Last week, Brunei declared that all shops and restaurants in the country’s capital will not be allowed to operate after midnight following a new government regulation.
According to media reports, a circular issued by the Bandar Seri Begawan Municipal Department noted that effective immediately, permission previously granted to shops or restaurants to operate after midnight have been revoked. Furthermore, it noted that if any shop is found violating the new midnight ban, actions will be taken including issuing a letter of suspension or canceling the license of the business in question.
The BSB Municipal Chairman told The Brunei Times that the ruling will be applied nationwide, with similar circulars distributed soon to other municipalities. He also added that this would apply to all eateries and shops, including small sundry shops (kedai runcit) and other food vendors who usually operate 24 hours a day.
The new directive has reportedly faced opposition among regular Bruneians for several reasons. While some speculated that the move may be linked to curbing social ills, be it reducing crime during late hours or preventing loitering by the youth, The Borneo Bulletin quoted a few businessmen in Brunei as saying that they were concerned that the authorities did not mention the regulation before the announcement and involve the business community in the decision-making process. Restaurant owners and staff also said they were worried about the impact on their income, whether it be from regular Bruneians or visiting tourists.
Other Bruneians interviewed about the directive by The Brunei Times noted the impact on workers and citizens. A man who only wanted to be identified as Hj Mohd Ali said the new regulation would make it difficult for people who work night shifts to get their meals. He also said that there may be an additional issue during the month of Ramadan, since it would make it difficult for Muslims to consume meals early in the morning before fasting known as sahur – which would also affect businesses.
“People will only eat when they break their fast. After that there wouldn’t be many people eating until sahur. Now people can’t eat during sahur in restaurants anymore because they’re closed,” he said.
Brunei’s midnight ban is just the latest sign of strict regulations being issued in the country, particularly following the implementation of a strict new penal code first published in October 2013. The Diplomat has covered some of the restrictions recently seen in the tiny, oil rich, Malay-Muslim majority country, including a ban on Christmas decorations and Chinese New Year performances.