....... everybody knows everyone else's business. It's not as if you could miss the great big amusement park, hotel, marina and various assorted palaces he was building all over the place.

Its a shame the dream ended in a nightmare. Obviously the unbridled spending had to come to an end, but at least he had a -I don't know - a vision, a plan, a dream of what Brunei could be. Or maybe he was just a megalomaniac who had more money than sense. Small fish like me will never know the truth.

All I know is, whenever I see pictures of Dubai's amazing development on TV, (a country that doesn't even have any oil, aarrggghhhh!), I always think of Brunei. Sigh.

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