BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The government will introduce new disability laws and revise eligibility rules for old-age pensions as part of a slate of welfare reforms that will come into effect on October 1, it was announced Thursday.

In his customary birthday address at Istana Nurul Iman, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah said only Brunei citizens and stateless permanent residents over 60 will qualify for the $250 monthly senior citizens pension.

Under a new amendment to the Old Age and Disability Pensions Act, Brunei permanent residents who hold foreign citizenship will no longer be eligible for the seniors’ pension.

The government spent $117 million on pensions for the elderly in the 2020/21 financial year, providing allowances to 39,890 people — a 6.9 percent increase from the year before.

Photo: Infofoto

His Majesty said that the legislative amendment would also see provision of a $250 monthly allowance for carers of people with disabilities.

The care provider’s allowance will replace the dependant allowance, which was previously set at $113 for recipients aged under 15 and $188 for those older than 15.

Special needs individuals will also be eligible to receive the disability allowance in addition to the old-age pension once they turn 60.

According to the latest government data, 9,282 people with disabilities are registered to receive welfare assistance. 

The sultan also announced that after years of waiting the Persons with Disabilities Order will finally be enacted on October 1.

Brunei ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2016, but has yet to introduce domestic legislation to meet the standards set out in the convention.

The new laws announced by the monarch are part of wider reforms which began last year with the digitalisation of the welfare application process and revising of eligibility criteria in order to reduce Bruneians’ reliance on welfare assistance.

Daily-paid civil servants to be given full-time jobs

His Majesty said going forward daily-paid and ‘open vote’ staff in the civil service will be offered full-time employment.

Brunei citizens who earn daily wages in the public sector will be absorbed into the permanent workforce in phases, His Majesty said, as long as they fulfill the requirements. 

The new policy will also apply to ‘open vote’ civil servants – staff who have worked in government as daily-paid employees for at least five years.

Public sector employment represented 40 percent of the total labour force in Brunei, according to 2019 figures from the Department of Economic Planning and Statistics.

The sultan also announced the establishment of a new body called the Study and Professional Institution (SPIN) under JobCentre Brunei, which will organise career fairs and skills training for Bruneian youth.

Guests, comprising mostly senior civil servants, attend a ceremony at Istana Nurul Iman to mark the Sultan’s 75ht birthday. Photo: Infofoto

TAP to be reviewed

The monarch said the Ministry of Finance and Economy (MOFE) is conducting a study on the effectiveness of the Employees Trust Fund, better known as TAP, to asses whether it provides sufficient retirement funds for civil servants once they stop working. 

“The research is in its final stages and InsyaAllah my government will announce the implementation [of the findings] in the near future,” he said.

The government discontinued its pension scheme for non-uniformed civil servants in 1993, and replaced it with a worker and employer-contributed retirement fund for both the public and private sector.

TAP contributions are invested in sukuk, bonds, fixed deposits and equities, but last year His Majesty raised concerns over TAP’s low dividend rates which stood at 2.2 percent for the past two financial years.

New council to boost science and technology research

His Majesty also announced the setting up of the Council for Research and Advancement in Technology and Science (CREATES) to replace the Brunei Research Council and National Science and Technology Committee, in a bid to stimulate innovation.

CREATES, under the Ministry of Transport and Infocommunications’ purview, will accelerate science and technology research, he said.

The sultan added that the Prime Minister’s Office and MOFE will collaborate to promote technology adoption in the civil service and financial services.

Government spending on research and development made up only 0.3 percent of Brunei’s gross domestic product in 2018, according to data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The average research spending among the world’s top 72 countries was 1.17 percent of their GDP in 2018.

Members of the royal family at Istana Nurul Iman for the Sultan’s 75th birthday. Photo: Infofoto

Moving forward from COVID-19 pandemic

The world is still combating the coronavirus and dealing with its negative impact on the global economy and people’s livelihoods, the monarch said.

We must view this situation as a lesson to move forward and exercise caution,” he continued.

His Majesty delivered his birthday titah during the investiture ceremony, which was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With no local coronavirus cases recorded since May last year, celebratory events were allowed to return this year but organisers have imposed crowd limits and the public must be vaccinated if they attend any of the birthday events.

The sultan noted that Brunei was one of three ASEAN member states to report positive economic growth last year despite the global recession induced by COVID-19.

The Brunei economy rose 1.2 percent in 2020, while the International Monetary Fund has projected a 1.6 percent GDP growth this year.

His Majesty went on to say that Brunei will continue to forge close diplomatic ties with other countries to ensure stability in the Asia-Pacific.