(Pic credits to tripadvisor.com)

Attaining full employment rate in an economy is a vital element for any government to compete in an ever complex and changing world order. Brunei is no exception to that rule. With over 12,000 people still unemployed in Brunei Darussalam, a lot of brilliant and noteworthy programmes, such as iReady, have been put into place to reduce the unemployment rate.

To sustain this momentum, His Majesty’s Government of Brunei should seriously consider building three market infrastructures which are modelled after the newly established Pasar Malam Gadong (Pasar Pelbagai Barangan Gadong) market at three strategic locations namely at Batu Satu, Lambak Industrial Site, and Rimba so as to produce 1000 MSME jobs over the next five years. The projected cost to produce these market stalls is around BND$9m, which could bring manifold benefits including potentially saving over $500m of government finance within the next three decades.

First, we have to understand that by the successful example of the renovated Pasar Malam Gadong and recent events such as the Letop Lebaran held in ICC recently (which generated over $2.3m in sales three days) have shown how our people are remarkably entrepreneurial in nature. These projects also serve as examples of how the people, being given the right business environment and infrastructural provisions, can do spectacularly well in business & trade. This is perhaps no accident given the fact that our people are decedents of traders from that illustrious period of Brunei’s Golden Age around the 14-15th century.

The question now is how are we going to further capitalise on this inherent nature of our people to our national advancement? The answer, as stated, is to build market infrastructures modelled after the Pasar Malam Gadong at Batu Satu (the extra-large empty parking lot), Lambak Kiri Industrial Site, and Rimba (opposite or next to Giant Rimba). The exact locations are as follow:

In Batu Satu, the area to build the next Pasar Malam Gadong-like market is at the extra-large and under-utilised parking lot located between the highway’s bridge and postal office. In Lambak Kiri, it should be at the empty, unused land within the industrial site located just behind the Telbru building. As for Rimba, it should be at the unused lands opposite or next to Giant Rimba.

The need to build these market infrastructures would enable our Bruneian people to set up businesses of their own, thereby reducing the government financial burden in the long-run as well as to produce, directly and indirectly, a thousand MSME jobs for the Bruneian people. These factors combined shall create a virtuous cycle of economic growth. Capitalising development on these empty, unused vast lands could also generate economic activities worth tens of millions of dollars in the long-run.

In regards to how each of structures would look like, we can simply copy and/or improve upon the existing architectural plans of the Market Gadong concept. Each of the three markets should have a hundred slots for local entrepreneurs to rent and do business (each slot that is utilised can potentially generate 3.3 MSME jobs, thus 333×100 slots results in the approximately 1000 potential jobs created), a big parking lot that can accommodate over a hundred-fifty or more cars, a surau or small mosque, a police stand, a toilet area, a bus stop, and an improved road network.

There may be people who may oppose the idea on the basis that it may contribute towards deforestation. First, the proposed location to set up the night market for Batu Satu is at its vast, empty parking lot. Next, the site to be chosen in Lambak Industrial Site is on a barren empty landscape. In Rimba, building on the lands next or opposite to Giant Rimba, there are indeed few trees around the area but the vast undeveloped lands should be ample enough to make room for the Market without any need in sacrificing more trees. The Markets can also potentially be designed so as to be green- and environmentally-friendly, hence helping to realise the City in the Garden concept as outlined in the BSB 2035 Masterplan.

On a side but important note, especially to all the green advocates out there, we must understand that not all development necessarily results in the deterioration of the forests. In fact, development can enhance the greenery of the nation if it is designed right. This is evident to the development of Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Even Indonesia (Kalimantan) and Malaysia (Sabah & Sarawak), members of the Heart of Borneo project are doing pretty well. If they can attain balance between general development and green design, why can’t we?

All in all, we should see development as another tool we can use to pursue green-oriented design. People, after all, need houses to live at (STKRJ), offices to work at (Anggerek Desa Tech Park), roads to drive their cars (Pan-Borneo Highway), industrial sites to build jobs (Hengyi Project at Pulau Muara Besar), and much, much more. All in all, we must not see all development as potential “green-destroyers”, rather we should see it as “green-enhancers”, as long as they are intelligently designed to be green.

In addition, it would also be a thousand-times better for our government to capitalise on these vast lands for development as opposed to just letting them remain empty, barren, and unused in the next few decades. We will lose a lot of opportunities to diversify our economy in that way and lose potentially worth millions of national revenue.

The projected cost of these infrastructural projects would be around $9m, with each costing $3m on average. If a good contractor can be secured, then the cost would be easily reduced. For instance, the market facility Sumbangsih (another good model to follow) in Beribi cost around $1.5m to build. Yet, the investments are worth it. We can see that it has generated approximately hundreds of jobs and potentially millions of economic value since its opening.

Taking Sumbangsih’s example, let us imagine if it does not exist. Hundreds of the people would still be unemployed today, and in order to promote social stability, the government then may have to absorb them in the public sector and consequently pay them salaries, wages, pensions, allowances and other costs worth millions in their lifetime.

What happens if these three proposed structures are not built? One thousand people will remain unemployed and, consequently, they have to be absorbed into government. if each of the one thousand people is being hired and paid by the government $1400 per month over the next thirty years (provided everything remains the same) the government then has to pay them $504,000,000 throughout that entire period. This amount that could easily be negated by channelling the 1000 people towards MSMEs through the $9m investments made to build the Markets in Batu Satu, Lambak Kiri Industrial Site, and Rimba.

Obviously, there are other expenses such as renovation costs that are needed to improve and sustain the market structures over the next few years and decades. There is also the question of the cost of acquiring the lands. But then the relative combined cost of these investments remain minuscule compared to absorbing the one thousand unemployed into the government sector. Thus, a $9m investment or more can potentially save up to $500m of government finance over the next three decades just by merely building these infrastructures.

To conclude, setting up the $9m markets modelled after the current Pasar Malam Gadong market in three locations namely Batu Satu, Lambak Kiri Industrial Park, and Rimba could produce 1000 MSME jobs. It will contribute towards economic prosperity in the Brunei Darussalam and reduce the people’s dependency to public sector jobs. In addition, the markets can have a green- or environmentally-oriented design so that they contribute to the realisation of the “City in the Garden” concept as outlined in the BSB 2035 Masterplan.

With the successes of these markets, the Government could then extend and sustain the “Gadong Market model” across Brunei/Muara (especially in Kampong Junjongan), Tutong, Beliat, and Temburong. All in all the development of these markets seemed to be good investments that should be considered and decided upon by His Majesty’s government as we attain the full employment rate in Brunei Darussalam, as well as to capitalise on our people’s inherent entrepreneurialism to advance our national prosperity forward in an ever complex and changing world order.