DARe to address SMEs’ concerns
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
SEVERAL focus sessions have transpired following the first DARe (Darussalam Enterprise) dialogue between more than 80 individuals, enterprises, government and non-government agencies on March 9.
The dialogue was held as a platform for enterprises to openly share their issues and even suggest solutions to the issues raised.
DARe has been initiating and advocating the need for getting issues resolved.
Two nights ago, the second dialogue was held where more issues were raised on conducting businesses in Brunei.
In between the two dialogues, four focus groups were conducted to further look into the issues of courier services, creative and crafts, clothing and food.
Each focus group session was chaired by DARe board members, and representatives from the DARe team.
According to DARe, it will put forward all issues raised to the relevant agencies, and understand the processes of these agencies to see what can be done to help these small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
DARe is currently working to see whether the processes can be streamlined and improved.
They will also assess whether some steps are necessary for a certain approval or permit.
The Minister of Energy and Industry at the Prime Minister’s Office, cum chairman of DARe, was present at both dialogues to listen to the concerns of local entrepreneurs.
In a recent interview, Yang Berhormat Pehin Datu Singamanteri Colonel (Rtd) Dato Seri Setia (Dr) Hj Mohammad Yasmin Hj Umar said DARe was set up over two months ago, and there are still a lot of issues they need to address.
He said DARe must be able to respond to these issues and that he will personally make sure they will have good answers to all issues brought to light, and that they must find a solution to all the problems faced by entrepreneurs.
“There is no point having all this (dialogues and focus sessions) if at the end of the day, we still cannot solve issues contributing to a non-business friendly environment for those carrying out businesses here,” said YB Pehin Dato Hj Mohd Yasmin.
Here are some of the issues raised during both dialogues and focus sessions, and ways which DARe will help expedite the issues to obtain solutions.
Several entrepreneurs raised that EMS Services (Express Mail Service) is the primary provider they use because it is the cheapest option available to them.
Although it is the cheapest way of couriering out of Brunei, entrepreneurs said it is still considered too expensive. For a 500 gramme package, it costs $12 to send to Malaysia and $45 to the United Kingdom.
Small businesses also expressed their dissatisfaction with the time required for the delivery, and EMS having no means of advising their customers when they can expect their goods.
Most SMEs choose EMS due to their cheaper rates, but delivery takes a longer time to reach the destination.
Another issue raised on courier services was that once the EMS shipment goes out, they were unable to track the shipment at the final destination, especially for international deliveries.
DARe is now putting forward the SMEs’ request for subsidies when exporting products out of Brunei.
The statutory body is also suggesting to negotiate rates for larger volumes through consolidation of SME products or items through joint shipping.
DARe added they will look into the logistics provider to negotiate competitive rates based on the consolidated volumes from SMEs.
Creative industries and Crafts
Some entrepreneurs in the creative industry and crafts sector said while they are attracting a lot of interest from abroad about their products, the absence of an online payment gateway in Brunei has made it difficult for their businesses to grow.
The enterprises also felt the lack of appreciation among locals for art as they would rather opt for cheap and mediocre quality products.
Creative industries feel that this concept cannot apply to their products, and that high quality products will always be expensive.
They also called for the need for transparency and processes to be shared with businesses, as there have been cases where procedures suddenly change without any prior notification.
This, they said results in their businesses suffering a setback when it comes to planning performances and art exhibitions.
Some attendees at these dialogue and focus sessions said there is a $150 fee for organising art exhibitions, which is too high a cost.
Among suggestions by DARe is to have a creative festival encompassing all creative industry activities.
They also suggested privatising the creative sector.
Clothing or garment businesses
Some entrepreneurs in this sector called for the need for more theme-based events for street-wear or muslimah wear.
This, they said, allows them to attract the right customers.
They said some events carried out here are not right for these small businesses, like the annual Consumer Fair, as the audience at the fair is too diverse, and many of them are only interested in free food and samples.
DARe plans to approach event companies to see if a theme-based event can be organised.
They will also look into whether rates for booths can be negotiable for small businesses at expos, or whether small businesses can be given priority by having their booth at a good location, such as the entrance of the expo.
Food and Beverage industry
One of the issues raised in this sector was the need for franchise companies to fork out $8,000 for sending a Brunei Islamic Religious Council (MUIB) officer to the country from where the meat is being imported before its halal certification is endorsed.
The fee of $8,000 includes the officer’s flight, accommodation and allowance, and the role of the officer is to monitor the shipments, among others. The entrepreneurs felt this was too high a cost for them to bear.
Another issue raised was labour retention in the food and beverage industry.
They find it challenging as youth do not see the job as a career hence, most of them work on a part-time basis until they get a higher paying job.
Businesses also said those who run cafes producing coffee use expensive machines that can only be fixed by a specialist.
These businesses need to pay for flights and accommodation for the specialist to come to Brunei to fix the coffee machine, thus incurring high costs.
DARe said there is a possibility to outsource these skills to Bruneians.
However, they will need to get paid to go to a workshop, and learn how to fix other coffee machines.
DARe said this will be able to cut a lot of costs, rather than flying in a specialist.
DARe has suggested to bring in MUIB, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Labour Department, Employees Trust Fund (TAP) and the Local Employment and Workforce Development Agency (APTK) for its following dialogues or focus sessions to roll out win-win situations for both.
The Brunei Times