Brunei: The ‘Ali Baba’ syndrome

Businesses are consistently popping up at different corners of Brunei. Before you know it, we’d be getting a new restaurant, a new cupcake business, a new singer, or a new shopping mall, to name a few. In addition, a significant number of these businesses are owned by the Malay Bruneians – the dominant ethnic group in the country. This just proves to show that the Malays are not lacking in financial resources to start up a business, nor the capabilities to become entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, despite the favourable rise in the local businesses set up by the Malays, a majority of them are not run by the owners. Rouge economist referred this as the ‘Ali Baba’ syndrome:

Take the ‘Ali Baba’ syndrome in the business sector for example. We want to be rich easily and quickly. Instead of genuinely running a business, we sell or rent out our permits and licenses to foreigners. As a result, the number of Brunei malays who have become true entrepreneurs that we can be proud is less than the ten fingers in our hands as compared to the number of business establishments (especially ‘kedai runcit’, barbershops and tailor shops). [‘Kedai runcit’ is a name for convenient store]

Kedai runcti - convenience store

Photo by Anak Brunei

The Brunei government is actively making incentives to diversify its economy, and in developing its human capital. However, incentives, plans and ideas will not lead to advancement if the human capital fail to progress. A possible cause for this resistance to further development in the economy is the Bruneian culture itself. Rouge Economist used the example of the work attitude of the Bruneian Malays at the workplace:

Another example relates to the work attitude of the Brunei malays. The five-tea-break-a-day routine becomes the culture in the government sector. The attitude of ‘karang tah’ [translation: “Maybe later”, or “I’ll do it later.”] has lost the government millions of dollars in terms of productivity and even revenue-generation. As a result, the government sector, which is the first employment choice of any Brunei malay, is slow, inefficient and backward so much so that it can take weeks to send a letter within one tiny district, and months for the results of a few applications. (Come on! What is our population again?)

Therefore, it is important for Brunei to focus on creating an effective environment that could induce productivity amongst the Malays, and the Bruneian workforce in general. As development will only be a distant dream if the people behind these economic entities fail to progress.

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