Zero poverty top priorit
By Azlan Othman

His Royal Highness Prince Hj Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister's Office said poverty eradication is at the forefront of Brunei Darussalam's national agenda.

"His Majesty has set 'zero poverty' as a high priority national goal. In this regard, a Special Inter-Ministerial Committee on Poverty was established with its task being the conduct of a comprehensive study on poverty in Brunei Darussalam which was completed early this year."

His Royal Highness delivered a sabda at the opening of the 7th Asean Ministerial Meeting on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication (7th AMRDPE) yesterday at The Empire Hotel and Country Club in Jerudong.

The report from the study recommended an integrated poverty eradication strategy which would streamline all social safety net and poverty eradication programmes so that they would yield better results.

It also recommended that all programmes and initiatives should address the root causes of poverty, in particular, shortcomings in employment, income, infrastructure, education and health.

HRH added, "Our existing social safety net programmes in the country come in two categories that seek to complement each other, namely social welfare and socio-economic development programmes.

"The social welfare programmes are designed to provide more immediate welfare benefits in cash and in kind for the needy. Our socio-economic development programmes look to more long-term objectives and include assistance in education, medical and healthcare as well as housing.

"We believe that a good balance must co-exist between the immediate need to alleviate poverty and our longer-term efforts to assist the poor in permanently breaking free of the debilitating cycle of poverty," HRH said.

"Our initiative worthy of specific mention is the new Supplemental Contributory Pension scheme to strengthen the existing Employees' Trust Fund. It is hoped that this additional scheme would help prevent individuals from falling into poverty upon retirement," HRH added.

The Crown Prince also said poverty eradication is an issue that touches and challenges the hearts and minds of people all over the world. Despite positive progress in recent years, the World Bank reported that 1.4 billion people are still living in extreme poverty surviving only on the equivalent of one dollar and 20 cents a day.

According to the latest UNDP facts and figures on poverty throughout the world, 170 million children suffer from malnutrition; over 100 million never attend school; 230 million have no access to secondary education; and almost 250 million work to fend for themselves and their families.

"Closer to home, there is still much work remaining to overcome poverty. Based on the latest Asean statistics, a significant percentage of the population in member states, still lives below the $2 purchasing power parity poverty line.

"Poverty is indeed a threat to human capacity and dignity. It hinders the development of an economy, reduces the stability of society and adversely affects the peace and security of a country. As the first goal of the Millennium Development Goals, we have all pledged to eradicate poverty setting a target of cutting extreme poverty by half by 2015," HRH said.

The UN General Assembly proclaimed the years 2008 to 2017, as the Second United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty reiterating that poverty eradication is the greatest global challenge that must be won.

"In Asean, we have consistently emphasised the eradication of hunger and poverty as a major goal. Our leaders have reaffirmed on numerous occasions their commitment to reduce poverty by improving the standard of living and quality of life of our people.

"The theme of this meeting 'A Coordinated Strategy of Intervention: Towards Zero Poverty' is therefore well chosen and most relevant. Efforts to successfully and sustainably eradicate poverty must indeed cover a wide spectrum of activities.

"We need to be well-coordinated to bring together measures such as the facilitation of economic growth and development, and the provision of social services and safety nets in order to be effective.

"Our aim should not only be to provide immediate relief and assistance to the poor when the need arises, but also to make them in the long-term more resilient, resourceful and self-supporting which will contribute to breaking the vicious circle of poverty.

"The work of our governments alone could not succeed without the cooperation and support of all sectors of society.

"In particular, business communities must be encouraged to exercise their corporate social responsibilities. And we should do our best to obtain the support and assistance of our dialogue partners and other regional and international organisations, as I am sure that they have much to offer," the Crown Prince added.

"I am also pleased to note the establishment of this ministerial meeting back in 1997, the foundation for a coordinated approach on rural development and poverty eradication was first established. The work to bring together the two action lines - rural development and poverty eradication - has progressed.

"Poverty is largely widespread in rural areas, and therefore, promoting rural development goes a long way in addressing many of the multi-faceted challenges of overcoming poverty.

"In this regard, I note with appreciation the work undertaken within Asean Framework Action Plan on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication. The framework plan remains valid as a key strategic plan for Asean to address poverty in the region. I therefore welcome the renewal of this Framework Action Plan covering the new period 2011-2015.

"I am confident that our efforts to improve coordination and collaboration to eradicate poverty whilst narrowing the development gap within Asean will contribute significantly to realising the goal of an Asean community that enjoys peace, stability and prosperity throughout the region.

"The challenges to succeed in our work are, however, enormous and complex. One of the challenges that arose recently is flooding brought about by climate change and weather extremities, that has devastated large areas in a number of member states. The environmental elements of this challenge illustrates the need for Asean to have closer multi-sectoral coordination in rural development," HRH said.

Earlier, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Laila Diraja Dato Seri Setia Awg Hj Hazair bin Hj Abdullah said, "We must work with others within Asean and beyond and encourage the private sectors and NGOs to be more active in exercising their corporate social responsibilities. And also we need to engage our women and youth to contribute and participate in voluntary works in rural development and poverty eradication programmes.

"Our efforts will help the millions in our region that are still living below the line to surely and steadily escape from the clutches of poverty. Therefore, the meeting in Brunei Darussalam hopefully will result in positive outcomes which will further strengthen and provide the drive to move forward in the implementation of the decisions derived from the previous meetings," he added. - Borneo Bulletin (3rd Novempber 2011)