Grassroots leaders seek better safety

National 4 minutes, 44 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

GRASSROOTS leaders across the Sultanate expressed concerns over the current distribution process of pension funds and welfare allowances yesterday.

The current process requires them to carry and safeguard from $30,000 up to $200,000 every month before handing out the money to the respective recipients.

When approached by The Brunei Times, some of the 170 grassroots leaders – comprising Penghulu Mukims (Sub-district chief), village heads and long-house village heads – said that the Community Development Department (JAPEM) had overlooked their safety status over the years.

Landless Indigenous Citizens Housing Scheme (STKRJ) Lambak Kiri village head Hj Hamdani Omar said he has been responsible for distributing the pension funds and welfare allowances to 530 and 140 recipients respectively for over 20 years.

His duty as village head is to collect the money from JAPEM at the end of every month and drive the sum back to his house.

He would then put the money in his safe deposit box.

“There has never been any case of theft or robbery,” Hj Hamdani said on the sidelines of yesterday’s annual Berakas A and B Mukim Consultative Council (MPK) dialogue at the Brunei-Muara District Office's headquarters

He however admitted that he has always been worried about keeping the money safe whenever it is the end of the month.

Hj Hamdani has voiced out his concerns to JAPEM to increase security at the parking lot of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports.

“I suggested to them (JAPEM) not to mix us with the public during the time. There should be a special room for us because we are carrying a lot of money,” he said.

The village head said it was impossible to distribute the money completely in one day, adding that some 300 recipients usually drop by on the first day of distribution.

Major (R) Hj Md Jair Hj Abdul Wahab, Lambak B village head, agreed that the process of distributing money takes more than a day.

“I have around 400 plus recipients of the pension funds and welfare allowances. In one day, I can only distribute the money to some 70 people because I will only entertain them during the day. I will not distribute money after 6pm,” he said, adding that the entire process usually takes up to 10 days.

Asked whether it was safe for him and his family to keep the large sum of money in the house, he replied that it all depends on each of the grassroots leaders’ initiative to ensure their own safety.

“I know it’s unfair when compared to banks... they have security guards and CCTVs. We only depend on the trust of our family members,” he said.

He went on to say that people should avoid showing their money to others because it might attract robberies.

“My only protection is doa (supplication) from Allah SAW,” said the 67-year-old.

Meanwhile Hj Mahir Md Yusof, RPN Lambak Kanan B village head, suggested relevant authorities to provide escort for grassroots leaders during the days when the funds are to be distributed.

He also hoped the Royal Brunei Police Force could expand security around JAPEM during the payday.

Hj Mahir said one of the reasons why some seats of the grassroots leaders remain vacant was due to the burden of handling large sums of money.

According to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Home Affairs, there are 10 vacancies for Penghulu Mukims, 45 vacancies for village heads and five job vacancies for long-house village heads throughout the country.

There are 14 Penghulu Mukims in the Brunei-Muara District, 32 in Tutong District, 15 in Belait and 5 in Temburong.

In terms of village heads, there are 84 in Bunei-Muara, 27 in Tutong District, 14 in Temburong District and 9 in Belait.

There is no long-house village head in the Brunei-Muara District. There is one in Tutong District and six in Belait.

Hj Mahir said the job was high risk, especially when they have to manage hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The current basic salary for a village head is $1,280 per month.

“But (what we are risking) monthly is the safety of our lives,” he said.

In Tutong, Kg Sinaut village head Hj Sidek Hj Mesir, said managing and handling a large sum of money is part of his duty.

“All you have to do is be careful. You are not encouraged to distribute the money at night,” he said.

A village head since 2005, Hj Sidek has never encountered any case of theft at his house regarding the loss of the funds.

“I think it depends on the villages. In my village, it is safe. I believe in the residents in this village,” he said.

There are more than 90 recipients of the pension funds and welfare allowances in Kg Sinaut.

He said that it would take him five to seven days to completely distribute the money because some of the residents are no longer living in Kg Sinaut.

Hj Sidek suggested the people who are no longer living in the village to change their address. But, some of them prefer him because they know him well.

He would distribute the money after the Asar prayer at Kg Sinaut Mosque during payday.

“This month, I drove to JAPEM, Tutong, on December 22 at 8 in the morning and waited in queue for my turn to collect the money to be distributed to the residents in my village,” he said.

“Sometimes, I will be carrying thousands of dollars in two bags. It’s not a problem. It’s part of my job. But I wish the government could provide security for us. Especially when we want to go to our cars,” added Hj Sidek.

Brunei-Muara Acting District Officer Mislee Hj Abd Karim said, during yesterday's Consultative Council meeting, they would file the suggestions to the relevant authorities .

The Brunei Times