Crown Prince graces stone laying for BMC
By Liza Mohd

His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister's Office, yesterday morning consented to officiate the foundation-laying ceremony for Brunei Darussalam's $400 million methanol production plant (BMC) at the project site in Sungai Liang Industrial Park.

Yesterday's event marked a significant step in realising the nation's first natural gas chemical plant, which is also a landmark step towards economic diversification in the Sultanate.

Upon arrival at the methanol plant site, the Crown Prince was greeted by the Minister of Energy, Pehin Dato Awang Haji Yahya; the Belait District Officer, Haji Mohamad bin Haji Abdul Rahman; and Chairman of Sungai Liang Authority (SLA) Pengiran Kerma Raja Pengiran Haji Kamarulzaman.

Also present were government ministers, deputy ministers, foreign diplomats, and senior officials as well as members of the business communities involved with the methanol production plant.

The event commenced with a welcoming remark from the chairman of the authority who outlined the objectives of SLA that is to streamline the administrative process and foster a business-friendly operating environment in developing a globally competitive industrial site.

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam has consented to pass the Sungai Liang Authority Order designed to handle the needs of the industries at the Sungai Liang Industrial Park (SPARK), which include granting licences, approvals, consents and also to operate and manage common user facilities and services for SPARK among others, he noted.

The chairman said the event marked a new chapter in the development of the country, creating jobs and business opportunities for the people.

He added that the foundation-laying event signified Brunei Darussalam's readiness and capability of hosting large foreign investment projects and in turn broaden the economic base to create new jobs and business opportunities for our people.

BMC is the first tenant of SPARK and it is looking forward to more downstream petrochemical projects to be established at SPARK and SLA in cooperation with Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB) that is considering several proposals from foreign investors, the chairman concluded.

Meanwhile, BMC Chief Executive Officer Mr Kinya Tsuji in his speech highlighted the project's milestone which began with the signing of the joint venture agreement on November 21, 2005 between PetroleumBrunei, Japan's Mitsubishi Gas Chemical company and Itochu Corporation, for the plant's construction and technical services.

This was followed by the signing of Engineering, Procurement and Construction Contract on March 29 last year for the development of the methanol plant and two weeks later all the essential agreements for the project to succeed were signed. Amongst the agreements was the Gas Sales agreement with BSP which enabled the purchase of 0.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas essential for the production of methanol as well as the land lease agreement with SLA for a 16-hectare site on which the methanol plant complex will be built.

On May 5 last year, the signing of the project financing documents with Japan Bank for International Cooperation and other syndicated banks took place as the methanol plant is financed under the international project financing structure, the first of its kind in Brunei Darussalam. And on November 30, civil construction works on the site began.

The CEO noted the construction of the methanol plant is scheduled to take 32 months with commercial operation targeted by the second quarter of 2010.

He also highlighted that whilst overseeing the construction work on-site, BMC is training young Bruneian employees with the necessary technical skills overseas to groom them for the plant's operation in 2010.

Mr Tsuji in his speech also underscored the significance of the methanol project in the industrial history of the nation, as it represents the first natural gas chemical plant in the country; the first major industrial plant since the country's independence; a major industrial project financing undertaking (the first in the Sultanate) as well as the first major industrial collaboration between Japan and Brunei Darussalam.

He concluded that BMC looks forward to the challenge in ensuring that methanol manufactured from Brunei Darussalam will have its place of prominence in the global methanol industry.

After both speeches, the Crown Prince consented to lay the foundation stone of the methanol plant, which was the climax of the event and later received a 'pesambah' from BMC Chief Executive Officer Mr Tsuji.

The event then continued with the Crown Prince viewing an exhibition on the development of Brunei Darussalam's methanol plant and a presentation of the exhibition was delivered by the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of BMC Mohammad Reduan Haji Mohd Yusof.

The ceremony ended with the Crown Prince taking a group photograph with BMC staff. The methanol plant will have a production capacity of 850,000 metric tonnes per year, making it a major project in the Brunei industry and will put the nation on the world map in the global methanol industry. The plant is expected to generate 160 jobs directly employed by BMC. Local SMEs, foreign direct investors or local-foreign joint ventures will be given the opportunity to invest and develop methanol derivative industries, using methanol produced in Brunei Darussalam.

Methanol, a chemical compound manufactured from methane, the chief component of natural gas, can be used in the making of products such as plastic household goods and industrial material. - Borneo Bulletin (12th Feb 2008)