An emergency economic package needs to be launched by MOFE to tackle the economic woes stemming from the Coronavirus spread in Brunei Darussalam. The package should include low-interest and no-interest loan programme offered to businesses in the country. Sectors that get the package should include hotels, logistics businesses, tour operators, pharmacy stores, supermarkets, wedding event companies, and more.

The economic package should help businesses to overcome difficult times and continue operations, especially those operating within the tourism, logistics, and MICE clusters. Doing so would ensure steady cash flow to these businesses feeling pressure on the virus’ global spread. With already 50 Bruneians infected by the virus (MoH Press Release, 15th March 2020), it is high time to take this idea seriously as the ramifications can be damaging to our local businesses.

Earlier this month, already 4,174 rooms have been cancelled amounting to a loss of BND$530,480 according to the Brunei Association of Hotels spokesperson (Borneo Bulletin, 4th March 2020). He also stated how hotels would be still be affected for the next 6 to 8 months. If the government do not act now, then it will affect local employment in the hotel industry, 72% of whom are composed of locals. This loss notwithstanding in other sectors of the economy and the potential loss of employment due to retrenchments.

Take Japan’s example in dealing with the virus. Just yesterday the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced an economic package to inject USD15 billion to the economy. “We shall issue a powerful capital assistance worth 1.6 trillion yen (USD 15 billion) that will include offering loans effectively with no interest so that small businesses across Japan that are going through a very difficult time can continue their operations,” Abe told the government’s special outbreak task force (Asia Times, 2020).

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends an Upper House plenary session on Wednesday. | AFP-JIJI

The Brunei economic package should include loans to pharmacy stores and supermarkets to help them stock up hand sanitizer and face masks, to further prevent the outbreaks of the virus among Bruneians and to help in reducing price increases from suppliers via economies of scale (EoS). Apart from businesses, the economic package should also be channeled to nurseries and elderly care facilities. Finally, the package can help cover parents who had to miss work and stay at home. Bank Usahawan or BIBD can facilitate the loaning operation, with MOFE taking charge of implementing the entire policy.

I hope this idea will be raised in LegCo 2020 for the sake of our society and the economy’s health.

References

Asia Times (2020) Japan stimulus highlight: $15bn small-biz loans https://asiatimes.com/2020/03/japan-stimulus-highlight-15bn-small-biz-loans/

Borneo Bulletin (2020) COVID-19 affects local hotel industry https://borneobulletin.com.bn/covid-19-affects-local-hotel-industry/

MoH (2020) Press Release. As of 15th March 2020. Data will be updated on a weekly basis.