BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has allocated a budget of $127.52 million for the 2022/23 fiscal year, a 4.3 per cent increase from the previous year.

During the a session of the Legislative Council on Saturday, Second Minister of Foreign Affairs YB Dato Hj Erywan PDPJ Hj Mohd Yusof said $43.1 million (34 %) of the ministry’s budget would be spent on staff salaries, while $69.5 million will go towards recurring expenses.

A total of $14.9 million (11.7%) has been allocated for development expenditure.

The minister did not give a breakdown of MFA’s budget.

YB Dato Hj Erywan said as the chair of ASEAN last year, Brunei dealt with a number of regional challenges including the COVID-19 crisis.

Under Brunei’s chairmanship, the bloc agreed to use US$10.5 million from the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund to acquire and improve access to vaccines for all member states.

ASEAN also adopted Bandar Seri Begawan Declaration on Strategic and Holistic Initiative to Emergencies and Disasters (ASEAN SHIELD) to improve the regional grouping’s emergency response.

“This initiative aims to strengthen coordination between ASEAN sectoral bodies at the regional level and government organisations at the national level,” said the minister.

In terms of Brunei’s domestic COVID response, he said the sultanate’s warm bilateral relations with its regional partners was a key factor when the country was facing a deadly second wave of infections. With vaccines in short supply, Brunei received vaccine contributions from China, Australia, Japan and Singapore.

“Such assistance is a manifestation of the close ties and active bilateral cooperation between Brunei Darussalam and countries in the region,” he said.

Other milestones during Brunei’s chairmanship were the admission of the UK as an ASEAN dialogue partner, and the upgrading of Australia and China to comprehensive strategic partnerships.

The bloc also agreed on a framework to restart travel between ASEAN countries in the COVID-19 recovery phase.

YB Dato Hj Erywan added that Brunei will be sponsoring the ASEAN Junior Fellowship, a training programme for young diplomats at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta.

The sultanate will make an annual endowment of $100,000 to the fellowship over the next 10 years.

‘RCEP to boost Brunei’s trade and investments’

During his budget speech, the minister also highlighted the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s largest free trade agreement.

The RCEP agreement — which came into effect on January 1 this year — involves all 10 ASEAN member states and five of its major trading partners — Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China and South Korea.

The government previously said signing the RCEP would support the region’s post-pandemic recovery efforts while strengthening economic and trade links.

Each member of RCEP is expected to gradually eliminate tariffs on over 90 percent of goods traded within the bloc over 20 years.