Create an economic charter to steer Brunei forward

IN THE efforts of building a resilient economy, Brunei Darussalam should consider producing and publishing an economic charter that outlines the strategic improvements and recommendations that could be made in charting the country’s next phase of economic growth throughout the next decade.

The idea of making this report is inspired by the publication of Singapore’s economic reports entitled Report of the economic committee: The Singapore Economy: New Directions (1986) and Committee on the Future Economy Report (2017) which seeks to accomplish the goals mentioned in regards to the Singaporean economy.

These reports make good reading for those who wish to understand the successful past and future developments that have and will take place for the Singaporean economy.

It will not hurt Brunei to borrow this idea from our Singaporean friends in producing a Brunei-centric economic charter as a step in helping Brunei make the grade in the current and future global economic conditions.

This article outlines some of the key components of that potential report.

The first component is to secure the right executive members who make up the committee in creating this charter.

The individuals who made the aforementioned Singaporean reports are highly educated and have extensive professional experience as well as deep connections with international organisations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, United Nations and many others.

Brunei should draw inspiration by recruiting its dynamic local talent pool – and we have many – in establishing the charter.

The committee should preferably be made up of qualified and educated professionals with extensive international exposure in the field of academia, government, and the private sector.

To add up to the dynamism, top civil servants from different ministries of government and executives from government-linked corporations and private sectors should also be engaged in making the charter.

They must then sit down together for a one- or two-month time frame to conceptualise the existing and future strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and improvements that could be made to the Brunei economy.

The chair of the executive committee who heads this project must be an extremely seasoned person.

The second component is to carry out a mixed top-down and bottom-up form of research which must draw ideas, recommendations, and feedback from the key parties that affect or are being affected the economic policy (eg: members of the public) changes brought about by the report.

In the latest Committee on the Future Economy 2017 report, the Singaporean government consulted and benefitted from a contribution of more than 9,000 individuals, ranging from employers and workers, academics, professionals, students, private companies, public agencies, unionists, trade associations and chambers, as well as Singaporeans abroad.

Having a top-down and bottom-up approach to securing ideas and feedbacks from the Bruneian public would be most vital in engaging and sparking our people’s interest in steering the direction of the economy.

Brunei did this approach of securing consultation in the past with its BSB Masterplan in 2005. The same approach should be replicated again for the publication of this report.

Moreover, if there is one thing that the report can do, it is to intensify the people’s participation in the development of the Bruneian economy.

The third component of the report must involve an honest study as well as the specific recommendations to be made of the existing state of the Bruneian economy.

The Brunei economy has been resilient over the years thanks to the strength of our country’s oil and gas resources, but it does not escape the fact that our country was negatively affected by the plunge in global commodity prices.

We still have time.

Our economy can be made more resilient to the changing external conditions facing the global economy by tapping into the strengths of the local talent pool to secure recommendations for the Brunei Government with regard to diversifying the economy forward.

We have a huge pool of talent, we have the brains, and we have the people to accomplish this goal.

If the committee can secure an honest study to understanding the economic position of the Brunei economy and communicate the need to engage and integrate lessons gained from the citizens, then it will be a most productive report indeed.

For it must be remembered that Brunei’s greatest resource is not its oil or gas, but its citizens.

Our citizens have ideas. Let them come up with the solutions and work with the government lock-step and in tandem in building the Bruneian story forward.

The report must be different from the five-year National Development Plan (RKN) published by the government or other think tanks by how it shall involve a top-down and bottom-up approach in securing ideas from the key influencers of the Bruneian economy as well as its people.

The recommended name of the report could be The Charter on the Future of the Bruneian Economy or CFBE for short.

It must be added that with the production and publication of the document, the constellation of government agencies will be steered towards the agreed direction thereby creating a genuine form of Whole-of-Government movement.

Compromises will arise, and that is okay.

As the saying goes, there is strength in the diversity of opinions and ideas.

Moreover, if there is a theme that would suit the report, it is that Brunei has to constantly work at plugging itself to the international cord of globalisation and work pragmatically in diversifying its economic base away from oil and gas, through fields such as entrepreneurship, finance, and logistics.

These measures are key to solving our unemployment and deficit problems.

Additionally, Brunei has to continue to inspire confidence in the changing order, and this report shall be one of the many steps to being about that confidence.

The combination of the ideas set out in this charter may not guarantee automatic growth and development to the national economy, but it can be a positive step towards involving our citizenries in nation-building through this charter document.

If we are successful at this, we can continue working together in charting the next course of our economic future and carry on the Bruneian story forward.

– Abdul Malik Omar