Minister explains why Brunei’s COVID-19 financial aid packages are different

Izah Azahari

With the introduction of several financial aid packages in neighbouring countries in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, 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 explained how Brunei’s packages are different at yesterday’s joint press conference at the Al-‘Afiah Hall of the Ministry of Health.

Breaking it down into three broad categories, the minister said neighbouring countries focus on helping very low-income families and people who lost jobs and businesses through one-off cash handouts.

Focussing on the first category, the minister explained that Brunei has a welfare system where the Community Development Department (JAPEM) and the Brunei Islamic Religious Council (MUIB) financially help those in need, on top of the subsidies provided by the government on a monthly basis.

For the second category of people who lost jobs, neighbouring countries give a few hundred dollars a month for a period of time, said the minister.

But in the case of Brunei, the minister added that as there is already a lot those who are unemployed, the government is working to not create more unemployment. The minister explained that the government is trying to protect jobs, through the introduction of various measures in this current situation which include paying 25 per cent of salaries, along with TAP and SCP contributions, and negotiating with banks for the restructuring or deferments of loans for a period of time.

The minister said that these measures are to ensure that financial burdens of businesses will be lessened so they may continue to hire people and not terminate them, as well as take the opportunity to train their employees, and possibly rethink hiring foreign labour, so that in the future after the COVID-19 pandemic ends the people are trained to take over the jobs of foreign workers.

“These are the things that we’re trying to achieve, and during this time we also see new businesses being set up,” added the minister. “We’ve provided the Co-Matching Grant to help start new businesses. A lot of business models might change now because of COVID-19 so we are there to help them.”

He added that some businesses may also want to see how they can improve during this time of low activity. The minister said all the measures that have been introduced are strategies to prepare companies so that when COVID-19 is over, they are able to take full advantage, reiterating that if everyone works together we will come out of this stronger, and that the assistance is to help create a better future for the country.

Explaining on the third category of businesses, the minister announced a new set of measures – regardless of whether they are in tourism or not – where they can go to their banks if they are in financial difficulty as long as the business is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If they are already financial weak or in a distressed situation prior to COVID-19 these measures will not help them so they need to relook at their business,” said the minister.

The minister also said that those who are taking unpaid leave can use the opportunity to train themselves through the training provided free of charge by the government so they will be able to contribute more when they go back to work or even try something new.

“By the time COVID-19 goes away, they have many more options in front of them. So that’s why our strategy is a bit different from the other countries. We are looking at how to take new opportunities to create a better future for us,” he added. Meanwhile, the minister also touched on the existing i-Ready programme where he explained that the i-programme announced on March 28, is a new package which has been shortened to 18 months where the government will be paying for apprentices’ salaries, which is to be topped up later on by companies they are working.

As for the existing i-Ready programme, the minister said that there were no agreements with employers, but will probably be negotiated with them.