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Nearly 8,000 registered volunteers involved in nation’s COVID-19 fight

James Kon

The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports’ (MCYS) direct involvement with volunteers during the COVID-19 pandemic has been significant whereby since March 2020, nearly 8,000 youth volunteers have been registered and were assigned to 143 locations with the service of 600 to 800 volunteers on a daily basis.

Among the impressive achievements of youth volunteers include the distribution of food rations to some 119,082 individuals covering 21,846 houses as of February 8. To date, the government has spent up to nearly BND3 million on food rations for individuals undergoing the quarantine order (QO).

Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Haji Aminuddin Ihsan bin Pehin Orang Kaya Saiful Mulok Dato Seri Paduka Haji Abidin underscored the vital role youth volunteers played during the pandemic in the country in his remarks at a Muzakarah session between Legislative Council (LegCO) members and MCYS at Sarmayuda Hall, Language and Literature Bureau (DBP) in Berakas yesterday.

He said volunteers “came forward to help the underprivileged in the food ration drive through donation initiatives at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium in cooperation with the MCYS as well as non-government organisations (NGOs) such as the Brunei Darussalam Red Crescent Society.

“Following donations from the public since September 2021, over 3,000 households have received the food rations, covering nearly 20,000 individuals,” the minister said.

The attitude of volunteerism regardless of age shows a high attitude of resilience and caring among the people of Brunei and directly enhances the spirit of unity and working together as a whole nation. “This is in line with the principles of caring and preserving the well-being of the people toward living a more meaningful life leaving no one behind.”

The minister also shared the updated achievements in the implementation of the MCYS’ Strategic Plan 2020-2024 in releasing the ministry’s vision of Bangsa Brunei Cemerlang.

Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Haji Aminuddin Ihsan said, “The MCYS has maximised the use of digital technology like the implementation of the National Welfare System (SKN), the launch of Mengalinga app and the management of the Old Age Pension payment and allowances through bank digitally, in the ministry’s effort to build applications integrating social assistance service digitally for ease of access and customer-friendly, enforcement of Old Age and Disability Pensions Act (Amendment) 2021 and the Disabled Persons Order, 2021 from October 1, 2021. The enforcement of the Old Age Pensions Act (PUT) has had a significant impact in terms of updating the eligibility requirements of recipients for old age pension and Persons with Disabilities allowance.“

Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Haji Aminuddin Ihsan bin Pehin Orang Kaya Saiful Mulok Dato Seri Paduka Haji Abidin in a group photo with Legislative Council members and MCYS permanent secretaries and heads of departments. PHOTOS: MCYS
Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Haji Aminuddin Ihsan during the Muzakarah

He said the amendment introduces additional benefits for senior citizens with disabilities in which so far 208 have received two benefits of Old Age Pension and Disability Allowance monthly.

The number of recipients in January was 42,700 compared to 43,940 for the Financial Year 2020/2021, which is a decrease of 1,240 recipients or three per cent. In addition, the amended act also introduced the Care Provider Allowance for those eligible, he said.

The minister also highlighted that in addition to the Disability Action Plan and the Elderly Issues Action Plan, the review of strategies and action plans under the National Council on Social Issues (MKIS) such as the Poverty Eradication Action Plan was approved in 2020.

Ensuring that everyone entitled to assistance is not left behind, he said, “Up to February 8, some 25,806 individuals have registered under SKN. From the figure, 25,671 have applied for assistance through the Community Development Department (JAPEM) (12,989) and Brunei Islamic Religious Council (MUIB) (12,772).”

Under JAPEM, 10,511 applicants were brought to the Application Evaluation Committee Meeting and 4,487 were approved to receive financial and in kind assistance. For the Financial Year 2021/2022 up to December 2021, BND98.5 million was distributed to over 42,000 recipients of old age and disability pension. Meanwhile BND9.9 million was distributed under the monthly welfare assistance to over 6,100 recipients and the recipients for December 2021 was 3,800. In addition, disaster assistance was also distributed to 310 families with over BND220,000.

The minister spoke on strengthening the support system for persons with disabilities (OKU) through the Pusat Bahagia Revitalisation Action Plan to fill the gap and support the efforts of other agencies such as the Ministry of Health (MoH), Ministry of Education (MoE) as well as the private sector and associations.

In improving self-economic sufficiency through employment and entrepreneurial skills to create an independent and resilient society, he said, “In addition to over 100 OKU working in the public and private sector, 125 OKU are registered with JobCentre Brunei where 49 gained employment and 21 are actively searching for employment opportunities.”

For the underprivileged, he said, “A total of 883 individuals have obtained employment under the Manpower Planning and Employment Council (MPEC) and 776 vulnerable groups obtained employment through MPEC and JobCentre Brunei while 1,812 individuals from 4,784 vulnerable groups have registered to JobCentre Brunei. Under the MCYS, 157 underprivileged individuals have obtained employment.

In addition to setting up building facilities for senior citizens, the ministry also provided BND20,500 financial assistance to the Senior Citizens Association and Senior Citizens Activity Centre (PKWE) throughout the district to conduct 386 daily programmes and activities towards healthy ageing.

The ministry also utilises the digital systems and technology more effectively to ensure that services are provided swiftly, effectively and timely. The introduction of SKN, for example, has reduced the TPOR process from 146 to 48 days for JAPEM and 124 to 51 days for MUIB. SKN can also provide a comprehensive overview of artificial intelligence, among others, on the demographics and profile of welfare assistance applications to assist in formulating evidence-based policies and best practices.

Speaking on the National Youth Policy and Strategy 2020-2035 launched in December 2020, the minister said, “Alhamdulillah, over 97 per cent of programmes and activities have been achieved and implemented. Around 22,500 youth have been involved in various programmes and activities including leadership, religious, health and capacity building programmes. A total of 7,450 youth have registered as COVID-19 volunteers as of December 2021. While the Mengalinga app recorded 1,103 individuals and 115 organisations registered with 154 planned volunteer projects, 10,561 entrepreneurship assistance were provided from 2020 to 2021 as an incentive for youth to be enterprising and encourage self-employment while 148 agricultural development sites are available and developed by the youth, including 24 incubator facilities and entrepreneurial spaces for the OKU.”

In strengthening the national identity through various cultural, historical and heritage programmes and activities where, among others, through the promotion of Malay Language and Jawi Writing in collaboration with the Authority for Building Control and Construction Industry (ABCi), the minister said, “Alhamdulillah, the DBP was involved in the process of validating Jawi and Malay Language on signboards, banners and billboards since June 2021. This shows the increasing commitment and importance of the role of the DBP in approving applications especially in assessing Malay Language and Jawi words as one of ABCi’s requirements.”

The MCYS also focusses its efforts to further develop High Performance Sports to build elite athletes who can win medals in high performance sports regionally and internationally in the long run as well as looking at the development of sports needing support from the private sector, corporations and government-linked companies.

The Muzakarah session was followed by a discussion between LegCo members and the MCYS. The Muzakarah session acts as a platform to exchange ideas, share views, explore suggestions and also listen to current issues that will contribute in bridging the gap of delivery of services and policies of the MCYS towards improving service quality and the well-being of the people and residents of Brunei Darussalam.

Permanent Secretary (Administration, Finance and Estate) at the MCYS Pengiran Mohd Amirrizal bin Pengiran Haji Mahmud, Permanent Secretary (Strategic Management and Policy) at the MCYS Pengiran Haji Mohd Hasnan bin Pengiran Haji Ali Hassan, Permanent Secretary (Community and Culture) at the MCYS Hajah Nor Ashikin binti Haji Johari as well as heads of departments also attended the Muzakarah.

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