Bureaucratic Reform Afoot

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Brunei officials have flagged a new programme of reforms aimed at speeding up the pace of establishing a business, cutting bureaucratic red tape and gaining access to valuable land resources.

On November 11, Prince Haji Al Muhtadee Billah, crown prince of Brunei and senior minister at the prime minister's office, announced that as part of the government's programme of adapting the country's socio-economic policies to meet the contingencies of an ever-changing world, there would be an increase in the use of technology to promote business activity.

Speaking in an address to mark Brunei's 15th Civil Service Day, he cited one example as a plan to establish a system to allow entrepreneurs to apply for business licenses online, describing it as a joint programme that would involve a number of ministries and departments.

The implementation of this initiative would help to raise the country's status in terms of ease of doing business and enhancing investor confidence in Brunei Darussalam, His Highness said, specifically referencing the World Bank's recent "Ease of Doing Business" report, in which Brunei's ranking dropped slightly from last year.

However, the Crown Prince added that Brunei's bureaucracy needed to adapt to changing times in order for the new online application system as well as other planned measures - including increased investments and boosting accountability and transparency - to facilitate economic activity.

"Members of the civil service must be dynamic and much more forward-looking. This is because the challenges that we face intermittently are not static and often occur unexpectedly, thereby stretching our capabilities in handling them," he said.

The online application system is part of the country's ongoing drive to institute an extensive e-government network, which was launched by His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah in 2000. While there has been some notable progress, especially in the education system - where most of Brunei's schools have been provided with computers and wireless internet access - the programme has had less impact on the economy.

When implemented, the proposed online licensing system could address an issue that was raised in the recent World Bank report, which showed that Brunei underperformed when it came to ease of incorporating and registering a new firm.

In terms of ease of starting a business, the bank's 2008 report, released in mid September, ranked Brunei 111th out of 130 economies, with the country requiring 18 specific procedures over an average period of 116 days. This compares to an average of 8.6 steps and 44 days needed to register a business in countries in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the report.

Though no date for the implementation of the online licensing system has been announced, it will provide a boost to the economy, the Crown Prince said in his address. Streamlining this registration process could serve as an incentive for both local and foreign entrepreneurs to enter the market, knowing they could be in business in a relatively short time.

Another area where reforms will be implemented is in land use, with Brunei looking to overhaul planning and zoning regulations as part of its Land Use Master Plan 2006-2025.

Pehin Dato Haji Abdullah Bakar, minister of development, announced on November 11 that the plan, which he said would be completed soon, will shape state policy on the optimum use of land resources and assist in the strategic development of the economy and providing for the needs of society.

This strategic development has to be complimented with investments in developing basic necessities and infrastructure, such as roads and communications systems, he told delegates attending a seminar on World Town Planning Day 2008.

The minister went on to say that as part of the reforms in the new land use plan, the application process for those seeking to carry out construction work for business or residential projects will be sped up.

According to the Ministry of Development, making the best use of land and infrastructure development in Brunei is being hampered by the duplication of efforts and disparity in standards and regulations, with municipal boards and the Land Department all having a role in the approvals process.

In order to address this problem and reduce red tape, the Ministry of Development, along with relevant government agencies, was looking into the possibility of a unified development and building control authority, Pehin Dato Haji Abdullah added.

Through clarifying land zoning regulations and slimming down the usage applications approval process, along with reforming the procedures needed to license a business, Brunei will bolster its economy, having projects up and running quicker and encouraging investment when and where it is needed most.

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