Clear hurdles for new BSB vision

by Hadi DP Mahmud


Several improvements will need to be achieved to give way to new ideas of how to put Bandar Seri Begawan on par with regional cities, real estate experts said yesterday. These include reducing bureaucracy, greater transparency of public processes and clear policy directions.

Once described as the “Venice of the East”, Brunei’s capital Bandar
Seri Begawan is set to undergo major economic and infrastructural
changes in the next decade or so once a development master plan,
currently in its preliminary stages, begins to bear fruit.

A key aspect of Brunei’s national vision or Wawasan 2035 and a
potential key engine of growth for the nation, the city’s development
could be spurred on through tourism, high-value added industries,
Islamic and halal certification, the services industry and the property
market as key economic drivers identified during a “visioning workshop”
held by a consortium of consultants and specialists led by global
architecture firm HOK International and senior-level government
officials on Tuesday.

However, before new ideas for economic drivers can be put in place,
several improvements reducing bureaucracy; greater transparency of
public processes; increasing the population and size of domestic
market; providing decisive and clear policy directions; ensuring the
alignment of education and training with industry needs; providing
adequate public funds and promoting more open market-driven policies
would need to be addressed before Bandar Seri Begawan can compete with
regional cities, said Dr Chua Yang Liang, head of research (Southeast
Asia & Singapore) of global real estate services firm Jones Lang

“It’s not strictly competition per se when we talk about the
competitiveness of Bandar against other cities. It’s more about
creating a win-win situation what the city is and can offer in relation
to the other countries in the region. We understand that the domestic
market is small and to depend on it would be limiting,” said Dr Chua.

“So it’s not exactly new. Some of them are already in existence,
such as the halal certification for example. Newer ones I reckon would
be your high-value added industries ICT and pharmaceuticals which could
be tapped into because of the highly educated workforce,” he said.

Dr Chua is among a dozen experts and specialists under the HOK
consortium helping facilitate the master planning process and looking
at how Brunei can diversify and achieve its Wawasan 2035 vision.

“The group’s key message here is that the level of bureaucracy
presents some tough hurdles,” said Dr Chua referring to issues
inhibiting investment into the country.

The local SMEs will also grow if open-market policies sensitive to
the needs of the local private market are introduced, he said.

During the workshop there was a consensus that Brunei should offer
its “stateliness” as another draw factor, said associate director at
Jones Lang LaSalle’s research and consultancy unit Desmond Sim, where
for example the Royal family could be considered as a branding tool.

“The notion of tourism, whether it is international or domestic, is
important to keep us interested in the city. Complementing the city’s
existing draw factors such as Kampong Ayer, royal and cultural heritage
and eco-tourism with new attractions and unique offerings will work in
favour of Bandar as a tourism attraction,” said Desmond.

Some of the opportunities listed during the workshop include
creating new, mostly family-based attractions such as ferris wheels and
a car museum. “We realised there’s a lot of untapped opportunities for
tourism, such as urban myths and legends.

“There was a lot of focus on Kg Ayer and the river itself. It could
be a possibility that tourism could be based on this river cruises
instead of just going to a place and throwing in some stories it makes
the whole sensory experience more interesting,” he added.

“If channelled properly and focused properly as part of a tourism
drive, it could be quite a good opportunity to tap into,” he said.

The second round of the workshop will take place in November and will involve more stakeholders.