In light of the social instability surrounding the ejection of independent local hawkers and transport operators from the city caused by a complaint by a social media personality recently, it is now imperative that the government consider setting up a Night Market at Taman Mahkota Jubli Emas at BSB.
The Night Market should contain the facilities much like in the Pasar Pelbagai Barangan Gadong to unlock an economic boom in the city.
For one, Brunei’s main attraction has been its food, according to a recent independent online survey titled ‘Bruneian Perception of Tourism Survey’ (2019). Having our local hawkers set up their stalls would truly enhance tourists’ gastronomic experience in Brunei. Their experience can pull in hundreds of thousands of tourists into the country, hence helping to grow Brunei’s treasury and boosting our global image.
Moreover, the Night Market would easily produce self-employment for 30-50 families, if done right. This notwithstanding the indirect job creation that will be made as a result of the establishment of these businesses.
We can easily see the success of establishing infrastructures like Pasar Pelbagai Barangan Gadong as a testament of the economic impact and jobs it can create for places like Gadong, as I have predicted in my Borneo Bulletin article “Revive Back Pasar Gadong” (31st august 2016), just two months before the infrastructure was eventually built by the direct order of the Sultan.
We should do the same for BSB, specifically at the Taman Mahkota Jubli Emas.
To these hawkers, setting up stalls in BSB and even along the roadside at Jerudong, Junjongan, Tungku Beach, and more is their way of getting halal ‘rezeki’. Indeed, they have invested their sweat, toil, and tears in setting up their business. They are not doing it for the sake of ‘hobby’.
But as critics have rightly pointed out, they should do business in a proper manner. This means no littering, no setting up tents wherever they want, and certainly no smoking, among many other things considered.
But, we should also not put the blame squarely on our hawker entrepreneurs for operating that way. For one, they cannot afford the high rents in the city let alone have the job opportunities that privileged people are currently enjoying i.e. people working in the government, banks or oil and gas sector earning $2500-$5000 per month or more.
We must take note that the people who operate the hawker stalls and transport operators are people who are either on the brink of poverty or who employ people who are. Anyone who thinks they are not should consult the unemployment figures of Brunei.
Plus, there are lots of Kampong Ayer youths working for these businesses as an honest means to make a living. Without work, these youths may end up being depressed and this puts them “closer to the edge”. Anyone who has been unemployed for long will know what I mean.
Partly because of long-term unemployment too, we have also seen a surge in crime and drug abuse in the city, a trend that is honestly disturbing for our nation’s abode of peace.
What we can see now is that there is an opportunity to make a positive impact. On one hand, we get an enthusiastic group of entrepreneurs willing to set up their businesses and employ people; on the other, the lack of infrastructure and proper regulations to facilitate proper growth.
The only answer to this problem is to set up the infrastructure and regulations in place so that these entrepreneurs can contribute to nation-building legally and effectively.
Indeed, whenever infrastructure, regulation, and entrepreneurial spirit intersect, economic output develops and grows.
Take the case of iCentre Brunei and its eventual success in building an entrepreneurial culture. The success has been made possible by BEDB’s investment in infrastructure (high-speed internet, offices, etc.), regulations, and concentration of entrepreneurs there to unlock what is called the “agglomeration effects” (Pike, Rodriguez-Pose and Tomaney, 2016) and “local buzz” (Storper and Venables, 2004).
I know because I made my master’s dissertation based on this phenomenon and two of the top scholars in cities development and economic geography are my professors! They are Professor Micheal Storper and Professor Andrés Rodríguez-Pose.
The main task now is how can we formalize the informal market operators in BSB? Or how can we make it so that we can create a win-win situation for the government, market and society. To economists or policy-makers reading this work, I recommend you to read the book ‘Mystery of Capital’ by Hernando de Soto Polar (2000) to further understand my reasoning.
With local unemployment growing, having a strong pro-business and pro-entrepreneurship attitude among policy-makers is crucial in order to enhance job creation and economic growth.
Setting up the said infrastructure, we can easily unlock economic wonders for our city. That being noted, we should certainly not wait 30 years later to take action, when the infrastructure can be easily built by the end of this year.
Indeed, the action will be a strong component in helping to prepare the foundations of a post-oil economy.
Harun Al-Rashid, the fifth Abbasid Caliph who ruled Baghdad from 786 to 809 during the peak of the Islamic Golden Age, made Baghdad as a flourishing center of trade by promoting entrepreneurship through the establishment and development of bazaars in the city.
The bazaars would have millions of people from around the world to trade, making the city one of the biggest and richest of its time.
Brunei had a similar case during the Golden Age of Brunei in the 15th century when Sultan Bolkiah the 5th and his followers made Brunei into a trading center so powerful that Westerners named it as the ‘Venice of the East’.
We do not have to look far for inspiration to produce a change in our economy. The logical and right thing to do now is to set up a Night Market at Taman Mahkota Jubli Emas BSB, preferably by the end of this year.