(Photo courtesy of blogs.bootsnall.com)
Pasar Gadong was once a vibrant commercial hub that attracted hundreds of thousands of customers and tourists every single year. The foods and drinks its entrepreneurs offered provided the best what Brunei has to offer. From Roti John to Bandung drink, from Nasi Ayam to Kebabs, from Ikan Selai to Ayam Merah, from ABC to Kueh Brunei, our Bruneian entrepreneurs provided them all for the public to choose, purchase, and enjoy. The vibrancy and excitement of going down to the market is an experience in itself, which set a sterling reputation that made the place a must-visit for international visitors if they come to Brunei Darussalam. Pasar Gadong market makes Brunei unique.
Today, the place is different. The vibrancy it once had is gone. The main reason why is because they were asked to relocate from the place it was once at (the parking lot) to two different of locations. First, they were asked to move to a nearby location just opposite to the fish market. Finally, to the big tent where it now exists today. The reasoning of the move is not clear. Nonetheless, the reallocations affected not just our local entrepreneurs and customers, but Pasar Gadong itself.
When it first moved to the location next to the fish market, both the entrepreneurs and customers were dissatisfied. One of the biggest problems was hygiene. No one should sell food next to a fishery market. It led to a reduction of customers, driving down sales in the process, and without enough income forced many entrepreneurs to close down their stalls. When it moved to its present location, that is at the big tent, many again expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of parking space and the area’s isolation. Many customers and tourists were not interested in going down there anymore. Sales plummeted and many of the former businesses that used to operate there closed down their stalls. Tourists whom I talked too stated how the place was not ‘iconic’ as it was portrayed to be.
The aim of this article is to point out the need to allow our Bruneian entrepreneurs to set up shop at the place where Pasar Gadong used to be, which is at the big parking lot (with those roofs). The BSB municipal department has that mandate to ensure that pro-business policies are set in place to build BSB up. As stated in my Borneo Bulletin article, cities generate 80% of economic growth (OECD, 2015). Such a policy includes encouraging businesses, particularly our entrepreneurs in Gadong, to set up and operate in that original place where Pasar Gadong is. The location is already there. It is a matter of engaging and inviting the business to go back to operate. Further, empower them to run 24/7 in that location. Make the place vibrant once more. There is a saying which is nine out of ten of income comes from business. Sultan Bolkiah the 5th understood this statement and made it his policy to make Brunei a pro-trading environment that allowed entrepreneurs to do business. Such a policy contributed to the ushering of the Golden Age of Brunei in the 15th century.
By allowing our entrepreneurs to operate in the original Pasar Gadong location, it could set up an economic boom in the area. The entrepreneurs would then go and sell various foods and drinks to the market. This, in turn, will attract more people to come. A bigger market leads to greater sales, and greater sales lead to more entrepreneurs setting up shop there, and this, in turn, leads to increased economic performance.
The higher demand can also generate hundreds of jobs to our youths. Youths who are employed in the environment will then get exposed to the realities of operating a business, an exposure that would help them in their quest to set up their businesses one day. It creates a virtuous cycle of economic growth. In the efforts to produce a pro-business and pro-economic environment, reviving Pasar Gadong can be a key answer.
Many people I spoke to want to move back to the original location. These entrepreneurs have no guaranteed income or security. Many stated how operating a business there is a primary source of income. While some people may think the word ‘profit’ is dirty, it is crucial for our local entrepreneurs based in Pasar Gadong in securing their livelihoods. It is what they need to pay for their child’s education, housing rental, car fuel, and above all food to feed their family. Others who commented include elderlies, who just want to do honest business.
Our people are indeed entrepreneurial and if a government can produce an enabling environment, as in did back in the Golden Age, it would unlock great economic results. Brunei was once a trading empire, after all. The regional cities and routes were once filled with our sea traders who are willing to journey to faraway lands (with some going as far as China) to do commerce. And they were able to do so, according to the theory of this writer, because the Brunei Empire supported and encouraged them. Today, in this perilous times, we have to seek inspiration and answers from our past to solve the economic predicament we have today. Reviving back Pasar Gadong is such answer.
Other relevant article: A four-point solution to resolve Tungku Beach Issue