Protocol Duty


Some of my colleagues kept asking me what its like to be a protocol officer for International guests. For those new to protocol it can indeed be a nerve wrecking experience - even for simple official events. Protocol reflects the harmony of events in a ceremony, a signature to mark the importance of the event - giving cognizance and respect to the VIP guests invited/present. So when one attends a ceremony involving 'invited guests' (it can be anyone - a simple farewell party for a colleague) where there will be emcees or master of ceremonies guiding the audience through the program, usherers who show guests to their seats, with speeches given by the organiser and VIPs(on official events) - packaged with a simple or a well decorated stage and maybe with press clicking their cameras which will appear in the newspaper the next day. The level of simplicity or difficulty in protocol matters differs depending on the importance of the events and also the presence of VIPs or VVIPs. So if you notice some important foreign presence in the crowd, as in the last Merdeka Celebration that we had in August last year, you may wonder how they got there. They are usually guests of the State.

The Challenge

To make this blog a simpler read let's focus on ambassadors. Being assigned on protocol duty as a liaison officer to a particular ambassador is important in itself because that particular officer plays the role of a representative for the State - a VIP tourist guide. But this tourist guide has to be all knowing about the State's history, economy, government structure on top of just knowing where the tourist hotspots are. They are usually appointed by the Protocol Department of the Chief Minister's Office depending on the level of the VIP's status.

The VIP guests would usually be recieved by either a Minister or Assistant Minister or head of department. They would usually be allocated the VVIP Room at the Airport. Now the challenging part is that officer assigned to the VIP should recognise him as he comes out of the plane - some are easy to pick out. Better still if they use business class or first class as they would come out first. But if they choose to use economy class, they would come out with the other passengers and you may need to hold up a placard with the VIP's name. Sometimes you have to be patient as there will be passengers giving you that funny look. But sometimes you can be distracted too if sweet young things start smiling at you or those coming out from the plane are some long lost friend or relatives whom you have not seen for the past 10 years.

Sometimes the VIP guests stay in the State for more than a few days so some of the programmes can include visiting interesting spots in Sarawak - of course the liaison officer will be tagging along - the above picture was one of our trips to Semenggok Wildlife Centre where we had to wait for a few hours to see the Orang Utan in the wild. I guess I looked more like the Orang Utan that time as I was wearing lounge suit in the moddle of the jungle.

Usually they will either pay a courtesy call to our Governor or Chief Minister or both. So the more VIPs there are the more protocol officers involved

The hardest part will be during official lunchs or dinners - if there are a group of ambassadors and VIPs (and wives) involved, the protocol officer have to arrange the seating arrangements accordingly (sometimes according to seniority). The toughest part is to remember their names and assign them to their seats. Its easy if their names are as simple as Tom or Joe or just Mr. Bush - but if it sounds like DYMM Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Ibni Al-Marhum Tuanku Syed Putra Jamalullail then you better have a pretty good memory. If the Ruler's Conference was suddenly held in the State one would need to have a very good memory power with the names of our royalties.

And thats not the end. After the events are over, its time to accompany them back to the airport through the VVIP Rooms again. Its another tough job as you do have to make sure they check in early (which is why you have to liaise with their Embassy in Kuala Lumpur or if the Ambassadors decide to change flights and he prefers a certain seat). To process the passport and check in one has to consider the distance from the VVIP room to the ticketing counter and the immigration counter. You would be lucky if the VIP guest has not brought along his massive golf bag and other suitcases. The State Government usually will send the senior State VIPs to accompany the Ambassador in the VVIP room while you process the tickets and passport. Above is the recent photo of the visit by the British High Commissioner, His Excellency Boyd Mcleary at the departure hall of Kuching International Airport. Those present at the sending off were Datuk Len Latif (STIDC CEO), Datuk Robert Lian (Sarawak Immigration Chief) and Dr. Ngenang (Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Industrial Development Sarawak)

The Fun

But sometimes it can be a good experience and fun too. You may get invited to their wine and dine sessions... *hic*...excuse me...

How to drink red wine - that is what the French Ambassador (on the left) is showing us. Now i can differentiate the French ways and the Iban way. The French do it Elegantly.... the Ibans do it Langgakly (also known as One Go Langgak or Bottoms up).

You also get to ride in an escorted car with the Police Outriders (with sirens) clearing traffic for you. Even during the most busy days in the afternoon with the parents picking up their children on Kuching's congested roads - the trip from the Kuching International Airport to the Kuching City Centre is a mere ten minutes. I have got to get me a few of those outriders :)

Being stationed with the Ambassadors in a 5 Stars Hotel - you get to meet interesting and well known personalities. Amongst those I met in a single day include Akademi Fantasia's Marsha and Bob. I also managed to catch up with the ever fast Alex Yoong. So Not bad... not bad at all.

The only things to watch out for are that there will be some people (in big events especially) who think they are also 'VIPs' and start bossing you around but one needs to remember one's duty to your assigned VIP. That's why its important to recognise the other guests and their designations too, especially during important events. But for Marsha, I guess I will love to volunteer to be the unofficial liaison officer - we had good times at the Hilton :) ......


Why not you become a wedding planner..? It has also a lot of protocols to follow. Maybe for your retirement job.

Anyways, it is a good insight. I wonder, how do you address the royalties..? Do you say out the DYMM and then their names followed by their father's name whenever you call on them?

Why some ministers are so particular about protocol and some don't even bother with the ceremony. I had one guy who doesn't even bother about protocol. He just cooly made himself very at home. He was a VVIP.
Apai Salleh said…
Interesting, Sarawak has Curtin, Swinbourne and Inti. Perhaps the current HE may promote the idea of UK faculties in Sarawak, especially in the Sciences. Who knows what the future may bring.
Uchu Keling said…
Congrats on your new assignment. Hectic but I think you'll enjoy it.