‘We need to intensify diversification efforts’

Azlan Othman

“Brunei Darussalam’s economy is still heavily reliant on oil and gas and the positive growth of non-oil and gas sector is not sufficient to drive the economy and thus we need to continue intensify our diversification efforts.”

This was said by Permanent Secretary (Economy) at the Ministry of Finance and Economy Dr Hajah May Fa’ezah binti Haji Ahmad Ariffin at the very first Brunei Economic Forum with the theme, ‘Towards a dynamic and sustainable economy’ held at Senate Room, Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) yesterday.

She added, “I hope today’s forum will give impetus for innovative and practical ideas that can be turned into quality action. Personally, Brunei’s micro economy with unique characteristics may not be able to prescribe a normal textbook solution. Nevertheless, I believe that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They are many policy lessons that we can adopt and learn, and most importantly we have something that we didn’t have 20 or 30 years ago which is the advancement of digitalisation and technology.

“It is true that there will be drawbacks and challenges attached to the fourth industrial revolution but there will also be benefits and opportunities. For instance, last year, due to COVID-19 pandemic, digital solution and digitalisation of processes became critical to enable us to continue with daily life and for some to make a living.”

In line with the third Goal of Brunei Vision 2035, UBD School of Business and Economics (UBDSBE) organised the Brunei Economic Forum. The forum also included a panel of experts from various government agencies to share their views on Brunei’s economic outlook as well as challenges and opportunities within the country.

Brunei Darussalam has recently introduced several policy directions and initiatives to achieve the Third Goal of Brunei Vision 2035 – A Dynamic and Sustainable Economy, through the initiation of the ‘Economic Blueprint for Brunei Darussalam’.

Permanent Secretary (Economy) at the Ministry of Finance and Economy Dr Hajah May Fa’ezah binti Haji Ahmad Ariffin. PHOTOS: AZLAN OTHMAN
The panellists during the forum

The Economic Blueprint introduces six aspirations that provides the country with a clear and well-defined plan. During the session, the four invited panellists were: Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies researcher Dr Wee Chian Koh; Executive Director of Economics, Research and Statistics at the Autoriti Monetari Brunei Darussalam Dr Irene Yap Tsue Ing; DARe (Darussalam Enterprise) CEO Javed Ahmad; and Department for Economic Planning and Statistics Executive Director Dayangku Norhanidah binti Pengiran Haji Masshor.

Moderated by UBDSBE Dean Professor Ahmed Masood Khalid, the panellists shared their views and opinions on the country’s economic outlook followed by a question-and-answer session.

The event was attended by some 150 participants ranging from public and private sectors, academics, practitioners, policymakers, and research students.

“At UBDSBE, events such as this are important with its own mission of providing quality education and nurturing innovative and caring leaders to contribute to the community. As the country gears towards a dynamic economy, the role of academicians, researchers and future leaders in UBD becomes all the more important,” said the university.

The panellists touched on the need for local workforce to be equipped with industrial, creativity and entrepreneurship skills. There are also calls to leverage on free trade agreement, promote productive businesses and to venture out of the domestic market. There is also a need to attract more economy friendly industry and promote green growth.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown a need for serious policy reforms. It brings opportunities like digital payment growth and there is a trend towards digitalisation.

“During the pandemic, people see the beauty of Brunei and we need a better package that involves a whole-of-nation approach. Local hotels are occupied during school holidays while services like food delivery flourishes and local businesses peaking up. Delivery business increases three to four folds during lunch and dinner.

“Local employment also increased to 10,000 from 8,000 people prior to COVID-19. It is a blessing in disguise. Panellists also said we must take benefits from the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) sub-regional grouping and become trading services and repackage products from BIMP-EAGA in our country and export to China,” said UBD.