Pensioners thank caring monarch
By Azlan Othman & Za'im Zaini

The increase in pension rate for the old and disabled people, announced by His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam Monday, is expected to benefit nearly 17,000 people in the country.

According to figures from the Community Services Department, as of Dec 31, 2005, there are over 16,666 pension recipients, with the biggest number from Brunei-Muara District at 9,133.

Of the total figure, 136 recipients are visually-impaired, 346 have psychological problems and 326 are disabled.

The increase in pension rate comes on the heels of accelerated increments announced by His Majesty three months ago for government servants.

His Majesty announced the latest increase in his titah marking the revelation of the Holy Quran Monday night.

Many elderly citizens have expressed their appreciation to the caring monarch.

Awg Haji Piut bin Tarsad, who lives alone and is nearing 80, told the Bulletin that he is grateful to His Majesty for increasing the allowance. The pension hike he says can lessen his burden as he depends on the money for his daily needs. He hopes that it can help his business in Kianggeh.

Dyg Hjh Rafiah binte Jaluddin, 75, from Kg Pekilong, Muara also expressed her gratitude to His Majesty for increasing the pension and wished His Majesty prosperity and good health. She too uses her pension money to buy her daily necessities.

Meanwhile, 80-year-old Dyg Hjh Saadiah Yassin told the Bulletin that she was delighted when she heard the announcement.

"I think this is the first time I have heard of an increase in the pension rate in many years," she said. Dyg Hjh Saadiah, who currently lives with her son, said the news about the increase in pension could not have come at a better time with the upcoming Hari Raya festival.

Those still working are also overcome with joy following the announcement.

Dyg Rokayah Hj Kawang, a government employee who hails from Kg Sinarubai, said she was full of joy to see her mother happy when told of the news of the increase in pension rate.

"For low level income earners like us it is a good news as it will help alleviate our burden. It is not that we don't have any to give her (her mother) but sometimes it is difficult because we have our own family to look after," she said.

"My family members are all happy to hear the news and this move will bring blessings to His Majesty and the nation," she added.

Others believe that the increase should be best utilised by sharing them with the needy. Hjh Rafiah Hj Tengah, 73, from Kg Sinaut said she will donate the one month extra pension allowance that she will receive to the needy people.

Hjh Rafiah, the first Bruneian midwife who used to carry out her duties in some of the remote areas of the country, expressed her thanks to His Majesty for his caring attitude towards the elderly. She retired from her post as a midwife 18 years ago.

The pension allowance in Brunei is $200. The same amount goes to the disabled people as well. For those suffering from psychological problems (aged 15 years and above), every person will receive $200 while his/her spouse will receive $150. Their dependents (children) will receive $150 for those aged 15 years and above and $90 for those aged 15 years and below.

For visually impaired recipients (aged 15 years and above), the pension allowance is fixed at $200, while the spouse will get $150, children aged 15 years and above will receive $150 and $90 for children aged 15 years and below.

The pension for the old and disabled people scheme was enforced 51 years ago as aspired by Al-Marhum Sultan Hj Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien. It was aimed at helping residents 60 years and above to upgrade their standard of living as well as to upgrade the standard of disabled people and their families.

To qualify for the scheme, an applicant must be aged 60 years and above and must have lived in the country for not less than 10 years (for those born in Brunei) and not more than 30 years (for those born outside Brunei). In addition, they should not leave the country for more than three months consecutively.

For visually impaired and their dependents, the person must be aged 15 years and above, does not have a fixed job and income, must have resided in the country for not less than 10 years and has an approval from the government medical authority.

For those with psychological problems and their dependents, they must be aged 15 years and above, are mentally disturbed, do not have a fixed income and job. They must have resided in Brunei for not less than 10 years, obtain an approval from a government medical officer and treated at any health centre or government medical centre or under the care of family or friends.

Meanwhile, to be eligible for disabled pension, the person must be aged 15 years and above, disabled and could not work, must have resided in Brunei for not less than 10 years, obtain an approval from the government medical authority and must have been in a disabled situation for a continuous period.

The rate of pension back in 1955 to 1971 was only $20, $25 (1971-1973), $30 (73-76), $37.50 (77-79), $50 (80-83), $100 (84-91), $150 (91-98) and $200 from 1998. - Borneo Bulletin (11th October 2006)