Finance to the fore
By M K Anwar

As part of the nation's economic diversification programme, the government will continue to pursue aspirations in making the financial sector a key component in the economy and promote the country as a mature financial services centre.

This was highlighted by the Minister of Finance II, Pehin Dato Paduka Hj Abd Rahman bin Hj Ibrahim during the opening of the 41st Conference of South East Asian Central Bank (SEACEN) Governors and the 25th Meeting of SEACEN Board of Governors at Empire Hotel and Country Club in Jerudong yesterday.

The Ministry of Finance has been a member of SEACEN since 2003 and this is the first time Brunei is hosting such an event.

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam yesterday afternoon consented to receive in audience the Governors of Central Banks and Monetary Authority attending the SEACEN Conference at Istana Nurul Iman.

Also present during the audience was the Minister of Finance II, Pehin Dato Paduka Hj Abd Rahman and the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Finance, Dato Paduka Hj Ali bin Apong.

Pehin Dato Paduka Hj Abd Rahman in welcoming remarks said the financial services industry has long been recognised as an essential intermediary in international trade.

The industry, he said has performed its functions with distinction and benefited international consumers.

Talking on the conference theme, "internationalisation of Financial Services - Implications and Challenges For the Central Banks", the minister said internationalisation has stimulated competition and also world finance.

The inevitable consequences of technology advances, Internationalisation has created new markets and products that often fuse together different commercial practices, he added.

This has also meant that the regulatory authorities had to adopt new skills in their human resources which must be updated and reviewed constantly.

Further in his speech, Pehin stated that the conference and meeting will have much to consider and deliberate especially with the challenging time the world economy is facing. The minister pointed out that these challenges include high oil prices, current account imbalances, terrorism, SARS and the possible widespread of avian influenza or bird flu pandemic, all of which are threatening regional and global confidence.

The threats have created market uncertainties and to counter it, financial regulatory authorities must be vigilant and cooperate with each other, says Pehin Dato Paduka Hj Abd Rahman who also noted that in the context of supervision of the financial sector, Brunei will be introducing a number of new laws this year and some will be updated or amended.

He added that capacity-building will remain an important agenda and that data gathering will be enhanced using improved technology for better information sharing with counterparts.

In highlighting the country's efforts in making the financial sector an important component of the economy, the Finance Minister II noted the recent developments in Investment banking, fund management and investment advisory management.

Concerted efforts are being made by various government agencies to develop a wider capital market in Brunei, initially implemented through the introduction of syariah compliant bonds, Sukuk Al-Ijarah, he further added.

Pehin Dato Paduka Hj Abd Rahman also noted that the local financial service providers are tapping the benefits and facing the challenges of the internationalisation. Two Islamic banks in the country have merged and this, said the minister,sss is a positive response in diversifying the local network and at the same time developing new products and services as well as exploring further business opportunities both regionally and internationally.

Meanwhile, in welcoming remarks by the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Finance, Dato Paduka Hj Ali bin Apong, said he believed SEACEN has undoubtedly contributed much in enhancing training and research capacity of jurisdictions in the region.

He also said that the Board of SEACEN Governors meeting will continue to play a significant role in guiding SEACEN in maintaining its relevance as a premier training centre. v Currently, SEACEN has a total of 14 members and four observers. It was established in 1982 by eight of its founding members. Its secretariat is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

A total of 68 delegates attended the conference in Brunei which has been held back to back with the SEACEN Board of Governors' Meeting on a rotational basis. Last year it was held in Nadi, Fiji, and hosted by the Reserve Bank of Fiji.

The 41st Conference of (SEACEN) Governors and the 25th Meeting of SEACEN Board of Governors is held from March 3-6. - Borneo Bulletin (5th Mar 2006)