BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports (MCYS) spent over $140 million on social welfare benefits in the 2020/21 financial year, its minister said on Wednesday.

The majority ($117.15 million) of the welfare funds was used to pay old-age pension to 39,890 recipients compared to 37,313 people in the previous financial year, said YB Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Hj Aminuddin Ihsan POKSMDSP Hj Abidin.

In his budget readout at the Legislative Council, he said the government spent $12.35 million on provision of monthly welfare assistance to 12,509 people from low-income families.

Another $10.86 million was disbursed to 4,050 recipients of the blind pension, mental disorder allowance, and disability pension over the past year.

The government introduced reforms to its monthly financial aid eligibility requirements last July through the new digitalised National Welfare System (SKN). The centralised system was created to avoid duplication of benefits.

The minister said 16,458 people have registered in the SKN thus far, including 11,026 people who requested for financial aid.

He added that the ministry has recorded a 60 per cent efficiency in processing financial assistance requests.

“Admittedly, it is quite low but it is an improvement from 45 percent when the SKN was initially launched. Our Clients’ Charter is to complete each request within two months,” YB Dato Hj Aminuddin said.

A special youth briefs a guest during the official opening of An-Nur Harapan Centre on Jalan Kebangsaan. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

National Stadium to get facelift; over 800 special needs individuals secure jobs

The ministry has proposed a $85.34 million budget allocation for the 2021/2022 fiscal year and $18.99 million for its 11th National Development Plan projects.

The proposed ministry budget represents a 1.9 percent cut from the previous financial year.

Giving an update on the status of the ministry’s development projects, YB Dato Hj Aminuddin said renovations on the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium has started and expected to be completed by mid-2022.

Tender submissions to spruce up the Brunei Museum have been closed and the government is expected to complete the evaluation of the bids on April 1 this year, he added.

The government has been facing long delays to reopen Brunei Museum since it was closed in 2014 due to severe termite infestation.

The minister said the number of visitors to museums, galleries and archaeological sites declined to 63,000 amid the COVID-19 pandemic last year, compared to 307,360 visitors in 2019.

Construction of a shelter for abuse victims is expected to be completed in November, while the upgrading of the Art Gallery Building in Bandar Seri Begawan will also be completed this November.

As part of plans to improve service delivery, the ministry will be drafting the “social blueprint” with the Prime Minister’s Office and provide a temporary settlement center to accommodate human trafficking victims.

Plans are also in the pipeline to revitalise Pusat Bahagia, a training centre for people with disabilities.

The minister said 873 differently-abled individuals secured jobs through collaborations with the Manpower Planning and Employment Council and JobCentre Brunei, exceeding the ministry’s target of 500 people.

He added that 117 people with disabilities registered as jobseekers on JobCentre Brunei, and 44 of them are now employed.

A 2019 Community Development Department 2019 survey found that 75 special needs individuals work in the public sector and another 35 are employed in the private sector, the minister said.

Youth taking part in the 35th National Day parade on February 23, 2019. Photo: Hazimul Wa’ie/The Scoop

MCYS outlines new youth development initiatives

A total of $14.6 million has been allocated for youth development programmes in FY 2021/22, including the National Service Programme (PKBN) and the launch of a “volunteers application system” in August.

YB Dato Hj Aminuddin said PKBN will establish a Youth Academy to promote a network of local and regional youth leaders and serve as a community hub.

To date, 3,177 youths have participated in the voluntary PKBN. Of the total, 1,126 youths have been employed, 785 are furthering their studies and 19 are venturing into entrepreneurship.

The minister said research has shown that 90 per cent of PKBN participants’ parents believed that the national service programme was effective and should be continued.

“The private sector is also more inclined towards [hiring] PKBN graduates,” he continued.

The ministry also plans to transform the Youth Development Centre into a “skills training and lifelong learning hub for youth and the community”.

Youth centres in Belait and Temburong will be upgraded after 125,000 individuals made use of the four districts’ centres to organise and participate in activities.

MCYS Minister YB Major General (Rtd) Dato Hj Aminuddin Ihsan (R) presents SEA Games gold medallist Mohammad Adi Salihin Roslan (L) with a $10,000 cash incentive on Feb 17, 2020. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/ The Scoop

Gov’t to review incentives for athletes

Some $21.8 million has been set aside to promote sports development, including the provision and improvement of infrastructure.

The ministry will be reviewing its Sports Excellence Incentive Scheme to reward national athletes for their achievements based on the level of sports competitions, YB Dato Hj Aminuddin said.

A cumulative total of $76,100 was awarded to Brunei’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games medallists under the incentive scheme last year.

To build a high-performance culture, the ministry has also identified 20 athletes to undergo “empowerment programmes” that enhance their skills.

The Brunei Institute of Sports will be established and infrastructural improvements will be made to facilitate the growth of recreational sports and sport tourism, he added.