Bolstering Brunei’s economic growth serves as a key element in state policy. As Brunei propels forward, it is best for the government to review the current legislation pertaining the public entertainment law outlined in Chapter 181, and to fast-track the process of private sectors to secure an event permit from the government. There are now strong desire for change in this area coming from young people due to the legislation and permit process being seen as a major stumbling block to the growth of the creative (concert, parades, debates, comedy show, etc.) and event (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) industries in the country.
First, we must understand that the creative and the event industries are high growth industries that can contribute immensely to the growth of a nation’s economy. In the UK, creative industries generated £84.1bn or around £10m an hour to the UK economy and supported 2.8 million jobs in 2014 (UK Gov Report, 2016). In the US, the meetings (a part of events industry) industry directly supports 1.7 million jobs and contributes $106 billion to GDP, according to the study, The Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy (PwC US, 2011). To put it in a local context, a recent concert this writer organized saw Brunei gain $18,000 – $25,000 in general economic value. The potential to unlock economic growth is self-evident, thus the necessity that Brunei should update the public entertainment law and fastback its permit process immediately.
The main problem for the current legislation and permit system is that it has caused a lot of ventures (including concerts, conferences, trade fairs, and meetings) to fail or be canceled at the last minute. Many youths, including one of our youth legislative council members, have raised their concern regarding this issue. One youth I heard vented his frustration about the permit as a sole cause for his team’s performance being canceled. All the hard work he and his team put in went down the drain. Little wonder why he is bitter at the permit system. Unfortunately, despite their open calls for change, nothing has been done so far, which is disappointing, not mainly because a lot of young people felt like they are being ignored, but that the consequences of this outdated permit system continue to cause incalculable harm to these two high growth industries in our economy.
The details of applying a permit are as follows: First, the entrepreneur has to fill in a form to apply for the permit at least three weeks before the event. These events include musical concerts, performances, conferences, charity events, and more that involves selling tickets or general participation from the general public. Secondly, they have to pay between $100-$350 to apply for the permit. Next, a special censorship board must be present to “observe” a show or concert behind closed doors. Once a decision has been made by these board, then the entrepreneurs will be given the answer as to whether their events will be approved or not.
There are multiple reasons why this system is ineffective. First, the time period of applying a minimum of three weeks before the event becomes an unnecessary inconvenience for entrepreneurs to organise an event. It just takes too long and the uncertainty of whether the event is approved or not is always ever-present, making long-term plans generally ineffective. This affects especially first-time event entrepreneurs or artists that want to showcase their business and talents respectively in Brunei. By the time they learned of the permit system, it would have probably been too late and they may as well as cancel them. This is an avoidable tragedy.
Next, the cost of applying the permit is just too high for start-ups or Micro businesses to absorb. In addition, hotels and other meeting venues exploit the difficulty of securing the permit process by raising the prices of renting a venue, which adds to the general cost and complications of operating an event business. Moreover, the need for the government officials to be present to oversee the event beforehand is unnecessary, as it misdirects their time and energy, which they could have instead focused on creating economic policies that actually work.
What are the changes to be done? These include the need to reduce permit application process from three weeks to a day. The process should be made online instead of filling a paper form. Next, the permit should be free or cost less than $10 so as to save general costs for businesses planning to host an event/concert/meeting. To ensure that organisers do not cause problems, the government has to outline openly and transparency the can do and can’t do’s or the general rules in organising events in Brunei. Finally, the government could simply dispatch one or two security uniformed or trained personnel to be present during the entire period of the actual event to ensure that the guidelines outlined by the government are strictly adhered too, lest the organiser’s event canceled on-the-spot given the officer’s prerogative and responsibility to do so.
If the changes are made, then there will be a growing dynamism among our young people to organise many exciting and fun-filled events and activities across the city. This will empower young people to make a success of themselves in these two areas. With their help, Brunei can elevate its economic position towards the right trajectory with this simple change of this state policy. We must also understand that entrepreneurs are the sources of prosperity to a nation, one that can produce jobs and intensify economic growth to the economy.
Their growing ability to commercialise their ideas in organising concerts, events, performances, etc. would grow strength by strength and this would go a long way to “recirculate” the money that the Bruniean consumer could have otherwise spent abroad. In 2015 alone, for instance, Bruneians spend over $1.3 billion (RM3.7 billion) in our neighbouring country (Lyna M, 2017), partly due to the limited product and service offerings in this country. Giving our entrepreneurs the ability to capitalise the creative and event industries would help to re-channel that market spending within the economy. Even a 10% “capture” of that expenditure power would mean that our economy would potentially stand to gain around $130m in domestic sales annually. That is purchasing power that can seriously build Brunei’s economy up.
If the present legislation and permit process remain unchanged, however, then the country will continue to face mounting problems in the economy. Unemployment and crime rates will continue to climb up, while our economic growth will go down. If the law and process are changed, then it can help to reverse these damaging trend our country is facing today. Revising Chapter 181 of the Public Entertainment legislation and the process is, therefore, something that has to be dealt with immediately.
As I have prescribed in my past letter in Borneo Bulletin entitled “Revive Gadong Night Market to Boost Vendors, Jobs” (AM Omar, 2016), that the suggestion to relocate the entrepreneurs back to the Gadong night market would set up an economic boom and create jobs, which it did thanks to His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam’s caring and benevolent leadership and direct intervention; so too that if we change this policy that I am confident that Brunei will have an economic and creative boom which all of our society will stand to gain in areas of economic growth and job creation for our nation once implemented. Thus the need to immediately review Chapter 181, and to fastback the process of applying for an event permit now.
Abdul Malik Omar
AS we advance together as a nation, it is best for us to understand the basic agents of what makes an economy successful: the entrepreneur.
The entrepreneur is defined as someone who takes a risk to establish and expand a business that offers useful products or services in a market.
The benchmark of what makes an entrepreneur successful is not only how much profit he or she makes, but also how much value has been created from the process of maintaining and building up a business.
These values can take in the form of how much jobs have been created, how much taxes they pay to the government, and how much contribution they make in intensifying general innovation and productivity of a country.
In Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) economies, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for over 95 per cent of firms and 60 to 70 per cent of employment and generate a large share of new jobs (OECD, 2000).
Understanding this would go a long way to reduce our unemployment figure as well and to diversify our economy. Additionally, multinational enterprises (MNEs) such as ARM Industries, Apple, McDonalds, and Starbucks did not appear out of nowhere.
Rather they were started out small, at times by one or two entrepreneurs in the beginning before they eventually expanded outside their domestic markets.
The same case for the big businesses in Brunei today, which have since generated jobs and investment. They did not just spring out of nowhere. For many of these businesses are the handwork of traders and entrepreneurs who “made it” after long years of hard work and sacrifice.
Policy-makers need to understand that if we are ever going to take Brunei forward, the country has to look at entrepreneurs as a source of prosperity.
How can we capitalise on this understanding?
In this global economy, what counts now more than ever in building a successful economy is how well its innovation system can be created.
An innovation system refers to an environment from where innovation can be generated and expanded forward. For instance, Silicon Valley is a high innovation economy that has successfully placed itself as an epicentre for IT and innovation. This, in turn, has contributed towards making California a highly attractive place to set up business from people all over the world.
Because of this it has made the state into a global economic powerhouse and this has made the US state the sixth largest economy in the world. Building an innovative economy will more or less require the government to intervene in key sectors of the economy vis-a-vis the Beijing Consensus by implementing the right macroeconomic and microeconomic framework that would spur primarily the creation and development of SMEs, as well as to create an attractive ecosystem where MNEs can be attracted into setting up in the country. To spur Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and MNEs, the government must inject the following factors into the economy: Easy access to capital, a clear-cut bureaucratic procedure to register and run a business, a strong labour market, a pro-business and pro-corporate legislation, a strong tax mechanism, and a strong symbiotic relationship between business and government.
Above all, the government has to create a level playing field where everyone can easily set up a business and become an “entrepreneur”, for we are not lacking in these agents given our people’s inherent disposition towards entrepreneurship as reflected with the rich trading history that our society possess which can be stretched back to the Golden Age in the 15th century.
What is most important, additionally, is the need for the government to differentiate between MNEs and SMEs.
MNEs are big businesses that span across at least two countries and which can be a key source of much needed technological innovation as well as to provide mass jobs for the people.
SMEs, on the other hand, tend to be businesses that can range from startups, farmers, fishermen, to department stores in the country.
In South Korea, one main reason why it has blazed well into the 21st century from its humble beginnings after the Korean War in the 1960s (its GDP was practically the same as Ghana then) was how the government successfully nurtured and built its big businesses, for example, Samsung, Hyundai and LG.
The government realised that they serve as agents to bring in cutting-edge innovation and management talent from abroad. These dimensions are then slowly and gradually fed into the local system so as to self-perpetuate locally based innovation. To support this, the government injected capital and other forms of support, such as easier access for FDIs and tax breaks.
At the same time, South Korea also worked at enhancing its SMEs. On this note, they took a page out of the Washington consensus albeit selectively.
These areas of change involve the creation of an environment where SMEs can easily set up anywhere and anytime, and compete with one another while at the same time work in an open playing field where competition is valued in an open and transparent market-government environment.
Inevitably it all goes back to the entrepreneur and how the government treats this agent of change.
By giving the entrepreneur room to expand their business in a pro-market uplifting environment or framework built by the government, unbridled by unnecessary forms of government bureaucracy a nation such as Brunei can prosper well, as evident by the examples of California and South Korea. Thus the need for us to shape positive changes in these areas.
As our country advances in this volatile economic order, understanding the role of the entrepreneur would be vital if we are ever going to succeed as a nation.
Rather than penalising businesses or small-time traders, the government ought to encourage them by means of updating the general business legislation, and provide financial and infrastructure support.
I am confident that with the right approach, Brunei can move towards generating mass jobs for its unemployed, building a sustainable income base for the government and enabling our nation to blaze ahead in this changing regional and global market.
– Abdul Malik Omar
Published in Borneo Bulletin (October 25th, 2017)
It has been a few decades since we have achieved independence and our city, Bandar Seri Begawan, has failed to grow itself into a successful regional city. Yes, you may have the typical museum, historic buildings, and iconic monuments or landmarks, but decades of ineffective governance all has led to the city being overrun in terms of economic competitiveness by its other lesser rich neighboring cities, Miri, Kota Kinabalu, and, to a certain extent, Limbang.
If we were to go to the aforementioned cities, we are exposed to a different city development model that is able, time and again, to augment the lack of financial budget to shape their respective cities forward. This city model can be traced by its pro-democratic governance that enables the people to elect whoever is the mayor of the city. The person elected to office are more accountable towards the people’s demands and less willing to act on the whims of how he or she feels, one can argue.
The twin pillars that motivates mayors, among many, are the need to improve the general conditions of the people by intensifying growth and to reduce the unemployment rate of the country. Doing at the city level is perfect for this as it has been argued by the World Bank that cities generate 80% of economic growth. It is at cities too where the greatest number of jobs are generated and concentrated, among many other factors.
The economic dynamism can be fulfilled if there was a serious person who can work, without fear or favor, for the needs and interests of the people. The mayors of Limbang, Miri, and Kota Kinabalu have made it their mandate, backed by the people of their constituencies, to fulfilling the mission to bolster economic growth and job prospects for society. As a result, the laws of the country are always adjusted to meet the challenges of the 21st century, making the conditions that enhance the competitiveness of SMEs a reality.
I interviewed a business person in Limbang and asked her why she would not set up in Brunei. She replied how expensive operating in the country is. Therefore, it would be best for her to just stay put in operating in Limbang. It is understandable because that is the reality of the situation our country is facing. Our strong currency backed by the high real estate prices do dampen our competitiveness.
While it may be easier for the government to use these reasons to uphold existing laws, they serve no purpose but to solidify the government’s complacency of not making the city progress ahead. First, the real reason the real estate prices are high is that we have an outdated land legislation that should have been updated decades ago.
It is embarrassing for our country if foreign investors realize the byzantine process of applying, purchasing, and transferring ownership of lands take ages compared to other countries. This process has made our city somewhat less active, both in its economic and social dynamism, no matter how many lights or decorations you put around the city.
The result is that the few people who got into real estate early on in the 60s, long before the land laws were passed, are able to solidify their control over real estate in the city. Not only do these businesspeople profit at the cost of society, with soaring inflation making rents too high, but some of their grandchildren who subsequently inherit these properties mismanage the apartments and buildings leading to deformed and eye-soring buildings within the city.
The land laws that were meant to protect the poor end up protecting the rich, because the rich are able to protect themselves from upcoming competition under the guise of the law. More competition leads to economic dynamism that is at the heart of successful economic development. At the behest of the people’s interest, the mayors of Limbang, Miri, and Kota Kinabalu made sure that real estate laws were relaxed in order that SMEs and the people’s livelihood can be enhanced over any special interest that want to profit from bygone land laws.
The magical part is that the land laws that Brunei has can easily be updated. We have the human capital and knowledge access for it. With a single directive, we can transform and improve our city position in no time. Yet, after decades of complacency and ignorance, our city has failed time and again to take this step. It may prove to be fatal to the people’s livelihoods if the laws are not updated.
Some changes that should be introduced include reducing the land transfer and land type process to 1 day instead of six unnecessary months. Abolish the “council” that is supposedly responsible to approve these land changes and place trust in the market mechanism to make the right decisions in the aspect of real estate. To do so will enable Brunei to reduce its extensive bureaucracy that has for so long destroyed Brunei’s chances to succeed in economic development and create the jobs needed for our young people.
Bureaucracy has to be eliminated in key aspects of the government that has an impact on the market. Limbang, Miri, Kota Kinabalu have only a fraction of the labor force working for the government, as compared to the bloated civil service of Brunei, yet they are progressing mightily ahead. For one civil service in these cities, they can possibly do the work of “100 Bruneian” civil servants.
It also makes young educated and unemployed people in the country mad knowing the fact that changes are not forthcoming because of the failure to enhance labor productivity and effectiveness in government, despite the large salaries these government servants are being paid for. This can change by introducing the “psychometric tests” on every level of government. The failure to pass it would mean that these civil servants have to be thrown out of work or demoted, while those who pass it shall progress ahead.
If the government is demanding the young people of Brunei to take these psychometric tests today in order to secure a civil servant job, then it would only be fair if those in charge of government today take it too. Make their results public so as to satisfy the demands of young people on the need for transparency on those who govern the country. Are the policy-makers are as effective and smart as they are meant to be to take hold of important positions in government?
If these policy-makers fail, then sack them and give the post to young people. Pay them lesser if the government is in need of saving money, for the young people will not hesitate to accept the post and pay given that they are the hungriest and dynamic of people to contribute in city-development of nation-building. To do so can enhance our labor productivity by miles and it will be safe to say that within five years Brunei will progress mightily ahead too.
On the subject of these cities would invariably pique interest among the young people of Brunei on how they can demand accountability from their government. The failure of the development of the city can be attributed to people hiding behind paperworks and the bureaucratic procedures, thus another main reason why bureaucracy is in need of being eliminated as soon as possible. But what also brings to mind is the need to introduce democracy at the local level in city development.
But what also brings to mind is the need to introduce democracy at the local level in city development. Democracy entails having the people vote whoever wants the position of mayor, or the person who is responsible for governing the city. As of now, we have one called the municipal chairman, but many people express dissatisfaction of the office as being unresponsive to people and SME’s needs, as well as being too bureaucratic and ineffective for a changing global order.
Which is why there needs to be an advocacy of the idea of elections taking place by the people of the city to elect a mayor, whom the people can demand accountability and transparency. The office must, according to the principle of inclusion, be open to all Bruneian citizens or PR regardless of their race, gender, religion, background, or economic position.
He or she must primarily be responsible and accountable for the people who elect the mayor. Having the freedom to elect someone to the position of power in shaping a city have positive consequences. First, the people will be more engaged in city-building, knowing that they have the power to influence in policy-making. Second, the government will be actually doing real jobs, instead of being busy hiding behind paperworks. Finally, a meritorious individual coming from the rank and profile of the Bruneian society will finally emerge to lead the city forward, potentially.
So long as the person is competent, whether he is Chinese or Malay, PR or a citizen, male or female, a Sikh or a Muslim, rich or poor are secondary. Let merit be the principal criteria to which a person should be judged henceforth. Many racists, xenophobic or misogynists may oppose this ideal, but the arch of the universe shall and must bend towards justice and equality.
One prime lesson I learned from my experience studying in London is that I was never discriminated against my religion, race, gender or whatever social dimensions that come into play. What mattered to the Londoners and my classmates were the results I produced.Such ideal must be inculcated into our society as a core principle if we are ever going to rise in a changing global order. The elections of the mayors are one way to promote this principle.
The decades have passed since our independence and BSB still failing to accomplish the goal of being a dynamic hub peeves me. All of the failures have led the Bruneian people down, whether they realise it or not, and this has resulted in us being left behind in terms of economic competitiveness by our neighbouring counterparts, such as KK, Miri, and Limbang. Although city development is not an easy subject to tackle, the need to enhance the importance of city building as a key source of economic growth and job creation must be prioritized.
Solutions to fix the problems at hand include the need to reform the land laws of the country, to eliminate the vast swathes of government bureaucracy, the overhaul and re-formation of the entire civil force through the process of exams given to them, the installation of younger, more competent and hungry individuals in top positions of government, the introduction of elections for mayorship at the city level, and finally the inculcation of meritocracy at the core of government approach in city development are keys to achieving our goals into placing BSB into the top position in the global competitiveness rank in cities.
There is no escape from hard work, and, certainly, there is no escape from the truths that need to be told. Only if we are ever honest and, subsequently, correct ourselves with the stark reality we are facing now can we rapidly rise and survive in a changing global order. This can only be done if we reconfigure a different governance that would enable us to adapt our beloved city, BSB, successfully and mightily in the 21st century.
(Pic credits to http://worldmilitaryintel.blogspot.com/2013/05/blog-post_3993.html)
The neighbourhood watch is an initiative supported and introduced by the police authorities in 2008 with the purpose of empowering local villagers and communities to secure their areas through joint-operations and intel-sharing. Most of the village MPKs (Majlis Perundingan Kampong) have a neighbourhood watch team to carry out the said duties and responsibilities. The chair tends to the village leader or Ketua Kampong. With the increased crime rates plaguing the nation, it is best for the government, relevant authorities, and village leaders to intensify the initiative forward as a way to secure safety for the nation at the local level. There are three important components that have to be considered on why this is so.
The first component of the neighbourhood watch that merits attention is how it can enhance intelligence sharing and active partnering of local communities with the relevant security agencies. The local MPKs must be continually engaged with the police and its respective branch forces to share information which could help identify potential criminals or suspects in their respective areas. At the same time, the security agencies must also share information pertaining targeted hardened criminals (who have probably served their terms) residing in the village groups in order that they can serve as a watchful eye and ears of these persons for the police.
Secondly, the regular joint-police patrols around the neighbourhoods with the local committee members can deter potential crimes provided that the measures are updated and enhanced. The development of a systematic and orderly patrol unit composed of highly committed villagers and police patrols ensure that results can be worthwhile. An added suggestion would be for the patrols to be held in morning and afternoon, not just in the evening or late midnights. The members must keep a watchful eye for any suspicious activities done around the areas surroundings especially. This must range from what is happening next door to being in a restaurant, at the community sports hall to the roadside.
Finally, the committee has to actively promote information and details on how their communities can protect and secure their homes. People take it for granted the measures they need to keep their homes safe. It is up to the local community themselves to remain each other on the best way to secure their homes. An example could be Ali reminding his neighbour not to post his holiday details on social media. Or Zara can, for instance, give contacts to make gates to her local neighbourhood. All in all, we need to create a unified community bent at upholding security and safety for the village through information sharing.
Overall, the neighbourhood watch is a great initiative that has to be intensified to combat criminality in our country. The MPKs and the police force have to work hand-in-hand to ensure that security, order, peace, and safety are promoted in every step of the way. While the neighbourhood watch may be a good solution, we must also understand that the rising crime cannot be stopped by this initiative alone. It is a complex issue that can not be explained and solved in a straightforward manner. Nonetheless, we have to be active in our efforts to combat crime and iIntensifying the neighbourhood watch is one of such solutions.
(Pic credits to Oxford Business Group)
The unemployment rate in Brunei is a cause of worry that has to be fixed quickly in order for our country to continue to grow and develop sustainably. To accomplish this objective, many noteworthy job creation policies have been created and sustained by the government especially in regards to medium- and high-skilled work. The Pulau Muara Besar project, which was originally initiated and proposed by BEDB, is a prime example of a policy that can generate thousands of jobs for our people.
However more needs to be done. It is the objective of this essay to propose for the government to carry out an active labour policy to absorb the unemployed into the labour force. An active labour policy can be defined as a policy where jobs previously held by non-locals in the private sector should be actively replaced by locals. Training, subsidies and perhaps even the introduction of the minimum wage policy could be introduced to spur locals to take up jobs, particularly low-skilled jobs.
Before anyone evaluate this work as a form of “economic nationalism”, we must consider that providing jobs to the locals is a prime responsibility of all governments in the world today. This includes Brunei. It does not mean that all non-locals should be replaced, but rather that the existing expats and migrant workers should train our locals in a way that our country will eventually achieve self-reliance that will ultimately benefit the socioeconomic development of Brunei and other nations.
Achieving self-reliance in our labour force is key to bolstering our economic performance and would enable us to continually import a larger base of expats and migrant workers to work with the Bruneian workforce. In such a way the cycle of virtuous growth and increased demands for more labour can propel itself sustainably in the many, many years to come. If our people are forever dependent on others then our economic development will not be as enriching than it could otherwise have been for our people and other nationals.
On the subject of Active Labour Policy, it is the primary interest of the government to identify and select industries that are currently ripe for job creation for the locals. These industries include construction, food and beverage, logistics, education, commercial retail stores, and much more. Most of these jobs may be within the fields of low-skilled work, but if worked on or “activated” they should easily create thousands of jobs for the locals.
Next, the Active Labour Policy should be passed into law with legislation enforcing businesses to hire locals or at the very least to give these businesses incentives to hire locals, such as giving them tax-cuts or subsidies. Bus companies in Brunei, for instance, hire non-locals as drivers and conductors. Why should our local buses not be driven by local people? If these bus companies hire locals, hundreds of jobs can immediately be created for our people.
It is extremely saddening to hear that many businesses refuse to hire locals on the basis that they do not “work hard enough” or that they are “lazy”. Whilst some of these allegations may be true, to generalise 12,000 people who are currently unemployed to be within that descriptions is just wrong and it reflects the lack of faith in the Bruneian workforce. Next, it shows that these types of businesses only want people who they can easily control, exploit, and commoditise, i.e. the migrant workers whose passports they could allegedly keep so that they have to work beyond the 8 hour time frame.
To put our people into work, the government must also consider introducing a minimum wage within the industries selected for the policy. No one wants to be paid a pittance of $300 per month or less in a full-time job. Even the Indonesian and Philippines embassies successfully negotiated to raise the minimum wage for their people working in this country to at least $450 per month, as a way to protect and uphold their people’s welfare in their own form of “economic nationalism”.
If they can raise their minimum wage, we can too. Its introduction should not be immediate but rather gradually within a set industry. For instance, a bus driver and a bus conductor should have a minimum wage between $450-$500 per month. If our locals are offered $300 per month, then the government can pay the extra $150 as a subsidy for the company as a short-term incentive to hire and train the labour force.
But if the company still refuses to pay our workers in full, then they should seriously question their allegiance to their country and people, and consider that after all the years of holding the license to operate the company they have failed to pay back the society that has given them much. There has to be an equitable balance between profit and society. In any case, the government should revoke their license and tender them in the open market.
In regards to training, this is easily augmented with the existing IBTE, polytechnic and technical education programmes. If a person lacks the skill-sets then they should be trained on the job so they can operate their duties successfully. In addition, the government can always subsidise a person’s probation period in a company where he or she will be getting the hang of the business before officially starting work.
To conclude, Brunei should introduce an Active Labour Policy to put our unemployed 12,000 people to work. Training, subsidies, or even minimum wages could potentially be incorporated into the job creation programme. We must also understand that it is Brunei’s interest that its people’s welfare will be protected, and that as Brunei succeeds others can join in the growth as well.