Economic Update

Brunei Darussalam’s information and communication technology (ICT) sector is winning international recognition and moving closer to meeting the government’s objective of making the Sultanate a knowledge-based economy. However, the acceptance of ICT in daily life is by no means even throughout the country.

A majority of Bruneians have embraced ICT and are making increasing use of its many applications. According to a survey conducted by the Authority for Info-communications Technology Industry, more than half of Brunei Darussalam’s households have access to the internet, mainly through fixed broadband.

At the individual level, 67% of nationals make use of the internet, a rate that places the Sultanate in the top 50 countries globally, well above many of its regional neighbours and Europe, where the penetration rate is just under 60%. The study noted that almost all Bruneians had a mobile phone, with total penetration running at 105.9%. This is significant given the increasing use of mobile phones for ICT applications, rather than just voice telephony.

The study also showed that internet use was varied, with 77% of those surveyed saying they utilised it for communications, 76.5% for accessing news or information and 67.2% for entertainment. A full third of respondents used the net to access local government services, though only 13.7% said they utilised financial services such as banking online.

The government has long been working to develop the country’s ICT sector, funding training programmes at all levels of the education system, strengthening the technology sector with investments in infrastructure and establishing incubation schemes to support ICT start-ups. The Sultanate is already reaping the rewards of this support, with a Bruneian entrepreneur bringing home a major prize from a recent international ICT innovation competition.

In mid-November, Salma Bee Abd Latiff, the managing director of Crescent – a local firm specialising in developing online education programmes on Islamic financial services – took first prize in the e-learning category at the Asia-Pacific ICT Alliance (APICTA) awards for her e-learning module for Islamic banking.

In an interview with the Brunei Times in early December, Salma said Brunei Darussalam had the potential to become the leading ICT centre in the region. “This is because I feel we have very good government support,” she said. “There are enough funds to help the ICT players in the market. I think we should aim to become the Silicon Valley of South-east Asia.”

Regional competition may challenge that aim, but Crescent’s learning module has already attracted interest from a number other countries, with a launch in Nigeria on the cards for early 2012 at a major trade show in Abuja in February.

Brunei Darussalam has the chance to further promote its ICT credentials as it has been chosen to host the next APICTA awards event, while having also been assigned the task of developing the framework for the inaugural ASEAN ICT Innovation Awards, to be held towards the end of 2012.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the government’s strong commitment to promoting the greater use of ICT in all facets of daily life, one area in which take-up has sometimes been below expectations is within the public service. According to Dato Paduka Matsatejo Sokiaw, the permanent secretary of the Energy Department at the Prime Minister’s Office, many government agencies are underutilising their ICT capability.

Speaking at the launch of the e-Government Executive Training Programme on November 26, Dato Paduka Matsatejo said that while there had been solid progress in implementing e-government programmes over the past few years, including the roll out in 2011 of the e-Darussalam initiative, a single portal for all government websites, more still needed to be done in order to improve efficiency and increase output.

Data issued by the e-Government National Centre (EGNC), based on usage rates of the Government Employee Management System (GEMS), indicated many civil servants did not make use of ICT applications in the workplace.

“Statistics from EGNC showed that only 15% of the registered government email accounts are active users,” said Dato Paduka Matsatejo. “Statistics on GEMS absorption rates showed that less than 26% of GEMS accounts created for all government employees are used.”

To counter this low rate, there would be more extensive training for senior managers within the public service to encourage a top-down acceptance of new technology and applications, he said.

Having identified the need to step up ICT training and encourage greater use of new technology by state agencies, it is likely that the civil service will soon start to match the usage rates in the private sector, meaning that the Sultanate will be even better equipped to build on its recent gains.