Competitiveness is a word much bandied about in Brunei nowadays. That anonymous entry certainly thinks that competitiveness is something we Bruneians should be aware of and he or she is right - we should. How does one become competitive?
For this article, I looked at 3 possible answers - the first from my own academic notes, the second from a study commissioned by Brunei Economic Development Board and the third from Asia-Inc, the magazine, which focused on a cross section study of our own Bruneians in various fields.
In one of my crazy moments when I was studying for my Masters, I cross registered to the tough Sloan School at MIT in USA. The main reason was actually to study under Professor Dornbusch who was a very famous economist who died in 2002. Anyway, the course was entitled 'Management and Policy in the International Economy' and I learnt a lot of things. The whole course was focused on the issue of how does a country get rich and how does it do quickly? I can't remember that much in the last 10 years but the last time I refered to my notes is that you can work out the competitiveness of a country by looking at several factors - the country's infrastructure (roads, legal, taxation, environment, stability etc); the country's macroenvironment (exchange rate and inflation stability and pro-growth climate); the country's labour and other factors (compensation levels, skill and motivation of workforce, capital markets, access to quality intermediates); and the country's output markets (size, composition, potential growth and competition).
Studies have also been undertaken in Brunei. One such study was the findings published by the Monitor Group who worked with the Brunei Economic Development Board and reported on RTB on 12th July 2003 to determine Brunei’s competitiveness on a global scale by reviewing key findings and recommendations of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) initiative, as well as determining critical next steps to ensure successful implementation.
What were some of the key findings? Brunei ranks 69th out of 81 countries. It indicated that we should reexamine our complacent mindset. It highlighted the strengths of Brunei which include a stable and fair government, good standardized education system, robust oil and gas cluster and ample financial resources but our weaknesses are the underdeveloped business clusters, a poorly developed local private sector, lack of entrepreneurial culture and the slow government decision making. The finding also states that potential investors are very cautious about expansion or new investments, investors are either unfamiliar or unaware of investment prospects in Brunei. Brunei is perceived to be politically and socially stable, but possesses a low level of transparency and significant red tape. Furthermore, foreign organizations perceive Brunei to be biased towards investing internationally rather than domestically, which gives international investors lack of confidence.
The Group outlined four key strategic initiatives for Brunei to increase its competitiveness -
- Firstly targeting specific clusters - the 4 prioritized clusters are financial services, hospitality and tourism, business services and transportation and logistics;
- Secondly, building the Brunei brand: showcase the relative easiness to do business in Brunei. Build on the country’s safe and stable reputation and broadening the base of the economy;
- Thirdly, driving key policy reforms. The slow government decision-making process needs to reviewed, alongside the lack of transparency and the lack of recourse arising from potential disputes; and
- Finally empowering the public-private sector collaboration.
- Paula Malai Ali (you know who she is): Brunei should continue organising international events, like the first Brunei Marathon and the Asian Tour for golfers. As someone who is into arts and culture, I would like to see more music and arts festivals.
- Dr Pengiran Hishamuddin (a Fulbright scholar): I believe His Majesty’s Government has done a vast amount of work in this matter, for example by investing in education and human resource development. We need to unite together as a country and support the initiatives of His Majesty. Furthermore, we need to support and listen to each other, and have faith in the capabilities of our own people.Words of encouragement: Honesty and integrity are the keys to success. Have confidence and believe in your capabilities. We should also never forget that we are Bruneians with our own way of life, heritage, history, tradition and culture.
- Jonathan Chin (Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Cambridge): Brunei is on the right track in trying to diversify its economy. The nation’s resources are really its people and I believe the answer lies in developing the talent of its people for the future.
- Laila Saleh (Engineer at Total now in Angola): What works in other countries does not necessarily work for Brunei. We have to pinpoint an economic niche for Brunei. I associate a country’s competitiveness with that of a company, and this brings us back to the essential: the development of personnel through a high-quality education system and innovation backed by new ideas and even better infrastucture. Privatisation works wonders for competitiveness if good and trustworthy managers are brought in.