Prescriptions to speed up diversification

June 5, 2008

Wide-ranging set of reforms proposed by two experts

Two experts who looked into the causes of the slow pace in the diversification of Brunei's economy recommended wide-ranging reforms to speed up the process.The recommendations range from rationalising the bureaucracy, including reducing the salaries and benefits of government employees, cutting red tape, improving human resources, encouraging the youth to take up entrepreneurship to improving infrastructure, building an enabling business environment, strengthening the corporate sector and easing the way for the entry of foreign investors.

The recommendations were outlined during a roundtable yesterday organised by private think tank Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies (CSPS), with support from Asia Inc Forum, at the Empire Hotel and Country Club.

Participants heard from Manu Bhaskaran from Singapore-based consultant Centennial Asia Advisors Pte Ltd and Dr Mark Crosby of the Melbourne Business School, the two experts brought in to look at Brunei's situation.

Speakers and experts from various industries were also present to comment on the findings.

The speakers' reports offered a platform for the participants to discuss where Brunei stands, its strengths and weaknesses as well as uncover areas of possibilities beyond that of the oil and gas industry.

Brunei "offers a sound, stable and secure economic climate to encourage foreign direct investors as well as fuel the growth of local SMEs to expand locally and internationally," said Dato Paduka Mohd Alimin Abdul Wahab, acting chairman of CSPS, in his welcoming remarks.

Brunei, he said, "has to move forward in considering our economic policy", noting oil reserves may run out in 30 years.

Old and new ideas and perspectives on areas to succeed in and how to overcome the challenges and diversify the economy were discussed during the roundtable, such as the potential the sultanate holds in becoming an international financial centre for Islamic banking, securities and insurance.

Crosby recommended for the government to consider rationalising the bureaucracy and reforming the public sector, including cutting red tape, and reducing the salaries and benefits of government employees.

He also stressed the need to improve Brunei's human resources, setting up a programme to encourage the youth to become entrepreneurs and improving infrastructure.

Centennial Asia Advisors' Bhaskaran, meanwhile, proposed more focus in building an enabling business environment, strengthening the corporate sector and building strategies to encourage the entry of foreign direct investments.

He also pointed out the need for a human capital element that will support Brunei's economic diversification in the long term.

Vincent Cheong, chief executive officer of the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB), also delivered a presentation on Brunei's Economic Outlook through 2009.

He pointed to the challenges that were faced in developing a number of projects, citing logistics, which is one of the key factors of implementation.

Cheong also said that some of the larger government projects are being divided into too many small parts that are too insignificant to make a dent in the market and "not massive enough to be commercially viable".

The roundtable brought together some 150 stakeholders, policymakers, members of both the public and private sectors, together with experts.

Roundtable panelists included Dato Paduka Timothy Ong, acting chairman of BEDB; Pengiran Hjh Mariana PDNLDR Pengiran Hj Abdul Momin, acting permanent secretary at the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources; Dr Roger Lawrey, deputy dean of Universiti Brunei Darussalam; and Hj Shazali Dato Hj Sulaiman of the International Chamber of Commerce and Industry.