Arbitrary price hikes and retirement planning in the face of uncertainty were some of 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 to the Ministry of Finance and Economy (MoFE) yesterday.
“Lately, at a time with the COVID-19 situation in the country, there are complaints about the price increase for daily essentials such as meat, fish, onions, eggs and vegetables, particularly those in the lower income bracket,” said His Majesty.
“The issue of price increase is not just happening in Brunei, but it should not be ignored. It is usually carried out in an unwarranted or unlawful manner by certain parties, who are taking advantage of the situation.
“The authoritative and relevant parties should not keep silent or overlook this matter. They need to monitor and take the ongoing situation into account. At the same time, they need to address the situation by preventing one side from earning profits at the expense of another.
“If there are sufficient supplies that are easy to procure, then let everyone have access to them. If they are limited or scarce, then sell them in limited amounts, without any adverse effects on anyone. This means that no goods should be sold or purchased, except at normal prices – not by raising prices to the detriment of consumers.
“When certain parties are not observing the principles of consideration and cooperation, there needs to be constraints.
“At this point, the Department of Economic Planning and Statistic (JPES), through the Department of Competition and Consumer Affairs (JPHEP), needs to address the issue immediately by consistently monitoring price hikes and taking appropriate measures – if required – to protect consumers.”
His Majesty said, “The increase in the price of goods was already attended to by the Department of Economic Planning and Statistics, through the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is issued every three months.
“Despite the explanation, business entrepreneurs are continuing to increase the price of goods. Therefore, effective action should be carried out by the enforcement agencies.
“Apart from the JPHEP’s responsibility in monitoring and protecting the public from destructive price hikes, it is vital for the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT) to carry out efforts in overcoming goods’ shortages.
“They should at least assure the public that the country is still able to meet the food requirements, while ensuring that food security is guaranteed and sufficient, without the need for certain parties to use the opportunity to increase prices arbitrarily.
“The increase in the prices of goods by certain entrepreneurs, without regard for the rules and regulations, should not be tolerated.”
Earlier in the titah, His Majesty noted that the MoFE was allocated a budget of BND853 million, enabling the ministry to collaborate with other ministries and related agencies in enhancing its productivity and providing quality services to members of the public.
The monarch said, “This to ensure the effectiveness of the government’s revenue collection, including encouraging economic development through foreign direct investment (FDI), industrial development, and foreign and local trade”.
“All of this requires officers and members of staff with skills in management and administration.
“Apart from skills, honesty and integrity are required to ensure effective management and administration, without any irregularities.
“It is well known that those occupying high positions within the ministry are faced with challenges, apart from executing their main responsibilities – these position holders are also chairmen of several boards of directors, with the responsibility of fulfilling the boards’ meeting schedules.
“With this, I wish to remind that no conflicts of interest should ever occur. Rather, the officers involved should carry out their duties fairly and equitably. They should not be inclined towards preferential treatment, where one side is given warm and prompt service, while the other is treated brusquely and in a diffident manner.
“Teamwork ethic is crucial. The senior officers may be progressive in thought, but they should not act arrogantly by refusing to listen to the views or ideas of their subordinates, particularly if the latter have skills and expertise in their respective fields.
“This attitude is most counterproductive, and capable of creating a deep divide between a leader and his subordinates.
“Some senior officers do not have any inspiring ideas, but insist that their ideas be accepted by others, thus leading weak decisions which invite more complaints and disappointments.
“Senior officers should not formulate policies based on their positions, which are vastly different from that of their subordinates. For the latter, any form of allowance is meaningful, compared to their superiors.
“Therefore any decisions or regulations on allowance will need to take these differences into account, rather than merely changing or abolishing the regulations.
“I am aware that the absorption of a number of departments and statutory bodies into the MoFE has increased its portfolio and responsibilities, especially those in the fields of economy.
This is an indirect test of the competency of the ministry staff, which also requires a strong sense of patriotism.
“For instance, in the management and handling of investment affairs, do not simply trust and prioritise foreign consultants or companies from abroad to manage companies under Darussalam Assets Sdn Bhd, without any assessment or consideration for locals.
“If this continues to be practised, then it is a violation of the government’s requirements.
“The indicator for competency and efficiency is also characterised by being able to carry out the roles and responsibilities in reviewing, considering and approving tenders from ministries or departments for each of their planned projects.
“However, there are situations where the State Tender Board constantly delays the tender application, until it needs to be amended or re-tendered. This is capable of having an adverse effect on development.
“Regarding the Employees Trust Fund (TAP), I understand that there are matters that need to be addressed, even though it was established in January 1993. Among these is the issue of contributions (caruman) and dividend rates, where employees need to contribute five per cent from their total salary, while employers are obligated to contribute five per cent.
“The question is: To what degree has TAP been ensuring that all employers are paying towards their employees’ contributions?
“The objective of setting up TAP is to ensure that its members will have ample savings for their retirement, including providing for their family members – even with low dividend rates, such as in 2017/2018, where it was 2.5 per cent. Meanwhile, for two consecutive years – 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 – the rate dropped to 2.2 per cent.
“This is causing uncertainty among TAP members about their impending retirement. I would suggest that reasonable action be taken by TAP, by carrying out a study on how to convince the community on the effectiveness of making investments, using the savings of TAP members.
“It should be remembered that these people place particular emphasis on the scheme as capable of ensuring their daily expenses, post-retirement. This is a challenge for TAP to come up with formulae and solutions.”
The arrival of His Majesty was greeted 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 unscheduled visit, His Majesty toured several departments and sections under MoFE, as well as Autoriti Monetari Brunei Darussalam (AMBD).
During the visit, His Majesty signed on the royal parchment before proceeding to the Theatre Hall to deliver the titah.
Also present was Minister of Primary Resources and Tourism Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Ali