BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah said the Brunei government is committed to ensuring the welfare and high quality of life for all citizens, following a periodical review of the country’s human rights record at the United Nations.

Delivering a titah in conjunction with his 73rd birthday on Monday, the monarch said several comments and proposals were given during the review in Geneva last May — which faced greater scrutiny following Brunei’s recent introduction of the Syariah Penal Code — as well recognition of the country’s efforts to promote a high level of human development.

“The international community welcomes Brunei Darussalam’s efforts in eradicating poverty and disease, providing quality eduction, drinkable clean water and safe water supply, comfortable housing as well as strengthening a just legal system where the protection of the rights of the family institution, women, children, youth, senior citizens and differently-abled people are given the utmost attention.”

Brunei faced global backlash following the full roll-out of the Syariah Penal Code last April, which contains punishments such as amputation and stoning, prompting condemnation from human rights groups and a celebrity-led boycott of Brunei government-owned businesses.

The Sultan later clarified that the country’s de facto moratorium on the death penalty will continue despite the introduction of the new legislation.

Cabinet ministers and foreign dignitaries attend celebrations for the Sultan’s 73rd birthday at Istana Nurul Iman.

In his address at Istana Nurul Iman on Monday, he said that Brunei maintains a policy of “mutual respect among nations regardless of ideology”.

“Brunei is proud of being… a country which never interferes with the affairs of others, being consistent instead only in leading a commendable religious and traditional way of life. Brunei never neglects anyone’s privacy except when the noble values are not respected or violated.”

His Majesty said the government remains committed to work with the international community, particularly in addressing major global challenges such as climate change, environmental pollution, terrorism and extremism.

Uniformed personnel march in the annual parade to mark the Sultan’s birthday on July 15, 2019. Photo: Infofoto

Economic development is also crucial to maintaining the welfare of Bruneians, he added, saying there is much room to develop the digital economy and creative industries, in a bid to diversify away from oil and gas.

A digital economy masterplan is currently being formulated to transform the country into a “Smart Nation”.

Household expenditure and living standards have risen across the country in the past five years, the monarch said, boosted by a rise in self-employment and entrepreneurship.

“However there is still room for improvement… Programmes under the National Development Plan in all sectors need to be improved. The country also needs the implementation of laws, regulations and good governance, especially related to financial management.”

HM the Sultan confers state honours to the RBAF’s Joint Force Commander Brigadier General Dato Mohd Sharif. Photo: Infofoto

Touching on state benefits, the Sultan said the government is creating a database to centralise data for agencies involved in channelling welfare, in order to better identify those in need.

He also stressed the need to reduce dependence on government aid, saying several programmes are being implemented to help marginalised communities to break the cycle of poverty.

Two weeks of celebrations for the Sultan’s 73rd birthday kicked off on Monday, starting with the annual parade of military and uniformed personnel at Taman Haji Sir Muda Omar Ali Saifuddien.

His Majesty also conferred state decorations to 15 people at Istana Nurul Iman, including Singapore’s Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Melvyn Ong, and several senior Brunei government officials from the police, military, state judiciary and civil service.

A state banquet was held in the evening to fete the monarch, which included high-profile guests from around the region such as Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat; the Philippines’ Secretary of Finance Carlo G. Dominguez III; Malaysia’s Minister of Economic Affairs Mohamed Azmin Ali; Yang di-Pertua of Sarawak, Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud; and Chief Minister of Sabah Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal.

Their Majesties and the royal family host foreign dignitaries at a state banquet for the Sultan’s 73rd birthday at Istana Nurul Iman. Photo: Infofoto