BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — The home affairs ministry is setting up a new system that promises to improve the processing of work permits for foreign nationals sometime this year.

The National Labour Management System will overcome issues on the processing of employment permits and reduce the opportunity for potential abuse of power, said home affairs minister YB Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Abu Bakar Hj Apong.

Speaking before a closed-door dialogue with Legislative Council (LegCo) members on Monday, he said the Immigration and National Registration Department is also working on the new National Registration System but did not provide additional details.

As part of COVID-19 control measures, the ministry has suspended the issuance of work permits to new foreign workers since March 21 last year. However, consideration would be given to foreign workers deemed “essential”.

The minister said both the Labour Department and the Department of Immigration and National Registration have taken measures to improve the regulation of foreign workers.

These measures include the enforcement of the Employment Agencies Order 2004 and changes in the application process for foreign workers license.

“There were also proposals to sign memoranda of understanding (MoU) with several countries to further control and improve processes for hiring foreign workers into the country,” he added.

Members of the Legislative Council holds a meeting with Ministry of Home Affairs. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Parole may be granted to convicts to deal with overcrowded prisons

The ministry is also mulling the possibility of granting parole to eligible convicts as a solution to prison overcrowding.

YB Pehin Dato Dr Hj Abu Bakar said the number of inmates is increasing while congestion in prisons is expected to worsen.

As of November 28 last year, there were 841 inmates, exceeding the maximum capacity of 585.

There are two prisons in Brunei — Jerudong and Maraburong, while incarcerated women are held at a separate facility within the Jerudong Prison grounds.

YB Pehin Dato Dr Hj Abu Bakar said the ministry is studying the best practices of other countries to address prison overcrowding, such as introducing a parole system that allows inmates to serve the remainder of their sentence outside the prison.

The minister said it is still common for criminal offenders to face stigma, and efforts to rehabilitate inmates lie with the Prisons Department and the public.

The Prisons Department plans to establish a Community Service Order Division to enforce the Community Service Order, he added.

E-voting system to speed up hiring of grassroots leaders

An e-voting system is expected to launch in the first quarter of this year to speed up the recruitment of penghulu and village heads.

In 2018, the ministry announced the mass hiring of grassroots leaders as many village heads and mukim penghulu were retiring.

The government wanted more youth to fill the village leader posts to breathe new life into the country’s grassroots institutions.

Several mukim and village consultative councils have also begun taking in youth as members.

“In this regard, we hope that efforts can be stepped up to attract more youths to participate in the mukim and village consultative councils so that they can help develop the economy, socio-cultural institutions and unity at the grassroots level,” he added.

YB Pehin Dato Dr Hj Abu Bakar went on to say that the Municipal Board has collected $5.75 million in building tax revenues and $3.9 million in arrears amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

He added that the ministry is preparing its Strategic Plan Framework 2022-2026, which will take into account the aspirations, initiatives and plans in the Digital Economy Masterplan 2025, Brunei Darussalam Economic Blueprint and the strategic plans of other ministries.

As part of the strategic framework, he said the ministry will strengthen law enforcement to improve security; enhance the detention system and control of occupants; develop mukim and village institutions and improve infrastructure to support socio-economic activities.