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  • Brunei:Making Progress Slowly
  • Pushpa Thambipillai (bio)

Brunei Darussalam's concern about addressing an array of issues was evident throughout the year. While none were uniquely pressing, most were of ongoing interest that prompted the leaders' efforts in engaging the society towards realizing the long term goals of Wawasan 2035, Brunei's vision for national development by 2035. Although progress towards the vision was slow, results showed incremental achievements. As a hereditary monarchy, and with the absence of a contested and confrontational political environment, Brunei's national emphasis is on economic, social, and spiritual goals that can be pursued congenially.

Nudging the Economy Forward

The government has never been more serious about economic development in order to decrease Brunei's dependence on the sale of crude oil and gas. It is assisting the participation of the private sector and promoting the education and training of youth to equip them for relevant employment opportunities.

Brunei's policymakers are naturally concerned by the usual poor grades the country receives from such global studies as the World Bank's Doing Business report or the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report. Nevertheless, Brunei's overall ranking has improved over previous years, aided by high scores on such indicators as macroeconomic environment and political stability. The World Bank has classified Brunei in the high income category as it has a gross national income per capita of about US$31,000, yet its other indicators lag behind high-income economies in providing relevant and sustainable regulations for creating an attractive business environment.1 These findings have [End Page 89] generated various local views and reviews by those in the public and business sectors. An initiative from the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources stated that a single portal for business applications was in the pipeline that would eliminate the current practice of seeking approval from thirteen different agencies. The new procedures were expected to be ready by late 2011. Another concrete improvement came from the Municipal Board to speed up approval of applications for business enterprises. Several workshops with local and foreign consultants are held regularly on how to improve the business environment; progress is slow, mainly inhibited by the lack of experience and exposure to a culture of entrepreneurship and the global norms of business leadership.2

On the positive side, local business ventures have increased in the past year, although most of the local start-ups are in the "micro" category employing on average about ten workers, largely in the food and service industries. Foreign investments in larger projects have also been promising. A number of government agencies can be credited for the push towards diversification and industrialization. The Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources' division of Promotion and Facilitation Services (that facilitates the development of SMEs [small and medium enterprises] and promotes local products locally and internationally) and a specialized department, BINA (Brunei Industrial Development Authority), that manages industrial sites where investors can apply to locate their SMEs, are in the forefront of such efforts. Another pro-business agency is the BEDB (Brunei Economic Development Board), whose mission is to attract investments and strengthen local business — for example, by providing equity investments for Brunei's promising IT sector. The BEDB has also supported the Youth Skills Development Programme's micro business grants to individuals setting up small enterprises. This was an effort (with other sponsors) to not only ease youth unemployment but also promote entrepreneurship, a marked difference from the early years of BEDB's strategies of mainly promoting large foreign direct investments.3 It should be noted that the BEDB was placed directly under the Prime Minister's office (PMO) in September 2010, so that it could be better exposed to national development policy thinking. The Department of Economic Planning and Development (JPKE), another institution under the PMO, has also adopted a proactive stance, especially in its long-term strategy of human resource development that would meet some of the requirements of the private sector.

The JPKE has introduced the bond-free scholarship scheme for locals either working in the private sector or self employed, in a move to ensure a well-trained pool of human resources while at the same...


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