BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah has named the mega Temburong bridge after his late father, Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien.

In a titah broadcast to mark his 74th birthday on Tuesday, the monarch said the bridge is a symbol of Brunei’s modernity and reminded him of his late father’s legacy as the “Architect of Modern Brunei”.

“It is this memory that has inspired me to name this bridge Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien bridge. Hopefully by mentioning this name, it will bring him blessings,” he said.

The $1.4 billion bridge, which links Brunei’s most remote district with the capital, opened ahead of schedule on March 17 as the COVID-19 outbreak forced the government to close its borders.

Before the opening of the 26.3 km cross-sea bridge, Temburong commuters were required to pass through Sarawak’s Limbang and four border checkpoints before reaching the capital.

The sultan’s annual birthday titah this year was pre-recorded and televised instead of his customary live address at Istana Nurul Iman due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s birthday parade and investiture ceremony were cancelled while other celebratory events are curtailed with physical distancing measures in place.

HM the Sultan wears a face mask to perform prayers at the Jame’ ‘Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque on the eve of his 74th birthday. Photo: Infofoto

Economic impact of COVID-19

Speaking on the economic effects of the global pandemic, His Majesty said the government will continue to work towards mitigating the negative impact of the crisis, while creating a conducive environment for foreign investors.

The sultan said the recent establishment of Petroleum Authority of Brunei Darussalam is aimed at regulating and monitor oil and gas operations, including two major new projects in the downstream sector – Hengyi’s crude oil refinery and an ammonia and urea plant developed by Brunei Fertiliser Industries.

The US$3.45 billion refinery — a joint venture between China’s Hengyi Industries and the Brunei government — has generated $1.22 billion in export revenue since it started production in November 2019. Meanwhile, the $1.8 billion international standard ammonia and urea plant in Sungai Liang Industrial Park is expected to start operations in the second quarter of 2021.

The sultan expressed hope that the FDI projects — along with the establishment of the Manpower Planning and Employment Council — would help reduce local employment, which stood at 6.8 percent last year.

New national welfare system goes live

To coincide with the monarch’s birthday, the new digitalised National Welfare System was launched today, aimed at centralising all applications for government welfare to avoid duplication of benefits.

Members of the public will be able to make online applications for welfare assistance, with the authorities hoping it will speed up the payment process.

As part of broader welfare reforms, Brunei has changed how they calculate welfare cheques based on two methods –  Minimum Cost of Basic Needs and OECD-modified scale.

His Majesty went on to say that the Digital Economy Masterplan 2025, a five-year roadmap will transform Brunei into a ‘Smart Nation’.

The masterplan lists 17 projects that will be implemented in the next five years.

In terms of foreign policy, the monarch said Brunei will maintain close ties with friendly countries through bilateral and multilateral relations.

Stability in ASEAN, the Asia Pacific region as well as globally is the main goal, he added.