The uncontrolled influx of foreign workers in the country was among the issues raised by 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, during an unscheduled visit yesterday to the Labour Department and the Immigration and National Registration Department (INRD).
His Majesty said, “The Labour Department and the Immigration and National Registration Department are among the government agencies that play a crucial role in handling matters pertaining to licensing and visas.
“Among the missions of the Labour Department is to provide facilities for the recruitment of workers, whether in the government or private sector, without prejudice.”
“This includes ensuring a harmonious working environment that is safe and comfortable.
“Meanwhile, the vision is to make sure that local human resources possess quality and foresightedness, to reduce reliance on foreign workers.
“Meanwhile, the mission and vision of the Immigration and National Registration Department are to move towards the dynamic, credible and responsible provision of services to enforce laws and regulations related to immigration and national registration.
“We are all aware that the responsibilities of both departments are challenging and daunting.
However, this does not mean that they cannot be executed properly.
“Such difficult tasks and huge responsibilities can be implemented by a quality workforce.
However, quality does not merely refer to skills; what is needed is faith and trust in carrying out their task.
“When faith and trust become our daily routine, it will produce betterment. Therefore, I would like to see these qualities consistently among officers and staff in both departments.
Unacceptable matters should not be allowed to take place within the management and administration of both departments.
“Take for example, the influx of foreign workers to this country. Why is this allowed to happen, when both the labour and immigration departments have the power and authority to control it?
“There is speculation that this matter is due to the improper handling and issuance of approval of Foreign Worker Licence (LPA) and workers’ visas.
“What is meant by improper is abuse of power in the handling of foreign workers, as well as the involvement of unregistered freelance agents. It is common to hear about these agents.
“These freelance unregistered agents exist alongside the legally registered ones. I was made to understand that both are treated in a different manner. Registered agents often encounter difficulties, despite the fact that they pay deposits amounting to thousands of dollars, to pay the annual licence, office rent and employee wages.
“On the contrary, unregistered freelance agents receive special treatment. Hence, freelance agents are favoured by foreign companies, as they can easily and promptly deal with immigration and labour matters. For instance, if an official agent is dealing with passport matters, it will take two weeks, whereas a freelance agent it will take only two days.
“If true, then this is obviously an anomaly. Why is this matter allowed to take place? “I heard that this issue was forwarded to the relevant agencies at the ministry, but the outcome is rather vague.
“At the most, all matters on foreign workers should be done by registered agencies to avoid anomalies, such as the issuance of counterfeit visas and so on. How are such counterfeit visas available, if not through the cooperation of certain parties?
“Recently seven names were identified and issued with a Detention Order for involvement in forging identity cards (ICs). They were planning to use these forged identity cards, in addition to selling them at BND5,000 each.
“The question here is how such forged ICs could be produced, if not with the cooperation of certain parties? As a warning, falsifying documents or any type of forgery is a serious matter which should not be taken lightly. There should be no compromise in this matter, as it is a heinous and shameful crime which can affect security.
“I wish to emphasise here, that all parties entrusted with implementing the vision and mission of the department should carry out such tasks transparently and earnestly. All procedures and work guidelines must be carried out prudently and in meeting the target, to avoid going through too many layers in the department, until it takes a long time.
“For instance, the workflow to acquire LPA at the Labour Department needs to undergo 23 layers, and involves more than 10 officers and staff. If this is the kind of procedure that needs to be undertaken, then wouldn’t it affect the operations of a company to the extent that some companies take the easy way in offering bribes?
“We don’t want the management to be good in theory only, such as in the case of LPA, which is said to be the product of fine-tuning on a process which previously took 41 days. With the establishment of LPA, it would take only seven days, but the capability of the Labour Department to meet such target did not become a reality.
“Besides fulfilling the mission on the provision of facilities and a safe environment for workers, the relevant parties must be firm in implementing the Acts and regulations on these. We should not be complacent in monitoring and taking action on anyone violating laws or regulations which are considered infringements under the labour and immigration Acts.
“There is also suspicious activity at local fish, fruit and vegetable markets, which appears to be monopolised by foreign workers. What sort of licences do they possess? Are they holding labour licences under construction or as domestic helpers, but allowed by their employers to work as fishermen, fishmongers or fruit and vegetable vendors?
“If this is actually happening, then it certainly is a violation of Acts and regulations, but the reality is it has been taking place for a long time. Has this issue been addressed in accordance with the Acts and regulations, or just allowed to take place?
“I was made to understand that operations have been made by the law enforcement divisions of the Labour Department and the Immigration and National Registration Department, during which some individuals were apprehended for misappropriating workers’ licences and immigration passes.
“This is good. But are they consistently and comprehensively carried out? I wish to see reports, if any, with facts.”