Turning Brunei into a Nation of New Ideas

"How can we turn Brunei into a nation of new ideas?" Dr. Saad Al-Harran, a UBD lecturer asked yesterday in the Borneo Bulletin and he continued "... As a newcomer to Brunei, I have observed that there are too many restaurants and catering services in practically every corner of the capital. Undoubtedly, restaurants provide us with delicious food to eat and enjoy, while at the same time it enables us to have the energy to be active citizens in the community. But to have too many restaurants competing with each other in a small market is something of a concern, that requires serious attention from the policymakers - especially those who want to have a solid foundation for small and medium enterprises (SME) to grow and progress ... "

"... A few have succeeded to open not only one but two or three restaurants because they provide quality food and services, such as play areas for children so as to make dining enjoyable. Meanwhile, others struggle because of the tough competition. The question is: how we can solve this problem of having too many restaurants, and come up with new ideas that will enable small businesses to grow and be sustainable in a highly competitive market place. I am sure the government is keen to support new initiatives that will allow small businesses to grow and succeed locally, while competing in the international market at the same time ..."

That is certainly one of the questions that we should ask ourselves. Bruneians are not stupid. Wikipedia had this entry which talked about the Chinese but also Bruneians: "...when Magellan's ship ships reached Brunei in 1521, they found a wealthy city that had been fortified by Chinese engineers, protected by a breakbarrier. Antonio Pigafetta noted that much of the technology of Brunei was equal to Western technology of the time. Also, there were more cannons in Brunei than on Magellan's ships, and the Chinese merchants to the Brunei court had sold them spectacles and porcelain, which were rarities in Europe..." We were strong technically, our technology equal to the Western technology at that time, even though we had the Chinese help, we still had the financial resources and the intelligence to tap them. What happened to us in the 500 years since?

Dr Saad had a simple solution - instill the culture of reading into our society. We need to make libraries accessible to children so that everyone will benefit and by doing so will create a thinking and knowledgeable society. We have built the libraries and we do have the mobile libraries to go round the various schools. Though I don't know whether our DBP peopls managed to get the right kind of books and whether reading catches on within our society. Supposing that works, would it create the 'inventiness spirit' in Brunei and create more businesses? Is that what we are looking for?

When I read through the various literatures and for other notes and websites of Livewire, or the MIPR Resource Centre or the Young Entreprenurs Association Brunei, you would notice that the government and other voluntary groups have put up enough efforts. So when you think about it, books and knowldegeable are maybe insufficient to make Brunei a nation of new ideas. Or is it the entreprenuerial spirit that we are looking for? Or is it the comfort of being in government is such that, there is no point in looking for jobs elsewhere. Amongst us, the senior government officers, we have lamented that there are very few business leaders. We have often mentioned that we should be out there - outside of the comfortable cushy jobs in government, to help spearhead the businesses, but obviously not many of us are willing to take the challenge or feel that it is worth giving up our civil service jobs. As such, very few of the businesses expanded beyond the restaurants and the barbershops.

It is obvious that there is a lack of qualified Bruneians in the private sector. And given the size of the economy and the size of the workforce and the size of the government's workforce, one person less in the private sector means one person less who can become the new leader of the Brunei economy. I could be wrong. What do you think?


Anonymous said…
In brunei, businesman kana consider second class. semua orang mau jadi government. payahtah.
p o t a t o said…
Brunei Businessman, I second that.

People are acting rationally though. Option A, be a government worker, and get $1000 per month, just by goyang kaki. Option B, go out in the private sector, work very hard and depend on yourself and your own network of contacts and get the same amount. Most people would choose Option A. Less effort for the same amount.

My lecturer in my Entrepreneurship class said, "Most of the INC 500 companies are initiated by the people who improved on how things are done. They found better ways of doing things. They weren't doing anything new. Just do it better."

*INC 500 are the new companies which are growing at a fast rate.

But, applied to the restaurant scene in Brunei, though they're trying to be businesspersons, it's a good try, but I admit they do lack creativity. Offer something unique that can't be found anywhere else, not cheap food that people can just ditch when a better tasting one comes in.

Solitude is something. Diverse range of Islamic books, with the array of drinks, the best spaghetti I've ever tasted, very friendly and helpful attendants, the peaceful environment among other plus factors. Even the owner bawa org cerita when he drops by. Though daily trips might drill a hole in the pocket of some people. Yet, it's still something. It's unique. Other examples are I Lotus, Dynasty, Sanur, Swensen's, Fratini's, Xcapade (however you spell it).

There's one Roti Canai shop I know at Batu Satu. Everytime I go there, I see the same faces - loyal customers. And the roti canai is unforgettable. Though some may say I'm biased because of the family I come from, just sit down and observe. The restaurant has been open for several years, and it's still open. Compare it to other restaurants that opened a few months ago but had to close down. Other examples include that booth at the Pasar Malam Gadong that sells the awesome Kuih Malaya and Chocolate, the booth that sells the kebab that I can't get enough of and the sotong tutuk at Muara beach.

My point is, if you're someone who is planning to open a restaurant, offer something people can't find anywhere else. Market research is absolutely vital in a saturated market.
Anonymous said…
akatsuki, being govt servant, i dun goyang kaki, i work hard and always go back late well beyond the required 4:30. i fear that if thats the attitude for govt workers as u point out, then how can the country progress, besides the work we do should be beyond our duty and in the hope that rezki yang kitani terima adalah berkat, rezki kitani yang kitani berikan kepada anak bini berkat dan halal. smoga negara kitani brunei darussalam menjadi kekal dan aman makmor selamanya.

anyway, i want to congratulate the elderly gentleman who created this blog, but i dun think he's that elderly... i didnt know what it means to be blogging before and i think that ur doing a good thing here. keep it up

i m just wondering how u'd managed to find the time to write all this stuff, i can relate to it of course, but surely what's ur secret... i m already finding it hard to be with the family let alone set up a blog...
Anonymous said…
'Most of economics can be summarised in four words: "People respond to incentives". The rest is commentary.'
to anonymous who asked me how i have the time:

the quiet times in the middle of the night is always the best time to post articles on the blogsite - they require some efforts - yes. lots of reading and lots of asking people but i do that anyway, so it's just a matter of extending the knowledge to more people.

my website takes a bit of effort as that requires a lot of work and i don't have time to update it as often as i would like. maybe if i can make this into a paying site one day, maybe i can hire someone, maybe. in the meantime, i am driven by the fact that many people rely on it and that i am getting messages across and bruneians (those who visit the website and blogsite) are now more aware of what brunei is all about, about our past, and hopefully thinking about the future. that's all the rewards i am asking for.
Zul-Fadly said…
Indeed tryong to instil the notion of 'reading for fun' is not an easy task to do.

English teachers have been trying to encourage this forever. It is something which I believe has to start from the grassroots.

The home is the foundation of a reading environment and I am sure if the child has been encouraged to read by their parents from a young age I have no doubt that it will carry on until they grow up. There are also late boomers and something must have persuaded them to start picking up a book and fall in love with it.

Often its the case of trying to find the right kind of book to tempt someone to start reading.

Whether a 'reading-driven society' will promise a better outcome for the business world remains to be seen.

I do acknowledge that creativity is lacking. I'm not saying here that I am creative but to a certain degree, I am and I have proven it. I support this notion because I have first hand experience to identify creativity at my work place.

Again I would like to highlight that the current syllabus still lacks the creative aspect of education. It is a fundamental ingredient to foresee a better future for our beloved country.

I think I've said enough here. I have more to say but I'll keep it for myself.

P.S: Thank you Mr.BR Sir for the plug. I really do not know what to say but Thank You. I was wondering about the sudden increase in visitors. Have a nice day.
Anonymous said…
DBP lacks in English books for the late teens.
I actually expressed an interest in working for the private sector after graduation once to my family and friends, and they looked at me as if I grew horns, hehe.
To get people to go to the private sector, we've to change the mindset of our people first.
Anonymous said…
There is no doubt that there is still a significant percentage of brunei population with the "buat apa menyusahkan diri" attitude. Unwilling to take risks or initiative for innovation.

Undoubtedly fear of failure is always the factor. Working in the government sector compared to the private sector is undeniably more stable and secure in brunei. It's always a wise choice to 'play it safe and lay-up instead of going for the green'.

Most successful entrepreneurs did not become successful without some failures or hardship in the past. But they never gave up and their persistence are rewarded eventually and they also got a lot wiser.

Education is still a big factor because ambition can only do so much without knowledge. Then there is also the case of how to properly interpret that knowledge and to use it correctly.

Attitude should also be adjusted accordingly. Do for your country and not just what your country can do for you.
Anonymous said…
We need to cultivate a thinking AND committing society.
Anonymous said…
i work in a private company and bruneianisation being enveloped in our company is a great initiative and it has grown with such great results. I mean we now have local sitting in the high posts locally and overseas. But its such a pain when some locals are still being deprived of opportunities just because these local readers are missing them out..i am not sure why...could mismanagement or miscommunication but some of us see it as "Dont want challenge takut inda dapt nama"...etc...its just that i always thought if in the past when most of the bosses are foreigners it'll be hard to please them and maybe we should get more locals in the top level and when we do get more locals in the top level these issues still happens....*sigh*
But then again as a muslim i'd like to think positively that is rezeki orang...allah yang menentukan...pokoknya buat kerja honestly! :)insyallah rezeki datang unexpectedly...
Anonymous said…
This post reminded of an incident that happened to a friend of mine after returning from an overseas posting with his family a few years ago. His children had the luxury of getting 4 years of UK education. Inevitably they had to return and they ended up back in one of the local schools. A few weeks later his 10 year old daughter received a 1 week suspension because she 'argued' with her school teacher about a particular subject on discussion at the time.
This surprised me because his daughter is very well brought up and charmingly intelligent. You would think that you are talking to an adult if you have a conversation with her. When asked what she did that led to her suspension, she just said that she only pointed out to the teacher that the incumbent made a mistake and she offered to give her reasons and opinion, which according to her is the norm when she was in school in the UK. Anyway to cut a long story short, I am also lucky enough to have my children go through the same UK education and have seen the differences between our system of education and the UK's. Ours does not encourage thinking and reasoning. It does not allow them to express opinions and challenge things which may appear normal to us but different to a 10 or 15 year old child. We tell them to memorise the times table without explaining the concept first. We educate our children through a rota system. Spoon feeding etc etc... This is where we lack and this is why I think Brunei has an uphill struggle to turn into itself into a Nation of new ideas simply because the education system does not encourage our young children to explore 'creative thinking' or 'self expression'. I hope I'm wrong but from what I have seen so far from my work experiences in Brunei and overseas, the light at the end of that tunnel is far from bright.
I've not posted this message to offer solutions but to highlight a gap in our education system and to a certain degree, our social way thinking. Having said that, the opinions expressed in this blog site contradicts my own views. Perhaps I just need to explore away from my own social circle.

**I can resist anything but temptation**
Anonymous said…
I agree with anonymous above. It is true, the teaching and thinking of Bruneian's (do not mean to offend or stereotype) need to widen. I was brought up in a similar setting, UK-based teaching and I often found it weird that other students from government school were different to how I dealt with the school system. Take for example studying overseas to an Australian University. Here the people and classes are full of discussions about issues- issues that Brunei shelter's the young generation from. How is that productive when the real hard hitting issues are hidden from them? How are they 'supposebly' the generation to build our future when they themselves are still thinking and acting the same as their parents.
It really was a culture shock to have to talk about certain issues, but over the years I have realised that Brunei has slowly opened up its shell and become more open to all sorts of Issues, especially about women's abuse and other health issues. Thats a positive step I guess. Slowly InsyaAllah, Brunei will be there as recognised as other countries in the world. And all will be happy with the changes happening.

Mr. BR, you deserve the greatest gratitude for opening a blog that is mentally stimulating which brings out the truth about our beloved country. There are many out there with similar opinions and views, you just provide us a platform to voice out. Thank you Mr.BR. God Bless!
Anonymous said…
I do believe that Bruneians has the capability of churning out new brilliant ideas. We have seen Bruneian students winning all there competitions let it be the Robocon competition or any other competition out there. I fail to believe that the new generation has the 'malas ku ingau' mindset, i've seen students who wants to achieve much more than just the normal academic goal. I've seen students who wants to build and invent new things, those who wants to create something new and unique but alas theres something that sets them back.

Creativity does not lack in Brunei and so does red tape. With all the red tape around it takes forever to get anything done. Whenever I talk to someone about businesses, the most common complains is the lack of procedure. Not only there is lack of procedure, you have to know those high up to get things done. Also in order to get things done one has to 'mengampu' those high up so that they would sign the relevant papers.
So where can we put the blame on?
Anonymous said…
Something to think about.

The Straits Times today (Sat 19 Aug) reported on the recent IPS-NTU report ranking economies on competitiveness.

Out of 15 Asian economies, Brunei is in 14th place.

Hamakraminus II said…
If you leave the government you are punished beyond reckoning. You lose your allowances, loan capability, the free makan, and will probably have to pay back some expenses. Plus you will never own land, your own car or your own house until you are middle aged.

Until the government stops holding all the cards in terms of welfare and people's directions in life, people will still flock tothe government.

Look at Malaysia- unless it is in politics , working for the government is the last thing anyone wants to do; because business over there is more lucrative, and private firms, clinics, associations and other companies provide the wide job umbrella people want in Malaysia. Of course, performance might not save you if there is a recession, but there is someone out there who can hire you with similar benefits.

In Brunei? leave the gov sector and they will ask you for everything except your bleeding heart, and that's only because they have to kill you to get it, and that's no fun.

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