BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — Two weeks of celebrations for the monarch’s 75th birthday kicked off at Taman Haji Sir Muda Omar Ali Saifuddien on Thursday, but events this year will be held on a smaller-scale due to the ongoing health risks posed by the global pandemic.
With public celebrations cancelled last year, Thursday saw the return of the ceremonial guard of honour to mark the beginning of festivities.
His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah presided over the field presentation mounted by uniformed personnel, which saw officers perform a march-past to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and concluded with a fly-past over the capital.
All invited guests for the ceremony were required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in line with new protocols established by the Ministry of Home affairs for the monarch’s birthday events, including crowd limits.
In 2020, the military ceremony and medal presentation at the palace were cancelled due to ongoing concerns over COVID safety. This year, the government decided to go ahead with public events except for the annual royal banquet held at the palace.
Behind the scenes, hundreds of frontliners were on duty to make sure the programme went smoothly on Thursday, as large crowds gathered outside the padang to watch the ceremony.
Pg Laila Halip Pg Md Shamri, an ambulance commander, said several ambulances and 100 medical personnel were deployed to ensure crowd safety. Two static clinics were set up at Taman SOAS to treat any emergencies.
Sixteen fire trucks and boats were also on standby, according to the Fire and Rescue Department.
Students and teachers were also involved in the festivities this year, lining up along Bandar roads to wave mini-flags as the sultan and the other royal family members made their way to the venue.
16 people awarded state decorations at Istana
After a year’s hiatus, the annual investiture ceremony took place at Istana Nurul Iman in the late morning. Sixteen people, mostly high-ranking government officers, were awarded state decorations by His Majesty.
His Royal Highness Prince ‘Abdul Mateen, the monarch’s second youngest son and a major in the Royal Brunei Air Force, was conferred the Most Exalted Order of Paduka Keberanian Laila Terbilang (first class), which carries the title ‘Dato Seri Paduka’.
The Most Gallant Order of Pahlawan Negara Brunei (first class) was bestowed upon the three top military commanders – Brigadier General Hj Muhammad Haszaimi Boi Hassan, commander of the Royal Brunei Land Force; First Admiral Spry Hj Serudi @ Hj Seruji, commander of the Royal Brunei Navy; and Brigadier General Hj Abdul Razak Hj Abd Kadir, commander of RBAF Joint Force.
The award carries the title ‘Dato Seri Pahlawan’.
Other medal recipients included Syariah High Court judge Hj Johar Hj Muhammad, who was conferred The Most Eminent Order of Islam Brunei (second class), which carries the title ‘Dato Seri Setia’, and Professor Ooi Choon Jin, a gastroenterologist from Singapore who was awarded The Most Distinguished Order of Paduka Seri Laila Jasa (second class), which carries the title ‘Dato Seri Laila Jasa’.
Five recipients received The Most Honourable Order of Seri Paduka Mahkota Brunei (second class): Hj Yusop Hj Mahmud, the auditor-general; Hj Sufian Hj Sabtu, director of Internal Security Department; Hj Asmawee Hj Muhammad, director of the Brunei Research Department; Mohd Zalani Hj Ismail, director of the Narcotics Control Bureau; and Suhana Hj Sudin, director of the Anti-Corruption Bureau.
The award carries the title ‘Dato Paduka’.
Another five were conferred with The Most Blessed Order of Setia Negara Brunei (third class): Hj Amer Hishamuddin POKAPDSS Hj Zakaria, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Development; Hjh Tutiaty Hj Abdul Wahab, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism; Dr Nor Imtihan Hj Abd Razak, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Development; Dr Hjh Haslinda Hj Mohd Hassan, endocrinology consultant at the Ministry of Health; and Hjh Maslina Yuliah Abdullah, director of the Department of Agriculture and Agrifood.