Let’s help rebuild our economy post COVID-19

I am impressed with the cohesive efforts of the government in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic and the sacrifices of many people particularly the frontliners at the Ministry of Health (MoH), personnel from other agencies and the many volunteers and donors, who work tirelessly in the face of this mighty challenge.

The daily press conferences have been very well organised and the information shared have been very reassuring that we are in the good hands of these professional people. We should continue to play our part by following the advice given, practice personal hygiene, social distancing and avoid gatherings until we are completely free from this virus.

I am also deeply overwhelmed to see the country come together as one not only to address this crisis but also to reach out to the many individuals whose livelihood have been affected and the thousands of businesses that have been impacted.

The Government under the wise 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 and the support of many agencies, both in the public and private sectors, have provided all the extra resources needed by the MoH to tackle the virus.

In support of the government, the COVID-19 Relief Fund has accumulated over BND4 million from caring organisations, donors and individuals.

A series of measures have also been put in place aimed at helping individuals and companies weather the storm during this crisis.

Implementing a ‘whole of nation’ approach in addressing the situation, several packages have been introduced to support individuals and businesses experiencing financial difficulties.

These include loan repayment holidays from banks, fees and charges exemption and deferment for Employees Trust Fund (TAP) and Supplemental Contributory Pension (SCP) payments.

For private sector employees earning BND1,500 and below, 25 per cent of their salaries for three months will be paid by the government, an additional and welcome relief for many micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). For tamu and gerai stallholders, their rental fees have been waived for six months. The government also introduced sponsored training programmes for graduates, employees and businesses for them to upgrade their skills and knowledge and prepare them for a future after COVID-19 and beyond.

The government’s gesture should be reciprocated with similar goodwill by other parties.

With 25 per cent of their employees’ salary subsidised by the government, private sector employers must ensure to keep the jobs of their local staff and protect their well-being.

In fact, employers can further generate more jobs through the expanded i-Ready Apprenticeship Programme that now includes Diploma and TVET holders, again with salaries paid by the government.

Landlords should consider lowering rental of their premises to tenants in dire financial straits at least until the crisis is over or work together to establish an affordable payment plan, taking into account their tenants’ individual circumstances.

This unprecedented crisis has a huge financial implication to the government. Millions in lost revenue has already been experienced by our national airline when travel bans were imposed and flights drastically reduced. The tourism revenue and hotels occupancy have significantly dropped.

When the whole crisis comes to an end, we as ordinary citizens can play our small part to help our country to recover.

With the cross-border travel ban in place, we have stopped making cross-border trips for our grocery shopping, leisure or entertainment and yet we managed. After COVID-19, we should reduce cross-border spending. Supporting local businesses can make a profound impact to the economy.

Let’s help our MSMEs in their efforts to recover from the crisis and rebuild their businesses. If you have to travel abroad, please use our national airline, Royal Brunei Airlines (RB) with pride and help them make a comeback.

Crises have affected our economy in the past and COVID-19 is no different but we have proven our resilience. If we stand together patriotically as Bruneians and proudly as ‘One Small Nation with A Big Heart’, we can rebuild our economy again and emerge even stronger.

Thank you to Allah the Almighty for His blessings and guidance and to all the frontliners, thank you for keeping us safe.

Born Bruneian