| Azlan Othman |
A PROPOSAL to set up a single agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Brunei Darussalam to streamline and better facilitate their business activities was made during a dialogue between Legislative Council (LegCo) members and officials from the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources yesterday.
According to the Minister of Industry and Primary Resources, Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Yahya bin Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Haji Bakar, discussions are currently ongoing with the PENGGERAK Unit of the Prime Minister’s Office for the establishment of an agency that would look after SMEs in the Sultanate.
“There should be a national body to meet the needs of SMEs,” the minister said, noting that SMEs are currently being operated by several ministries, such as the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR), Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health, as well as the Brunei Economic Development Board.
The minister made these remarks in response to a query by YB Datin Paduka Dayang Hajah Salbiah binti Haji Sulaiman who called for the setting up of a single agency for SMEs like in some neighbouring countries.
SMEs constitute 98 per cent of the nation’s entrepreneurs and include micro businesses mostly engaged in retail and wholesale supply, and construction.
Most of the SMEs under the MIPR are engaged in agriculture, followed by fisheries, it was explained.
At yesterday’s session, the Permanent Secretary at the MIPR, Hajah Normah Suria Hayati binti Pehin Jawatan Dalam Seri Maharaja Dato Seri Utama (Dr) Haji Awang Mohd Jamil Al-Sufri, touched on three core issues – food security, development of SMEs, as well as Brunei’s ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report.
On food security, the permanent secretary pointed out that rice production in 2013 to attain self-sufficiency target dropped to 3.61 per cent from 5.06 per cent in 2012 due to diseases and challenges associated with opening up of new areas. Despite this, she reaffirmed that the nation will continue to work towards achieving its self-sufficiency target.
According to her, the challenges faced by Brunei in its drive for self-sufficiency in paddy production include uncertain weather conditions that could lead to a rise in crop diseases; problems related to appropriateness of land use; and inadequate farm infrastructure.
Some 468.5 hectares of land have been opened in the Brunei-Muara District, the majority of which is at Wasan, followed by Panchor Murai and Bebuloh.
The second biggest area is Tutong with 263.18 hectares (mainly at Mukim Lamunin and Mukim Rambai), followed by Temburong with 246 hectares (mainly at Perdayan and Lekiun) and Belait with 226.1 hectares, the majority of which is at Lot Sengkuang.
On development, the permanent secretary noted that 98 per cent of the Wasan paddy site utilises machines to harvest the crop. In May this year, a processing machine was used for enhancing national production. Several paddy varieties have been introduced at the local land to boost output while a super computer system is also installed to predict weather through technology developed by UBD-IBM.
Among the continuous programmes implemented by the MIPR include increasing farm infrastructure (including drainage, roads and irrigation), enhancing skills in breeding and boosting soil fertility and farmers’ skills.
Meanwhile, on ways to improve Brunei’s ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report, Hjh Normah Suria Hayati outlined the approaches and action plans including cooperation with the PENGGERAK steering committee, restructuring the organisation of the steering committee of Ease of Doing Business based on responsibilities and roles, re-assessing the stretched targets for every indicator by taking into account additional items and changes, enhancing focus on legal improvement by taking into account the nation’s interest and additional surveys, augmenting and re-arranging the communication programme framework and reformation dissemination and cooperating with the Management Service Department (MSD) to improve public services.
Brunei is currently placed at 101 in the latest World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report 2015, which lists a total of 189 economies. This is 42 notches lower than its 59th ranking in the previous year.
For the 2015 report, the World Bank has introduced several changes in methodology and scope of assessment from a heavy focus on the efficiency factors towards the assessment of the quality of legal infrastructure within an economy and how they promote efficiency in the delivery of services.
The revision of this methodology, which shifted from the ordinal system based on percentile to cardinal metric ranking system, sees a new scoring structure based on the ‘Distance To Frontier (DTF)’ from the Best Performers/Practice of participating economies.
The use of aggregate values of the overall DTF scoring across 10 ease of doing business indicators is now the basis of new ranking for each of the economies. Brunei’s drop in ranking is based on this new methodology.
The next session of the LegCo Meeting is expected to be convened in the first quarter of 2015.