BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The new digitalised National Welfare System (SKN) is set to be operational in six months, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports (MCYS) said on Sunday.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the 36th National Day parade, YB Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Hj Aminuddin Ihsan Pehin Orang Kaya Saiful Mulok Dato Seri Paduka Hj Abidin said the E-Government National Centre has been building the new system since March last year, when its creation was announced during the Legislative Council meeting.

The SKN is a major overhaul of the current method of welfare disbursements, and will allow government agencies to share data to avoid duplication of benefits.

Members of the public will also be able to make online applications for welfare assistance, with the authorities hoping it will speed up the payment process.

The minister added that they are exploring the possibility of disbursing the old-age pension via banks as an alternative to the traditional method of pensions being delivered in cash by village heads. 

“We do not want to make [bank payments] mandatory as there are still some people who prefer the normal mechanisms,” he said.

‘We need to break the poverty cycle’

Touching on the sultan’s National Day titah, the minister said the National Council on Social Issues has already drafted a poverty eradication plan that will create more job and entrepreneurship opportunities in order to reduce reliance on welfare assistance.

The plan will also look into the basic needs of vulnerable groups, such as affordable childcare, provision of low-cost housing and transport support. 

“If there is no support system in place, or if the support system is not good enough, they will go back to welfare assistance again,” he added. 

He said that there are 5,800 recipients registered under MCYS’s Monthly Welfare Assistance programme — 75 percent of whom are able-bodied adults who can work.

MCYS’s target this year is to find “meaning employment” for at least 300 of these welfare recipients through private sector collaboration or micro-grants for entrepreneurship.

“Three hundred may not seem like a big number, but it is better than 10, it is better than zero,” the minister said.

He added the at MCYS is also working closely with the Manpower Planning and Employment Council, which is tasked with addressing the high unemployment rate, which stood at 8.7 percent in 2018.

Another programme under the poverty eradication plan, called TEKAD, aims to empower welfare recipients with vocational and entrepreneurial skills.

People registered under this scheme are under 30 and have applied for government aid for more than four times.

YB Dato Hj Aminuddin said the aim was to break the cycle of poverty so that citizens were not forever reliant on benefits. 

When asked if private sector wages would be sufficient to support the minimum cost of living in Brunei, the minister said the government would top-up low wages for people in the TEKAD scheme.

The first thing we have to assess is, if the wages are very low, we will top up the wages so that they are able to lead a decent life.

“The top-up will be given every six months according to the guidelines. The reason for this is to incentivise them to stay in the job [rather than revert to welfare assistance].”

Asked if MCYS had conducted any studies on minimum wage, the minister said, “We do see [fair] wages as important and this is one of the areas that we have to look into”.

This article was updated on Feb 25, 2020 at 7.38pm