The rising tide of globalisation has brought about both great opportunities and challenges for Brunei Darussalam and her people. In the midsts of these two factors, the core principle of development which seeks to secure the future of the nation today stands as relevant as ever. Local economic development (LED) serves as one of the many approaches that could enable Brunei to unleash its progress in finding viable and sustainable solutions at the micro- and macro-level of the economy.
LED is defined by the UN Habitat as an approach which involves the active partnership between the private, public, and third (NGOs) sector, and local communities in producing commercial ventures which provides sustainable jobs for locals. This article studies three advantages which can be garnered in applying this approach, namely greater partnership between local communities and central government, greater policy innovation, and improved public management.
The first advantage of applying local economic development approach is that it can result in greater partnership between local communities and central government. The local communities are referred here as those communities at the Kampong-, Mukim-, and District-level, whilst the central government is referred as the government agencies which make up the state’s machinery. Improving the links and results between the two entities in solving some of the pressing issues facing the community and government are two of the biggest opportunities our nation has in improving the nation-state. The reason being is that it can magnify the uniqueness of Brunei’s economic development.
Brunei has taken this approach in the form of the “One Village, One Product” programme, a programme introduced by the Ministry of Home Affairs where every village is invited to produce and market a product of its own to be sold in the market with support from the government. The result is that Brunei has intensified local entrepreneurship and commercial activity thanks to this active partnership between local communities and the central government. If this programme is successful, there is no reason why we cannot introduce other ideas as well, with the main mission of building up community-level business cooperatives and general development across different parts of the country.
The second advantage is that it can lead to greater policy innovation. To produce the greatest results from the finite Oil resources the nation has today to secure the future of the people tomorrow, both the local community and the central government has to act in concert in contributing to the affairs of development. Here the Bruneian people too has to pull in the necessary efforts to develop the nation, not just the central government. And what is the local community if not the people themselves? Here local economic development, if done right, would be the enabler for the people to contribute actively in generating and implementing ideas for development.
Doing so requires the central government to experiment in carrying out ‘Public Forums’. ‘Public Forums’ is referred as a open forum which invites everyone to contribute ideas for Brunei’s development. It could be carried out once or twice a year. By inviting members of the public and having their ideas carried out would empower more people to introduce new ideas which could be of benefit to the nation in the long-run. Yes, there may be some ideas which are not feasible. But out of a hundred ideas, there may be one or two which are useful. Such ideas can lead to policy innovation.
The final advantage is that local economic development can lead to improved public management. Every community has its own intricacies and problems. While it is the government’s primary duty to solve macro-level issues, the community themselves have to take in the necessary efforts to solve their own problem at the micro-level as well. There are thus many ideas in improving the robustness of public management. Here there are three ideas in improving local economic development approach, with primary focus given at the Kampong level in this article.
The first idea is to introduce a committee at every Kampong. The Ketua Kampong would find it easier to solve pressing issues facing their communities with key people on board supporting the whatever policies he or she has in mind. These committee could make up of people from the public, private, and third (NGO) sector. With the variety of experience and backgrounds, these stakeholders can give guidance in helping the Ketua Kampong (and consequently Mukim and/or District Officer) draw up strategies for sustainable development, ones which could possibly be forwarded to the central government for approval, financing and/or co-implementation.
The second idea is to create a WhatsApp group for every key people at every Kampong. As basic as this sounds, applying the technology has its manifold benefits. It helps the Ketua Kampong to inform everyone of any important updates concerning any developments happening in the Kampong, and it helps build engagement with the committee and other key people inside the WhatsApp Group. This is key in strengthening the chances of generating new ideas or policies for development.
The third idea is to carry out active engagement with the public through their own mini ‘Public Forum’. This public forum could be done every year or twice a year, and it has to give a chance for everyone in the community to introduce new ideas or to raise issues facing the village. There may be strong feedback resulting from these public forums, but for those in government or those aspiring for government positions, consider that these feedbacks is where one can build a legacy on. Utilise them as an opportunity to cement change that will improve the whole lot of the people today and those of the distant future. Ultimately, these three ideas could lead to improved public management.
Local economic development has it manifold advantages that if done right could lead to greater partnership between local communities and central government, greater policy innovation, and improved public management. The ability to generate ideas and get the involvement of the people in the efforts to build the community and nation forward are two of the key opportunities needed in helping Brunei realise its development goals by 2035 in its own unique pathways.
With the rising tide of globalisation at hand, local economic development as an approach would help raise Brunei Darussalam’s capacity to ride any weather or storm or tempest it may face along the way, and ultimately unleash the nation’s potential in progressing forward not just today but in the many decades to come. Vision 2035 awaits its realisation.