In the efforts of building a resilient economy, the state of Brunei should consider producing and publishing an economic charter that outlines the strategic improvements and recommendations that could be made in charting Brunei’s next phase of economic growth over the course of the next decade. The idea of making this report is inspired by the publication of the Singapore’s economic reports entitled “Report of the economic committee: The Singapore Economy: New Directions” (1986) and “Committee on the Future Economy Report” (2017) which seek to accomplish the goals mentioned in regards to the Singaporean economy. These reports make good reading for those who wish to understand the successful past and future developments that have and will take place for the Singaporean economy. To this, it will not hurt Brunei to borrow this idea from our Singaporean friends in producing a Brunei-centric economic charter as a step in helping Brunei make the grade in the current and future global economic conditions. This article shall outline some of the key components of that potential report.
The first component is to secure the right executive members who make up the committee in creating this charter. The individuals who made the aforementioned Singaporean reports are highly educated and have extensive professional experience with deep connections with international organisations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, United Nations and many others. Brunei should draw inspiration by recruiting its thick dynamic local talent pool – and we have many – in establishing the charter. The committee thus should preferably be made up of qualified and educated professionals with extensive international exposure in the field of academia, government, and the private sector. To add up to the dynamism, top civil servants from different ministries of government and executives from government-linked corporations and private sectors should also be engaged in making the charter. They must then sit down together for a one- or two months time frame to conceptualise the existing and future strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and improvements that could be made to the Brunei economy. The chair of the executive committee who heads this project must be an extremely seasoned person.
The second component is to carrying out a mixed top-down and bottom-up form of research which must draw ideas, recommendations, and feedbacks from the key parties that affect or are being affected the economic policy changes brought about by the report. In the latest Committee on the Future Economy 2017 report, the Singaporean government consulted and benefited from a contribution from more than nine thousand individuals, ranging from employers and workers, academics, professionals, students, private companies, public agencies, unionists, trade associations and chambers, as well as Singaporeans abroad. Having a top-down and bottom-up approach to securing ideas and feedbacks from the Bruneian public would be most vital in engaging and sparking our people’s interest in steering the direction of the Bruneian economy. Brunei did this approach of securing ideas and feedbacks successfully in the past with its BSB Masterplan back in 2005. The same approach should be replicated again for the publication of this report. And if there is one thing that the report can do, it is to intensify the people’s participation in the development of the Bruneian economy.
The third component of the report must involve an honest study as well as the specific recommendations to be made of the existing state of the Bruneian economy. The Brunei economy has been resilient over the years thanks to the strength of our country’s Oil and Gas resources, but it does not escape the fact that our country was negatively affected by the plunge in global commodity prices. We still have time. Our economy can be made more resilient to the changing external conditions facing the global economy by tapping into the strengths of the local talent pool to secure recommendations for the Brunei government in regards to diversifying the economy forward. We have a thick layer of talent, we have the brains, and we have the people to accomplish this goal. If the committee is able to secure an honest study to understanding the economic position of the Brunei economy and communicate the need to engage and integrate lessons gained from the citizens, then it will be a most productive report indeed. For it must be remembered that Brunei’s greatest resource is not its Oil or Gas, but its citizens. Our citizens have the ideas. Let them come up with the solutions and work with the government lock-step and in tandem in building the Bruneian story forward. In doing so the recommendations put forward must be an honest account to solve the solutions facing the nation today.
The report must be different from the five-year national development plans (NDP) published by the government or other think tanks by how it shall involve a top-down and bottom-up approach in securing ideas from the key influencers of the Bruneian economy as well as its peoples. The recommended name of the report could be “The Charter on the Future of the Bruneian Economy” or CFBE for short. Upon completion, the charter should be published both online (to be made publicly available for free) and offline, in English, Malay, and Mandarin. This to ensure our key partners namely the US, UK, China and our local populace have direct access and debate in regards on how the report has been formulated. The report does not have to be long. A hundred to a hundred fifty pages should suffice. May it be added that with the production and publication of the document, the constellation of government agencies will be steered towards the agreed direction. Compromises will arise, and that is okay. As the saying goes, there is strength in the diversity of opinions and ideas. And if there is a theme that would suit the report, it is that Brunei has to constantly work at plugging itself to the international cord of globalisation and work pragmatically in diversifying its economic base away from Oil and Gas, through fields such as entrepreneurship, finance, and logistics. These measures are key to solving our unemployment and deficit problems. Additionally, Brunei has to continue to inspire confidence in the changing order, and this report shall be one of the many steps to being about that confidence.
To conclude, Brunei should produce and publish an economic charter outlining the strengths and strategic improvements that could be made to chart the next phase of economic growth over the course of the next decade. It requires the right executive committee to spearhead the charter’s development, the infusion of a mixed top-down and bottom-up approach in securing ideas from the people of Brunei, and finally a charter that is honest and contains specific recommendations to be made on how the Bruneian economy should be shaped in the years to come. It must be different from the existing publications we currently have today in such that it will secure ideas and feedbacks from the key influencers of our society. The combination of the ideas set out in this charter may not guarantee automatic growth and development to the national economy, but it is a positive step towards creating the right conditions in the socio-economic fabric of the Brunei, that the people and to the extent the youths too can involve themselves in the success of their nation through the ideas they suggest in the production and publication of this charter document. If we are successful at this, we can continue to working together in charting the next course of our economic future and to carry on the Bruneian story forward.