Brunei probes reasons for slow economic diversification

May 28, 2008

Think-tank gets expert help to examine what ails process

The Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies (CSPS) has engaged two consultants to help look into the causes of the slow pace in Brunei's march to economic diversification.

The results of the two separate research studies carried out by Manu Bhaskaran of Centennial Asia Advisers from Singapore and Dr Mark Crosby, associate dean at the Melbourne Business School from Australia, will be presented during a roundtable soon.

Dr Crosby came up with several recommendations on bureaucracy and public sector reforms. His findings cover issues on red tape, expertise proportion in the government sector as well as income and benefit concession.

In his research he underlined the significance of human resource reform and the expansion of the local university and the availability of other type of educational institutions with offerings such as young entrepreneur programmes.

Bhaskaran's recommendations include a call to ease opportunities in the local business setting. This would allow the strengthening of the corporate sector and strategies to improve Brunei's chances to lure foreign direct investments.

Bhaskaran also stressed on the importance of the human capital supporting Brunei's economic diversification initiatives in the long run.

In an interview with The Brunei Times, Dr Azaharaini Mohd Jamil, executive director at CSPS, said he regards the availability of information as a core factor towards future innovation while enhancing decision making at all government levels.

"When you have no data or information then you are ... reluctant to make decisions. This goes to various levels of planning. If you want to plan, you would need facts and figures," he said.

He also noted the absence of motivation amongst Bruneians "to want or initiate change", saying that most Bruneians, when they see don't see reward prospects, would not see the need to change.

This creates "roadblocks" in various levels within the government sector, said Dr Azaharaini.

"People at higher levels, we find, are open minded. They want to change, making statements to change," he said.

"It is those who are implementing it who are probably not well advised creating a roadblock in an old run system," he added.

Another element is the level of coordination amongst the relevant agencies.

"It is not to say it is not coordinated, but it is not well coordinated. The result sometimes is the duplication of efforts and resources. Ministries doing the same thing when efforts can actually be combined," he said.

Dr Azaharaini also raised concerns about impartiality in decision-making in Brunei.

"Brunei is a small society. The goal in any decision-making here is to try and please and meet the needs of everyone," he said.

In bigger countries, impartiality is easier to achieve, he said. "When they are able to satisfy the needs of 80 per cent of their stakeholders, it is already considered good enough," he said.

"In the Brunei context, that 20 per cent you ignore could be a relative, making it hard for some to make decisions, slowing down the process. As far as possible satisfy the needs of everyone. (But) it is not possible," he said

Brunei's think-tank CSPS will be holding a Brunei Economic Diversification Roundtable on June 4. The event will be organised by the centre in collaboration with Asia Inc Forum. The one-day event will allow researchers to present their findings followed by commentators responding to their findings and recommendations.