Last night's announcement during the Nuzul Al-Quran celebration by His Majesty of a 25% increase in old age and handicapped pensions marked the 8th time this pension has been increased since it was first introduced in 1955 by our 28th Sultan. When it was first announced in 1955, it was the first time that the government has enacted a government funded modern welfare system. Though last night's announcements equally caught the majority of people by surprise just as the announcement of the accelerated salary increments last July.
The pensions are paid under the Old Age and Handicapped Pensions Act (Chapter 18) and was first introduced in 1955 when our 28th Sultan, His Majesty Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien III first announced it in a Christmas Eve speech. His Majesty when announcing it stated that the pensions are to ensure that the old aged and the handicapped in this country gets sufficient care from the government. Just for the record, the amount of old age pension was $20.00 in 1955, $25 in 1971, $30 in 1973, $37.50 in 1977, $50 in 1980, $100 in 1984, $150 in 1991 and the last increase before last night's announcement was in 1998 then making it $200.00 a month.
Since 1955, old age pensioners aged 60 and living in Brunei (15,858 recipients in 2005) are entitled to receive a monthly pension from the government. Under the handicapped pension, the blind and their dependents numbering some 130 recipients, the physically handicapped numbering some 330, those with mental illness (under the care of an institution or looked after by their family) numbering some 350 as well as Hansen disease sufferers (used to be known as leprosy) (if any, as at the moment no one is in Brunei is receiving this pension) and are not gainfully employed will also receive the same pension as the old age pensions.
Unlike other countries, whose pensions and welfare schemes are either funded by contributions from the existing workers' salaries deductions (famously known as pay-as-you-go schemes) or from savings from the workers when they were working, the Brunei pensions and welfare schemes are funded directly from the government coffers. At the moment, the payments do not constitute a large percentage of the government's total budget and the increases can be paid for.
Receiving the old age pensions is now seen as a rite of passage in Brunei. It has achieved a status symbol of a sort that you have actually arrived at something just by being old enough to receive it. So much so that the question among pensioners is that 'have you receive your old age pension?' and if you haven't, you are still considered 'young'. It is also seen as a right, a benefit, that cannot be denied. It is the mark of an elder Bruneian.