When the national honour awardees virtually assemble to collect their awards on National Heroes day, this year, the previously proposed recipient Merrick ‘Al’ Miller will happily not be among them. “It has been rescinded some time now” the Minister of National Security and (somewhat ironically) Chairman of the National Awards Committee, Dr. Horace Chang is reported to have said (Gleaner October 7, 2021). We will never know whether Rev’d Al Miller, a convicted villain, was asked or voluntarily decided to give it up his OD designation but credit must be given to him for bringing into stark focus the dolly house operation under which National Awards are bestowed in this country.
For too many years, the Committee has managed to ignore recommendations from citizens of goodwill for awards to be made to fellow citizens – community/nation builders who give of themselves freely and often times sacrificially for decades, only to hear nothing of them in the annual announcements even after repeated submissions to the Committee. Donna Gowe of Mountain View who Devon Spence (writing in the Gleaner of September 15, 2021) says deserves a national award because of her life changing transformational work in the inner city, is no more likely to succeed under the existing arrangements, than a similar functionary in the Gordon Town community or a Canada based Jamaican dentist who had been travelling back to Jamaica every summer for some 20 years – sometimes with much needed equipment – to see patients free of charge from a community clinic. Repeated recommendations made in the latter two cases have not been considered sufficiently meritorious to earn the approval of the esteemed Committee.
It was 3 ½ years ago when, in an article captioned “National or Notional Heroes” in the Public Opinion of March 26, 2018, I said that “National honours are the embodiment of a national value system and should not be used as the personal asset of any single individual to return or curry favour or be thrown around like confetti.” The government is no longer able to divorce itself from the reality of this dilemma with the searchlight now fully turned on the “System” and most of us are realizing for the first time at last that the National Awards Committee is a full blown partisan construct comprising 8 members of the ruling party – Dr. Horace Chang (Chair), Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, Kamina Johnson Smith, Marlene Malahoo Forte, Karl Samuda, Desmond McKenzie, Ed Bartlett and Aubyn Hill (Gleaner, August 28, 2021). Seriously?
The Prime Minister is now promising a full overhaul of the system which will see representatives of the State, Opposition and Civil Society sitting on the Committee. That is terrific news but he must go further than this. He must ensure that the JLP operatives – all eight of them – who supervised the most recent awardee selection process be thrown out with the bathwater and never again asked to direct or pronounce on such lofty undertakings.