BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – His Majesty Sultan Hj Hassanal Bolkiah has called on the Ministry of Finance and Economy (MoFE) to study the effectiveness of Employees Trust Fund (TAP) in ensuring pensioners are financially stable during their retirement.

Delivering his titah during an unscheduled visit to MoFE on Monday, the sultan said the dividend rates of TAP were too low, from 2.5 percent in the 2017-18 fiscal year to 2.2 percent in the next two financial years.

“[The low dividend rates] raise doubts among TAP members about their future after retirement,” he said.

The Employees Trust Fund was urged to conduct a study on the effectiveness of its investments on TAP savings.

“What is important for [pensioners] is that this scheme can guarantee they are able to pay their living expenses during their retirement. This is a big challenge for TAP to find solutions,” the monarch said.

TAP currently invests in sukuk, bonds, fixed deposits and equities.

Earlier in March, the second minister of finance and economy had acknowledged that the five percent TAP and 3.5 percent Supplemental Contributory Pension (SCP) were insufficient to support retirees.

The ministry was studying the possibility of raising dividend rates to ensure pensioners can fund their daily expenses, YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah had said.

His Majesty also questioned whether some employers evaded their responsibility of paying their employees’ social security contributions.

“To what extent has TAP been ensuring that employers pay their employees’ contributions?”, he said, adding that there are still many issues that need to be resolved even though TAP was introduced in 1993.

HM the Sultan delivers his titah during an unscheduled visit to the Ministry of Finance and Economy on December 28, 2020. Photo: Infofoto

‘Take action against businesses that violate price control rules’

Noting that rising prices of daily necessities is not just happening in Brunei amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the sultan said authorities must protect consumers from unjustified price hikes.

There were many public complaints on price gouging of basic food products, he said.

Authorities such as the Department of Economic Planning and Statistics must monitor and take action against parties who violate price control regulations, the monarch added.

“Do not allow one party to continue making a profit at the expense of others.

“If there are enough supplies, let everyone have access to them. Otherwise, sell them in limited quantities without any negative impact on anyone,” he continued.

Under the Price Control Act, 22 types of products have been listed as price-controlled goods, including basic household items such as rice, flour and cooking oil.

His Majesty further said the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism needs to address food shortages or at least assure the public that there will be enough food supply, without giving businesses the opportunity to take advantage of the situation and raise the cost of goods.

“Businesses who raise prices without adhering to rules cannot be tolerated,” he added.

HM the Sultan during an unscheduled visit to the Ministry of Finance and Economy on December 28, 2020. Photo: Infofoto

Delays in tender procedures

The sultan said one indicator of work efficiency is being able to complete tasks on time, such as evaluating and approving tenders.

However, he said there were reports of the State Tender Board often delaying bidding procedures, which then resulted in the amendment of applications and re-tender submissions.

“Aren’t these delays affecting development?”

In addition, business tax collection on registered companies has not been implemented in a comprehensive manner.

Favouritism is still being practised towards companies owned by state dignitaries,” the monarch said.

The sultan said conflict of interest should not happen, as civil servants are required to take fair administrative action and provide quality service delivery.

In terms of investments, he added that it is not appropriate that foreign consultants or companies are given priority without due consideration for locals in managing government-linked companies under Darussalam Assets.

“This is a violation of the government’s requirements if it continues to be practised,” he added.