Bolstering Brunei’s economic growth serves as a key element in state policy. As Brunei propels forward, it is best for the government to review the current legislation pertaining the public entertainment law outlined in Chapter 181, and to fast-track the process of private sectors to secure an event permit from the government. There are now strong desire for change in this area coming from young people due to the legislation and permit process being seen as a major stumbling block to the growth of the creative (concert, parades, debates, comedy show, etc.) and event (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) industries in the country.

First, we must understand that the creative and the event industries are high growth industries that can contribute immensely to the growth of a nation’s economy. In the UK, creative industries generated £84.1bn or around £10m an hour to the UK economy and supported 2.8 million jobs in 2014 (UK Gov Report, 2016). In the US, the meetings (a part of events industry) industry directly supports 1.7 million jobs and contributes $106 billion to GDP, according to the study, The Economic Significance of Meetings to the U.S. Economy (PwC US, 2011). To put it in a local context, a recent concert this writer organized saw Brunei gain $18,000 – $25,000 in general economic value. The potential to unlock economic growth is self-evident, thus the necessity that Brunei should update the public entertainment law and fastback its permit process immediately.

The main problem for the current legislation and permit system is that it has caused a lot of ventures (including concerts, conferences, trade fairs, and meetings) to fail or be canceled at the last minute. Many youths, including one of our youth legislative council members, have raised their concern regarding this issue. One youth I heard vented his frustration about the permit as a sole cause for his team’s performance being canceled. All the hard work he and his team put in went down the drain. Little wonder why he is bitter at the permit system. Unfortunately, despite their open calls for change, nothing has been done so far, which is disappointing, not mainly because a lot of young people felt like they are being ignored, but that the consequences of this outdated permit system continue to cause incalculable harm to these two high growth industries in our economy.

The details of applying a permit are as follows: First, the entrepreneur has to fill in a form to apply for the permit at least three weeks before the event. These events include musical concerts, performances, conferences, charity events, and more that involves selling tickets or general participation from the general public. Secondly, they have to pay between $100-$350 to apply for the permit. Next, a special censorship board must be present to “observe” a show or concert behind closed doors. Once a decision has been made by these board, then the entrepreneurs will be given the answer as to whether their events will be approved or not.

There are multiple reasons why this system is ineffective. First, the time period of applying a minimum of three weeks before the event becomes an unnecessary inconvenience for entrepreneurs to organise an event. It just takes too long and the uncertainty of whether the event is approved or not is always ever-present, making long-term plans generally ineffective. This affects especially first-time event entrepreneurs or artists that want to showcase their business and talents respectively in Brunei. By the time they learned of the permit system, it would have probably been too late and they may as well as cancel them. This is an avoidable tragedy.

Next, the cost of applying the permit is just too high for start-ups or Micro businesses to absorb. In addition, hotels and other meeting venues exploit the difficulty of securing the permit process by raising the prices of renting a venue, which adds to the general cost and complications of operating an event business. Moreover, the need for the government officials to be present to oversee the event beforehand is unnecessary, as it misdirects their time and energy, which they could have instead focused on creating economic policies that actually work.

What are the changes to be done? These include the need to reduce permit application process from three weeks to a day. The process should be made online instead of filling a paper form. Next, the permit should be free or cost less than $10 so as to save general costs for businesses planning to host an event/concert/meeting. To ensure that organisers do not cause problems, the government has to outline openly and transparency the can do and can’t do’s or the general rules in organising events in Brunei. Finally, the government could simply dispatch one or two security uniformed or trained personnel to be present during the entire period of the actual event to ensure that the guidelines outlined by the government are strictly adhered too, lest the organiser’s event canceled on-the-spot given the officer’s prerogative and responsibility to do so.

If the changes are made, then there will be a growing dynamism among our young people to organise many exciting and fun-filled events and activities across the city. This will empower young people to make a success of themselves in these two areas. With their help, Brunei can elevate its economic position towards the right trajectory with this simple change of this state policy. We must also understand that entrepreneurs are the sources of prosperity to a nation, one that can produce jobs and intensify economic growth to the economy.

Their growing ability to commercialise their ideas in organising concerts, events, performances, etc. would grow strength by strength and this would go a long way to “recirculate” the money that the Bruniean consumer could have otherwise spent abroad. In 2015 alone, for instance, Bruneians spend over $1.3 billion (RM3.7 billion) in our neighbouring country (Lyna M, 2017), partly due to the limited product and service offerings in this country. Giving our entrepreneurs the ability to capitalise the creative and event industries would help to re-channel that market spending within the economy. Even a 10% “capture” of that expenditure power would mean that our economy would potentially stand to gain around $130m in domestic sales annually. That is purchasing power that can seriously build Brunei’s economy up.

If the present legislation and permit process remain unchanged, however, then the country will continue to face mounting problems in the economy. Unemployment and crime rates will continue to climb up, while our economic growth will go down. If the law and process are changed, then it can help to reverse these damaging trend our country is facing today. Revising Chapter 181 of the Public Entertainment legislation and the process is, therefore, something that has to be dealt with immediately.

As I have prescribed in my past letter in Borneo Bulletin entitled “Revive Gadong Night Market to Boost Vendors, Jobs” (AM Omar, 2016), that the suggestion to relocate the entrepreneurs back to the Gadong night market would set up an economic boom and create jobs, which it did thanks to His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam’s caring and benevolent leadership and direct intervention; so too that if we change this policy that I am confident that Brunei will have an economic and creative boom which all of our society will stand to gain in areas of economic growth and job creation for our nation once implemented. Thus the need to immediately review Chapter 181, and to fastback the process of applying for an event permit now.

Abdul Malik Omar