Brunei continues to focus on its Halal Brand

Wake up call needed in finding alternatives to oil

By Sonia K.

Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Awg Hj Yahya bin
Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar, Minister of Industry and
Primary Resources. – JASON LEONG

“Over the past 25 years, since Brunei achieved independence, the quality of life has improved, even
education and health wise. Brunei now enjoys a high level of education and the number of graduates has
also increased, which proves not only the increase in the quality of life but also the improvements made.”

These remarks were made by Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Awg Hj Yahya bin Begawan
Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar, Minister of Industry and Primary Resources, in an exclusive interview, on his
personal observations and opinions of the nation’s development thus far and on his thoughts for the future.

“In terms of nation building, 25 years is still very young. We still have a long way to go in terms of nation
building,” the minister emphasised.

Speaking about the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources’ (MIPR) future focuses, the minister
highlighted the “number one priority is the country’s food security, which is where the ministry’s current rice
production project comes in”.

“Commercially it is not going to make a good business activity, but for the nation’s food security, we have to
do it, even with high costs.”

“This is a social and security issue,” the minister pointed out, “Particularly the staple food such as rice,
poultry and vegetables. This is something we have been tasked to do.”

For this project, MIPR has set an ambitious target of being able to self-sufficiently produce 20 per cent of its
rice production by 2010, with a threefold increase of up to 60 per cent in self-sufficiency by 2015.

According to the minister, at the moment, Brunei can only achieve three per cent self-sufficiency rate, “which
is why this has to be done to address the country’s food security issue”.

“Over the 25 years, we are still facing the same scenario in terms of market access; the market size in
Brunei is very small and the competitiveness of our industries may hinder our ability to compete outside
Brunei,” the minister pointed out.

“The ministry is addressing and finding solutions in order to help the local industries. Currently, there are
some hidden subsidies in many of the industries we promote. For example, we charge very low (rates) for
industrial sites in order to help businesses reduce their costs. And that cannot be sustainable for long,” the
minister said.

One of the ways of achieving this is through education. “There is a growing need to educate the current and
future young generations. Educating them on the need to set up a viable and sustainable economic activity,”
the minister said.

“The sort of quality industries that MIPR is looking for are those that are able to provide added values and
spin offs, especially those with a niche activity.”

One such focus is the Brunei Halal Brand. “We hope to create more downstream or upstream activities in the
Halal food area. This has always been on the table. We have always been promoting our Halal brand and
are not losing sight of this,” the minister explained.

Another important area that MIPR is looking into is the aquaculture sector.

“This is a cluster industry by itself and it is something that we feel can work. We are now figuring out how this
can be conducive and how to make it more cost effective, as well as creating a niche on an area we can
capture because of the specific quality of aquaculture products we can produce,” Pehin Dato Hj Yahya said.

“Brunei may not be able to compete with the likes of Vietnam, Taiwan and Brazil in terms of their quality and
prawn production or other seafood but we are still able to look for a niche market where we will have the
competitive edge.”

The tourism sector is also another area that MIPR has focused on promoting.

“This already has its own carriage; small, medium enterprises (SMEs) will be assisted if we can successfully
develop the tourism sector especially for the service industry such as hoteliers, transport operators, caterers
as well as travel agents.”

“However, right now, MIPR is trying to emphasise on the local products that Brunei can offer to tourists. This
is where the ‘Kenali Negara Kitani’ (KNK) project comes in,” the minister pointed out.

“KNK’s intention is to showcase the local products that Brunei has to offer in order to attract tourists,” Pehin
Dato Hj Yahya explained.

The ministry also has other plans in the pipeline to upgrade and improve public facilities in the country in
areas such as beaches, which are aimed at developing domestic tourism.

Aside from embarking on a domestically driven KNK project, MIPR is also trying to capitalise on the niche
tourism attraction of the Temburong rainforest. “This is a premium tourism product for tourists because
Brunei has dedicated a big chunk of its jungles to the Heart of Borneo initiative,” the minister said.

On a more personal note, the minister shared his views on the nation’s development over the past 25 years.
“I am thankful that the country’s peace, security and tranquillity have been maintained and that we have
been spared from natural calamities such as tsunamis and earthquakes,” the minister said.

When asked about his personal comments for the future, the minister explained: “As for our future focus, we
still have a lot to do. MIPR’s focus in sustainable activities has to be attended or addressed. We need to
seriously start looking into what were to happen if oil runs out? The diversification efforts need to be thought
through seriously and the non-oil sector activities have to be developed.”

“We need to give the current generation a wake up call. Because the current activities are not sustainable,
we need to start having alternative activities that can take over the oil sector.”