THE following reflection was triggered by the letter ‘Create an economic charter to steer Brunei forward’ by Abdul Malik Omar published in the Opinion page of the Weekend Bulletin on April 6.
The goal of this letter is three-fold.
First, to commend the writer on his calls for concerted directions, for an honest study to understand Brunei’s economic position, and for using this platform.
Malik’s letter focussed on the importance of publishing the directions as well as including input from many sectors. He advocates borrowing ideas from an ASEAN neighbour.
A matter of curiosity: why a model that is economically, socially and culturally so dissimilar to ours?
Why not Qatar, the UAE or Jordan with whom there is much more in common in terms of economics and social-order for a Brunei-centric charter?
Second, to consider the issues he raised in light of Vision 2035, IR 4.0 (the 4th Industrial Revolution, aka Age of AI, IoT, e-wallets, smart cities, etc) and the 2018 report by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).
Malik concentrated explicitly on an economic charter. Yet, Brunei’s aspirations encompass participation in global IR 4.0 and Vision 2035.
The former is already decades old; and 2035 is 15 years from now. The citizens of consequence are in the final years of schooling or on the first steps of career escalators.
Tempering these ambitions is the 12-year window for critical climate change mitigation according to the IPCC.
Initiatives include measures for food security and to conserve natural resources particularly water. Happily, Brunei has stepped up efforts in both areas.
Water as a resource will be a significant factor in the economic charter. It will impact on food production, quality of life, commerce and industrialisation capacity. Changed and uncertain rainfall patterns require foresight and contingency plans.
Another must-happen in climate change mitigation is quickly reducing our carbon footprints.
Of the many ways, cutting down on plastic straws and other plastic wastes is a current hot favourite.
Our efforts include waste separation for recycling and going without plastic shopping bags every day of the week now.
A bigger concern is fuel and energy. Sustainability is the touted goal and efficiency the mode.
In simple terms: DON’T WASTE ELECTRICITY. Brunei, through energy audits, has signed up for this.
Phrased differently: More efficient production and consumption of energy. The trend is to transition away from fossil fuel to green energy sources.
This translates into both opportunity for new ventures and for stringent regulations which are often not investor-friendly.
The economic charter committee faces a daunting task with no existing blue print to follow; only predictive models.
This new future (climate and tech-wise) has not happened before. Consultants and even extremely seasoned persons would have to rely on untried and untested tools to steer.
As, indeed, do all the existing strategic planning bodies. Add to this, time pressure and conflicting data interpretations.
Sometimes we behave as if all these – Vision 2035, IR 4.0, economics, climate change – are happening in parallel universes.
The reality is it is all happening here and now.
We are not going to bed on December 31 and waking up on January 1 to a totally different world that someone else has messed up or improved for our benefit.
This second point hopes to highlight the integrity of economics, climate and lifestyle aspirations.
In the meantime, life goes on, in all directions too.
There is no pause button while we deliberate. And this is why those who quietly, outside the limelight, act to improve their lots deserve mention.
They are the third point of this letter. I salute the numerous young people for getting to grips with the present realities that were unanticipated during their schooling.
I have encountered a UBD grad running a cucur pisang and ubi stall at Sumbangsih Mulia in Beribi. Another, a PhD grad, was selling potted plants and orchids at the Friday and Sunday tamu at Pasar Gadong.
Another paid for multiple classes in East Asian languages and is now a sought-after tour guide.
And uncounted others are earning wages from private tuition. Working from home, baking and catering entrepreneurs are exploiting social media and pop-up events.
A growing number are in other gig sectors offering videography skills for special events, designing and managing web pages, etc.
Such resourceful citizens; but their economic prowess can in no way replicate the economic largesse of the oil and gas industry.
Hence the quest to identify and develop a commodity or a raft of commodities and services in high global demand and limited supply.
Whether the solution is to be found in agri-tech, bio/pharma-tech, Islamic finance, creative industries or tourism, concerted directions and urgency are necessary drivers given the looming deadlines.
Publishing an economic charter, as Malik urged, with roadmaps of stages and timelines is important. Much more important is execution. This details the mechanisms, attitudes and allotted resources.
Malik has the fervour to advocate a published statement of directions forward, and input from the public. Perhaps the Borneo Bulletin can play a role by hosting a forum and curating readers’ letters?
– Teoh Boon Yen