Call to create national body for SME growth

Posted on  12/08/2015  |  Media Centre

| Danial Norjidi |

TO ENSURE that existing support programmes for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are more coordinated, a national SME body must be established to act as a single agency responsible for the growth and development of SMEs in the country.

This was said by Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR) Hajah Normah Suria Hayati binti Pehin Jawatan Dalam Seri Maharaja Dato Seri Utama (Dr) Haji Awang Mohd Jamil Al-Sufri while delivering a keynote address at the LBD Forum yesterday.

In her speech she touched on how economic diversification offers an opportunity for SMEs to grow.

Speaking on the issues faced by SMEs, she said, “Unlike most other countries, Brunei does not have a single agency or national SME body responsible for the growth and development of SMEs in the country.”

“Activities on SME development are largely sector specific and spread across ministries,” she said.

“MIPR, though the Entrepreneurship Development Centre focuses on training; BEDB and AITI focus on ICT and high technology; and the Energy Department supports SMEs in the energy sector.

“There is limited joint working and collaboration, and there is also a lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities between ministries. In the case of Brunei, since the existing SME support programmes work in a fractured and uncoordinated environment, a new approach must be developed, that is to establish a national SME body,” she said.

Speaking on opportunities for the country, she said Brunei has a strength not a lot of countries have, ie being a strong Muslim country with strict governance. This, she said, automatically gives Brunei a comparative advantage.

“It’s an opportunity for us to explore the market for the 1.8 billion fast growing Muslim population,” she said, noting that, globally, the halal food market amounts to around US$654 billion.

“From research conducted, the opportunity is indeed huge with the biggest Muslim population in Asia at our doorstep. Rightly so, Brunei has started to lay the foundation to enable us to capture this huge market,” she shared.

“The first step is the establishment of the Brunei Halal brand, which carries halal products locally produced and also from other countries through OEM or private labelling.”

She highlighted that since the initiative started, they have managed to establish their distribution centre in Birmingham, England to look after Europe’s Muslim population of 44 million, excluding Turkey.

“Our products have been sold in 200 Tesco outlets.”

Moving on, she spoke on the opportunity presented by the establishment of the Bio Innovation Corridor (BIC) industrial park, “a place to manufacture Halal products including food, cosmetics and medicinal health supplements.”

“We are very lucky to have the site facing the South China Sea and near to the local housing projects, a source for manpower, near to the universities and also Gleneagles Jerudong Park Medical Centre and Jerudong International School.”

In its current phase the park has 25 lots on offer and companies can occupy one to three of them each. Areas within the BIC have already been marketed to China, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Chile and Mexico for investment.

She highlighted that these two initiatives are ways of expanding opportunities for local SMEs.

“They can be part of the whole value chain either as suppliers of raw materials, providing logistical services, providing support industries, as sub-contractors and other related businesses.”

Moving on, she noted Brunei’s forests as a potential area for development for ecotourism.

“It will create awareness on the importance of the functions of different types of trees and forests to help in balancing the ecosystem and preventing flood and erosion. Ecotourism also creates awareness on the existence of species of plants and microbes which has potential for further studies as medicinal products, food preservatives, aromas and others,” she said.

The topic of ease of doing business in the country was also touched on by the permanent secretary, who highlighted, “With the dismal performance and downward trend in ranking, the government is re-focusing and intensifying efforts and determination to get our business and investment environment in order so that businesses can start fast, operate productively and profitably, and attract local investors to invest more and foreign investors to see the advantages of doing business with us.

“With the formation of PENGGERAK last year, we have reset our commitment and ambition to the highest level and are intensifying our efforts in synergising and collaborating efforts across government agencies and stakeholders,” she said.

“We focused our efforts in ensuring faster and cheaper business startups by introducing several reforms,” she said.

She also noted that their implementation of rigorous business process re-engineering and changes to their administrative procedures and rates in almost all the indicators have produced a number of positive results.

“We are also enhancing financial infrastructure for SMEs by improving access to finance through the strengthening of legal rights and credit information system. A new Insolvency Law will be implemented soon and the current registry system will also be enhanced.”