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 yesterday raised questions on the enforcement of laws and regulations on foreign workers during an unscheduled visit to the Immigration and National Registration Department and Labour Department under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA).
Describing these departments as aligned with the MoHA’s vision of a united and dynamic society in a safe and prosperous nation, as well as working together with the community in terms of safety and security, His Majesty said, “Both departments are deeply committed towards providing outstanding services to the community.
“The Immigration and National Registration Department serves to regulate the entry and exit of foreign nationals. These rules and regulations were designed to keep the country’s interests well protected and secure, and the socioeconomics well developed until they meet the government’s aspirations of seeing the country as a service hub for trade and tourism.
“The department is responsible for the regulation and enforcement of the provisions of several Acts, which include the Immigration Act and Regulation Chapter 17, Passports Act and Regulations Chapter 14 and Brunei Nationality Act and Regulations Chapter 15, Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons Order 2004.
“When it comes to the enforcement of these Acts, what is often at stake is the effectiveness. One example is the enforcement of controls for foreign workers,” said His Majesty.
“Currently, there are foreign workers in the country without employers, meaning that they are not under any registered companies in this country.
“This issue appears to be increasingly pervasive, showing the weakness and incompetence of the department’s monitoring and enforcement activities. It would seem to be easy for foreigners to start a business without the need for a local partner, and they are even bold enough to bring family members or relatives into this country to further expand their businesses.”
His Majesty also questioned the effectiveness of national security and the enforcement of Acts or regulations. “Is it so difficult to carry enforcement, given the size of our country? I feel that it owes more to weakness – a weakness in management and administration.
“This weakness is widely known, occurring in sections such as Administration and Finance, Foreign Workers’ Pass, Visitors’ Pass, Identity Card, the Brunei International Airport Immigration Control Post and the Border Control Post.
“The Visitors’ Pass is one such example. This section is still viewed as unable to manage employment agents or individuals who sponsor foreigners without constraint, in exchange for fees.”
Recalling an incident at the Brunei International Airport Immigration Control Post, His Majesty said, “A foreigner on transit in the country was found to have exited the departure lounge without restrictions, or perhaps the incident was unknown to any of the agencies on duty at the airport, including the Immigration and National Registration Department itself. The matter only came to light when the passenger approached the RB counter for check-in.
“A subsequent investigation found that the passenger wasn’t stopped by the officer on duty. Why wasn’t he stopped? Doesn’t this show the officer’s weakness and negligence?
“The land Border Control Posts are also in need of effective monitoring, since there may be unnecessary incidents such as oversight on the part of the officers at the border inspection posts. Another frequent occurrence is the functioning of only one counter, causing long queues, despite the fact that another officer is also on duty.”
Turning his attention to the Labour Department, His Majesty pointed out that issues on regulatory monitoring and the employment of foreigners have also been raised. “Currently, the public is concerned about the growing numbers of foreign workers, compared to the efforts being carried out for the benefit of the local workforce in the private sector.
“Labour authorities are viewed as lenient and easily influenced by foreign employment agents in the increase of quotas for foreign workers and the speeding up the contract renewal process.”
The monarch also highlighted on the use of freelance quotas that allows foreign workers to work in the country by paying a certain amount to the quota holders.
“These quota holders could well be from all levels of society, including the respectable ones (VIPs). What I would like to know is – has this issue been considered and dealt with, or is it going to be left unchecked? I would like the relevant sections at the Labour Department to answer this.
“Then there are also issues of local entrepreneurs renting out business licences to foreigners in exchange for monthly fees. In turn, these foreigners take advantage of the business licences to bring in more yet more foreign workers to work for them.
“Consequently, the number of foreign workers continue to increase without any limits, while the local entrepreneur only gets his rental fee.
“So what happened to our slogan ‘Empowering Local Entrepreneurs and Businesses’? If this is the case, there is no need for such a slogan.
“At present, it is a fact that every market in the country – including the markets for fish, vegetables and fruit – is monopolised by foreigners. So what has happened to our local entrepreneurs and traders? I would like an explanation on this matter, as well.”
The monarch also highlighted the issue of syndicates that acquire foreign workers using counterfeit company licences.
“These companies are registered at the Labour Department and approved by the Court authorities; however these companies do not exist. They exist in name only, without any projects or businesses,” said His Majesty.
“In other words, these companies are used solely for sponsoring foreigners to reside here for a certain contract period with specified fees. Those from ASEAN are charged BND2,500 while those from other countries are charged BND3,000.
“These foreigners are then free to seek employment at other places without any commitment to the company sponsoring them. I would like to know if the Labour Department is aware of this. If so, then what is being done about it?
“How can the management and administration be so poor? There are plenty of reasons for this. Among them is insufficient manpower, or it could also be due to laziness and lack of focus. Or worst of all, corruption.
“All of these factors serve to undermine the management and administration. This needs to be monitored, particularly the signs of corruption, which must not be allowed to taint government management and administration,” said His Majesty, concluding the titah.