(Pic credits to BMS.co.in)
Brunei’s development is inter-connected with the geographical and demographical logic of Borneo, the third-largest island in the world. Being sandwiched between two Malaysian states, Sabah and Sarawak, and another namely Indonesia’s Kalimantan, can unlock great economic potential in preparing our country forward to meet the challenges of the 21st century. This post shall outline a recommendation to emulate the EU’s open-border policy in taking Brunei to the next stage of development – one which should have been done twenty to thirty years ago. As readers are all aware, the EU (European Union) is a collection of nations that abide and uphold the four principles. These principles are the free flow of goods and services, and the free flow of people. Such principles can be implemented in Brunei’s relations with its island neighbours for three following reasons.
The open border policy would intensify competition in our country. If there is one thing that our closed society needs, it is competition. For far too long our people have been insulated with the addicting chemicals of welfare. To jolt our people back into reality, we have to slowly and gradually increase the supply of foreign labour and skilled workers so that it would force our people to work. The existence of these labours would also drive down the wages in the economy, therefore creating a more attractive market to enter for big companies or MNEs who not only want access to low-cost labour but also productive workers. The level of competition faced by our locals may be overwhelming at first, especially given that there are more skilled people outside who are probably more qualified than most of our people, but it is and maybe the only necessary force to put our people back to the hard economic reality. Better for them to feel it gradually then suddenly once Oil has run out.
Connecting Brunei to bigger markets would increase the chances for our local entrepreneurs to seek opportunities on the island and beyond. A businessman may take ten to thirty years to build a big business in a 300,000 people Brunei, but give him the chance to operate freely on an island with over 8 million people, then you can imagine how that businessman can leverage on the market scale, thereby increasing the number of branches and jobs he can run. Having a passport-less and borderless nation can also enhance the free-flow of goods and services, consequently, expanding the choices of products, services that our locals can consume. With Brunei connected, it can also enhance our country’s FDI attractiveness, who can see our country – being politically stable – as a good location to set up their headquarter operations in the island. The concentration of these offices can drive up our nation’s long-term economic growth substantially.
Finally, it would contribute our city’s development. In a statistics produced by the World Bank, over 80% of economic growth can be attributed to the cities of a nation. Brunei is no different. What is different if the country carries out this policy, then a country that previously has only three hundred thousand market access and flow now has eight million people. These numbers can add up to the population and urbanisation of our city. It is a good aim for us to seek a million population base by 2035 alone. The reason why we need to increase our population is so that we can develop competition and broaden the domestic market base to improve our investment attractiveness. If Brunei can succeed in this regard, it can finally reclaim its role as an economic epicentre of the island. Our country is strategically located at the very core of a vibrant and growing region, it would be most unwise if we discard this policy without questioning the demerits of the present system.
Indeed there are prevailing forces in our society who may vehemently oppose a borderless nation. Their reasons must not be dismissed, but at the same time, we also need to look at the hard reality. Two reasons that came up are the potential increase in crime and drugs. Crime does happen and has been increasing over the past few years in Brunei. May I invite readers to discern who are these major perpetrators? Rarely the foreigners, that is all I can say. Further, with only 21% of the criminal cases or 800 out of 4000 cases solved two years ago, one has to wonder that perhaps the leniency or incompetence of the police has resulted in the increased crime rates. Drug smuggling is next on the list. Reports have shown that smugglers come from the neighbouring nations, an unfortunate incident that has led to wreck and havoc in Brunei, but it can be solved by the reformation of the police force and active encouragement of the officers to share and exchange intelligence with our neighbouring security counterparts. This is how EU has managed to curtail the incidents of terrorist attacks in Europe, so I say it is solvable.
The path is indeed hazy if we are ever to see a Brunei in the post-oil era. Fortunately, we still have the resources in hand to work at policy solutions needed to work on fulffiling our country’s development needs. Building a borderless nation vis-a-via the European Union framework is one solution that can be a potential way to enhance our capacity to compete in the 21st century. It will intakes competition, connect Brunei to bigger markets, and contribute towards city development. The potential drawbacks include the rising crime and drug smuggling, both areas that can be fixed with the right effort directed at reforming the police force. Brunei was once a great trading empire whose influence can be felt from Java to Johore, from Selurong to Sulu, and within this historically-rich region. It would, therefore, make sense if we can work, as our people in the past, by playing on Brunei’s strengths based on its geographical and demographical logic, plug itself into the island’s neighbouring region through a borderless EU-inspired policy.