By M K Anwar
The increase in the mandatory retirement age to 60 years and the introduction of a new Supplemental Contributory Pension scheme were among the highlights of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam's titah in conjunction with His Majesty's 63rd birthday, which was telecast nationwide last night.
His Majesty said that despite the postponement of many of the events to celebrate His Majesty's 63rd birthday, the monarch noted that the zest of July 15 is still strong and fresh as what has been previously felt.
His Majesty appreciates this spirit and expressed his thanks to everyone for the support.
His Majesty highlighted Brunei's continuing peace and prosperity which should make us more committed to increase our efforts to maintain it.
Even though the effects of the global financial crisis can be felt in most countries including Brunei, the nation's economy continues to hang on because of the consistent efforts in strengthening and expanding it since the 1997 financial crisis.
The Sultan added that this is further supported by the positive report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently which stated that the country is implementing a strong macroeconomic policy and an effective management of the oil and gas resources.
His Majesty acknowledged the involvement of everyone especially those who have given their support and assistance in the rehabilitation.
With such enthusiasm, His Majesty is confident that this will increase the welfare and strengthen the country.
Besides facing different natural disasters like floods and landslides, the country is now facing the Influenza A (H1N1) pandemic.
The beloved ruler advised that as a religious country, we not only combat it the usual way but also increase our prayers, reading of the doa and Qunut Nazilah and the Hajat prayers.
"Whatever happens, the country's development will continue to move forward," His Majesty said.
On the nation's economy, His Majesty highlighted the National Development Plan 2007-2012, which is a package that can ensure that the nation's economy would expand, improve infrastructure and social development and through it the economic diversification.
Through the NDP, B$9.5 billion has been allocated to implement development projects and also B$1.1 billion for industrial and trade development.
Priority will be given to facilitating the industrial activities and the creation of dynamic and progressive local entrepreneurs.
Meanwhile, in the business sector, His Majesty noted that efforts have been made by the relevant government agencies in easing the process of setting up business to a more efficient and same standard as other countries.
Recently, His Majesty's government approved several initiatives such as the land strata title, reduction of the national tender fees and exploring the capabilities of the ICT which all can facilitate and develop the nation's industry and businesses.
In recent years, His Majesty has also stressed the importance in increasing the level of Brunei's food security.
In relation to this, recently an initiative was launched to achieve self-sustainability in the production of rice from 20 per cent in 2010 to 60 per cent by 2015.
Last April, the planting of padi that can be done twice annually using a high quality yield began and hopefully by next month, people will enjoy the first harvest.
In line with this, more new sites will be offered to the private sector, locally and abroad for the commercial planting of padi and towards becoming a viable enterprise.
Meanwhile, touching on the issue of poverty, His Majesty stated that the government will continue to increase its efforts in assisting the needy.
One example highlighted by His Majesty is the implementation of the housing assistance project for the poor and needy.
The project involves the joint cooperation by other government agencies, corporate bodies and the public who donate into a fund through the zakat payment obligation.
Again, talking about zakat, His Majesty said that he is yet to see the progress of several issues raised during the Islamic Religious Council meeting held six months ago.
One of the government's policies in strengthening the economy is through the saving culture. The government encourages this and His Majesty hoped that the financial institutions will provide the opportunities and ways so that everyone can save and at the same time receive good returns.
Besides this, the laws and regulations must also be strengthened to prevent people form being deceived by illegal activities such as a get-rich-quick schemes.
In a commitment to ensure the prosperity and security of the people, His Majesty together with former Malaysian premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi signed Letters of Exchange on the demarcation of maritime boundaries with Malaysia.
His Majesty said that through this agreement, Brunei will have sovereignty on the continental shelf and 200 nautical miles of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
With this, Brunei will enjoy the benefits from the exploration of hydrocarbon and other maritime resources.
More opportunities will be opened wide and these will include investment, businesses and employment especially for those requiring professional skills.
His Majesty also stated that Brunei as an energy producer must use the resources efficiently while preventing wastages.
The monarch believes that time has come for the government agencies to revamp their polices and put forward steps towards efficient use of energy.
One example stated by His Majesty is that every year the government agencies use $68 million worth of electricity and if this can be reduced by 10 per cent, the country can save up to $6.8 million every year.
The approach by several countries like Japan as the most efficient energy user must be taken as an example, His Majesty added.
Touching on unemployment, the beloved ruler stated that this is a common economic issue and that the support by several private companies in providing work opportunities is greatly appreciated.
It is understood that the process in filling up a post in the government sector last year took between six and eight months and this has resulted in vacancies in new positions and due to retirements increasing by 5,000.
In His Majesty's opinion, the process should be shortened so that the number decreases and the applicants don't have to wait that long.
On the welfare of the nation's human resource, the government takes their retirement seriously, especially those with low income. Towards this His Majesty announced a new additional retirement scheme called the Supplemental Contributory Pension (SCP). This new scheme is aimed as an addition to the current Employee Provident Fund (TAP).
His Majesty explained that under the new scheme, a retiree will get a minimum monthly annuity after he/she reaches the mandatory retirement age.
The SCP is also equipped with a survivorship protection to guarantee a participant's obligation especially if the person dies before reaching the mandatory retirement age.
And just like the TAP scheme, SCP will cover all citizens and permanent residents who are working in the public and private sector. This will also be expanded to the informal sector.
All participants and employers by law must contribute a certain amount every month and part of this will be used as contribution for the survivorship protection.
In order not to burden the employers, especially companies, the calculation of the contributions will be fixed to an appropriate amount.
For TAP participants who are unable to make adequate contributions before they reach retirement, they will also enjoy the benefits of the SCP because His Majesty has consented that the government provide additional assistance to this group in the form of a catch-up contribution or backdated contribution.
The scheme will be enforced from January 1, 2010 and an act will be introduced for its implementation.
His Majesty also took the opportunity to announce that starting January 1, 2010, the mandatory retirement age limit for citizens and permanent residents taking part in the TAP and SCP schemes will be increased to 60 years.
Moving on to the international arena, His Majesty stated that the country will continue to strengthen its bilateral relations and cooperation with other countries.
Brunei, His Majesty acknowledged, will also play a role in regional and international security affairs through participation in peacekeeping missions like what has been done in Southern Philippines, Lebanon and Aceh. The country will also provide humanitarian assistance to those experiencing natural disasters.
In line with the nation's capabilities, the participation in these missions will be considered from time to time.
In concluding the titah, His Majesty expressed his appreciation and thanks to everyone who has contributed their services to the government and also for the efforts in celebrating His Majesty's 63rd birthday this year.
- Borneo Bulletin
(15th July 2009)