Among the key takeaways from 2020 was the Bruneian spirit of solidarity and the caring leadership of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam which enabled the country to respond to the challenges and opportunities posed by COVID-19.
This was highlighted by Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Minister of Finance and Economy II Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Mohd Amin Liew bin Abdullah, during the Borneo Bulletin Yearbook Networking Session at the Malay Technology Museum yesterday.
He stated, “Before the start of the pandemic, our economic performance showed great improvement and was gathering positive momentum.
However, the dual shock from the pandemic and the drop in oil price as a result of the pandemic presented us with a new challenge.
“With the steadfast leadership of His Majesty, and through the unwavering hard work and concerted efforts of all parties involved, including health workers and front-liners, the authorities responded swiftly in suppressing the spread of the virus; and managed to protect the lives and livelihood of our people, allowing us to continue to operate close
“The cooperation, compassion and solidarity shown by the people of Brunei Darussalam played a big role in our collective effort in mitigating the impacts of COVID-19, such as volunteer work, especially among the youth under the Youth Volunteer Ad-Hoc Committee, the financial contribution by the public under the COVID-19 Relief Fund, the adoption of the BruHealth app and many others, demonstrates the willingness of our people to unite and work together for the betterment of the community.
“Under the steady guidance of His Majesty various initiatives were also undertaken at the height of the pandemic, which can broadly be categorised into three focus areas, which are: to maintain the well-being of the public, to protect jobs and provide support for individuals, and to support and assist businesses.
“Among the initiatives taken to maintain the well-being of the public are the construction of the National Isolation Centre in Tutong and other monitoring centres, to ensure sufficient healthcare facilities are available if needed and to manage the potential further spread of the virus; the creation of an auxiliary virology laboratory; and conducting daily press conferences and other services to ensure steady dissemination of information to the public.
“In anticipation of unemployment caused by the pandemic, Brunei Darussalam has placed the protection of jobs and the provision of support to those who need it most as its key priorities. These were achieved through a collaborative effort with employment-providers and financial institutions to alleviate the financial burden on businesses and individuals.
“Some of the measures taken were deferments on contributions towards Employees Trust Funds and Supplementary Contributory Pension; deferment of loan repayments; provision of salary subsidies for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs); discounts on corporate income taxes, rents and utilities; and others.
“Other long-term measures to address employment and job-creation were initiatives under JobCentre Brunei (JCB) such as ‘job-matching’, jobseekers training conducted with the IBTE, and the i-Ready apprenticeship programme and SkillsPlus Programme to upskill and reskill our people for future jobs.
“The Manpower Planning and Employment Council (MPEC) has introduced new collaborative programmes between the government, the private sector and other key industry players to meet specific goals such as addressing skill mismatch in the labour market, the development of competency framework and identifying future demands for employment.”
The minister also commended the important role of the private sector in the nation’s economic growth especially during the pandemic: “Without doubt, the role of the private sector is pivotal, and will be more vital now in driving Brunei Darussalam’s economic growth. Ensuring business continuity is therefore crucial during times of crises.
“To protect the private sector, particularly the MSMEs during COVID, both the government and the private sector joined hands through the provision of online platforms like ‘Community for COVID’ and ‘Community for Ramadhan’ which provided alternative avenues for business-owners to reach out to customers. During COVID-19, we have also seen an escalation in the integration of technology in the day-to-day lives of Bruneians. One notable example is the high acceptance of the BruHealth app within the country that has supported the Ministry of Health (MoH) and other stakeholders in managing the COVID-19 crisis more effectively through the availability of useful data.
“The launch of the National Welfare System (SKN) is also a step forward in digitalisation, and with many other efforts towards the effective use of technology, Brunei Darussalam maintains its steady stride towards the Smart Nation initiative.
“Beyond Brunei, the pandemic has also posed challenges on our supply chain resiliency and connectivity, as well as limiting the movement of people across borders. This can continue to be a challenge with new waves of infections and new strains, which can only be countered by an effective rollout of vaccination programmes, which hopefully will in turn boost economic activities and business confidence.”
He added, “Our long-standing relations with our trading partners are also important, which will allow us to work collectively through the sharing of experiences and information; and establishing meaningful initiatives such as the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework, with the objective to restore our economies in a manner that is safe, equitable and prosperous for all.
“Brunei Darussalam, as the Chair of ASEAN for 2021, aims to lead the ASEAN region towards economic recovery. The theme ‘We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper’ accentuates ASEAN’s collective commitment to care for its people, prepare for future challenges and opportunities to ensure the continuous prosperity of the region.
“Under the ASEAN Economic Community, Brunei Darussalam has identified 13 Priority Economic Deliverables that focusses on three strategic thrusts, namely Recovery, Digitalisation and Sustainability.
“On recovery, the focus will be on clarifying rules around the non-tariff measures and investment facilitation, providing a recovery roadmap for the tourism sector – to have a plan ready once COVID-19 is over – to serve as guidance, and open new markets and partnerships for ASEAN through the launch of negotiations for a possible ASEAN-Canada Free Trade Agreement.
“On digitalisation, the focus is on providing a safe, secure and harmonised e-commerce environment and digital eco-system.
“Finally, on sustainability, the focus will be on providing guidance and support to MSMEs, sustainable energy transition, circular economy and cooperation in the area of minerals.”