"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?