As I cross the city streets and desert dunes of Dubai, I cannot help but wonder how this nation could attain such greatness. Having always watch in fascination of Dubai via YouTube, the five days ‘transit’ from Heathrow to Brunei really give me a direct exposure and feel of how great it truly is.
Along the journey I jotted pro-market ideas which Brunei may emulate upon for its quest to build Brunei 2035. Because Dubai is such a perfect example of how national sovereignty can co-exist successfully with the advent of Capitalism.
Furthermore it gained my utmost respect for the emirates. Notably His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his right hand man Muhammad Ali Al Abbar, the man who built the first seven star hotel the Burj AlArab and the tallest man-made structure in the world the Burj Khalifa.
It is by these very leaders that has led Dubai to be where it has been today.
A key part of it is their long-term thinking. This can be traced back to a story oft-told by Sheikh Mohammed of his late father, Shiekh Rashid Al-Maktoum in the lead up to the creation of the world’s largest port, Jebel Ali.
It was some five decades ago when he was heavily criticized for this monumental project. “What is the use of another port” critics said “when Dubai’s Port Rashid (the middle east’s largest port then) is already adequate? And this multi-billion project during a national recession?”
And so the son asked the father about these matters during one of the many construction site meetings, one which was met with deadly silence.
Only after they had time alone did the father replied “Listen my son, I never answered your question because I did not want the engineers to hear. But I can tell you the reason I am building this port right now is because there will come a time when you will not be able to afford to do so”
So anyway the emirates constitute 5% of the whole population and yet control almost 95% of the rules, law, and regulation in town. This certainly gave them a solid foundation of power in their own country-nothing wrong with that at all.
However their goal is not so much to maximize their own welfare only but the community in general. In his book My Vision, High Highness Sheikh Mohammed foretold how this has enabled the development of security, social harmony, and peace for his own people and expatiates in the country.
“You do not see many police in uniform in Dubai” he recount “because it is the people, both locals and foreigners alike, who are the police themselves. They look after the city’s welfare as much as they look for their own because they realize that Dubai’s success depends on their own success. The result of such has made Dubai the safest city in the world. ”
On asking expatiates what they thought of working in Dubai they generally would say it is a very fine place to work and live.
Egyptians, Filipino, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indians etc. working there look up to Dubai ‘that’ place to be. Because not only the economy in itself accepts their skill sets which has been either denied, unappreciated, or unavailable elsewhere, but that it provides a safe haven for their family to live well.
It goes without saying that the global labour movement is efficient in Dubai-a prerequisite in a capitalistic based economy. By giving freedom to work for an honest days pay, this ensured an ‘open-field’ economy where being the very best actually gets rewarded. Result of this has enabled Dubai to become one of the most competitive economy in the world.
Let me borrow again Sheikh Mohammad’s words in his autobiography My Vision, one which I hope all to ponder upon in the lead up to Brunei 2035 and beyond.
“When nations fail to develop, they become vulnerable to a collapse in security and stability, and lose the foundations on which their prosperity was built. They also risk being subjugated to tyranny and prejudices, and after a few years of recession, lose most of the benefits, status and respect they had acquired over several decades of development.”
So how can Brunei embrace a capitalistic system akin that to Dubai?
I propose two fronts, both connected to the people’s value system.
The first is for us to realize the geographical importance of our nation in Southeast Asia. Over 600M people live in this region, and it does not take an intellect to realize how massive the trading opportunity really is.
Building a central port that would facilitate regional trading would be an idea, in fact it is well under way. Named the Pulau Muara Besar project, we have to realize that the existence of this infrastructure would enable entrepreneurs to capture wider market opportunities. Once that it is only a matter of time. And to paraphrasing the polemic words of Shiekh Rashid Al Maktoum that there will be a time when the next generation would not be able to afford the project.
Food for thought: Were it not for the strategic commercial position that has enabled the dawn of our golden age under the reign of Sultan Bolkiah the 5th?
Secondly is to instil and rediscover the entrepreneurial values that lay dormant in the society. The Bruneian ancestry can be traced back from Kampong Ayer. Dubbed as the Venice of the East, it had countless ‘Padians'(‘retailers’ in long boats) offering goods that came as far as from China, blacksmiths who made the very best of bronze metalworks and vases, capable and innovative builders who made houses on rivers(which is astounding when you think of the technological limitations our ancestors have faced then); and it is they-the entrepreneurs-who kept our economy up and running.
What shocks me is the low rate of entrepreneurship in the society today. Let us look at the ‘facts’, some 70% of the working force is employed by the government leaving the rest up to private hands. Is it any wonder why Oil and Gas still stands at over 80% of the national GDP?
This phenomena can be attributed to the acceptance of greater security given by the state, which in turn leads to (over-)dependence. Then the prevailing mindset that shuns on taking the entrepreneurial journey which involves risk and challenge.
In the Road to Serfdom, Friedrich A. Hayek Nobel Prize recipient and Austrian School Economist made a sterling remark which somewhat reflects this growing trend.
“We can not blame our young men(or people in general) when they prefer the safe, salaried position to the risk of enterprise after they have heard from their earliest youth the former described as the superior, more unselfish and disinterested occupation….”
he continues “…,the spirit of commercial enterprise has been represented as disreputable and the making of profit as immoral, where to employ 100 people is represented as exploitation but to command the same number as honourable”
I also know that the government is doing the very best they can to improve the whole lot of the society but if the citizens remain dependent even after the economic ‘basic safety net’ has been established then the individual is to be blamed.
It is time for some of us to wake up. It is time to rediscover our entrepreneurial blood. It is time to learn to stand on our own, though it may take time to do so. Ultimately, do realize that we are after all made of the same timber that has produced Sultan Bolkiah the 5th.
Why, Dubai’s inspiration drew from its deep history and appreciation of its rich culture, and by combining it with the ideals of capitalism and existence of unwavering leadership they made Dubai to become one of the forefront economies in the world.
So why not Brunei?
My Vision: Challenges in the Race of Excellence by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (2012). Motivate Publishing.
The Road to Serfdom (with The Intellectuals and Socialism) by Friedrich A. Hayek (2002). Occasional Paper 136. IEA(Institute of Economic Affairs)
“Mohammad Ali Al Abbar Part 1-4” YouTube.com