Mon | Oct 23, 2017

‘People must be confident in national awards scheme’

Published:Thursday | October 12, 2017 | 12:00 AMByron Buckley
Foster Allen
Sir Kenneth Hall
Verene Shepherd
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Several commentators have insisted that the national honours and awards scheme must be operated according to established criteria or risk falling into disrepute and controversy.

"The national honours and awards scheme must have an institutionalised and structured system with criteria that makes it predictable, and enable people to feel confident in the selection process," stated Sir Kenneth Hall, former governor general of Jamaica.

He said that, as a central feature of nation building, the national honours and awards scheme serves to acknowledge persons who have made significant contribution and sustained efforts in critical areas of national life, as well as inspire others to do so. Sir Kenneth, who is a former principal of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, pointed out that the persons and categories being recognised signify the areas of great value in the society.

On October 16, 2017 - National Heroes Day - Governor General Sir Patrick Allen will confer national honours and awards on hundreds of recipients during a ceremony at King's House. The awardees were previously announced in the press on Independence Day, August 6. This followed submissions from the public to the Chancery of the Orders of the Societies of Honour at the Office of the Prime Minister, during the customary nomination period from January to March.

ANYONE CAN NOMINATE

Elaine Foster Allen, educator and a former permanent secretary, believes that not enough persons are aware that anyone can nominate someone for a national honour, and this has left the nominations in the hands of senior public servants and politicians. This, she lamented, has led, partially, to national honours being awarded to persons who seem to be aligned with one political administration or another.

"Sometimes it is difficult to apply the criteria to the award granted to some persons," Foster Allen commented. She emphasised that the awards are meant to celebrate excellence in a field or fields of endeavour, and that they should recognise sustained effort and performance and not just long service which might, in fact, be mediocre.

Foster Allen said that a national system of honours and awards must point to certain principles which can be recognised, and affirmed as "tried and tested principles that are good for the nation".

CHOOSE HONOUREES WISELY

UWI Professor Verene Shepherd thinks there is great value in recognising persons who have gone beyond the call of duty and met the criteria for receiving national honours, but she cautions against abandoning the selection criteria in preference for reliance on the "politics of memory". Shepherd also is opposed to something that should properly be recognised at the level of the organisation or workplace being elevated to the level of national awards.

Professor Shepherd, who is a historian, questions the decision to cut off the recognition of national hero/heroine at 1962 on Jamaica gaining political Independence, arguing that it did not end the fight for rights, respect, justice and true liberation.

"If the main criterion for being a hero/heroine is advocating for emancipation and independence, then Louise Bennett and Bob Marley qualify," reasoned Shepherd. "Miss Lou struggled for respect for our language and culture and for the creation of a post-independence society that functioned less like a colonial space. Marley used his lyrics and sayings to carry on Garvey's work of mental liberation. These are worthy post-colonial projects," the professor declared.

In November 2009, the human resources and social development committee of Parliament had recommended the establishment of a new honour - Order of Jamaican Heritage (OJH). That honour would be the second highest national honour and would be bestowed on "individuals who made significant contributions to Jamaica's heritage over an extended period of time, for example, the Honourable Louise Bennett-Coverley and the Honourable Robert Nesta Marley", the committee stated. The committee also recommended that a limited number of individuals be admitted to the Order of Merit and other honours.

However, former Governor General Sir Kenneth Hall disagrees with this approach, telling The Gleaner that the decision to recognise persons to receive national honours should be influenced by criteria rather than a historical period or quota.

Nominating persons for nat'l honours

The conferral of national honours and awards commenced in 1969.

Each year, the public is invited to nominate persons to be considered for the eight National Honours and Awards. Nominations open in January of each year and close at the end of March.

Nomination forms are available as of January each year from the Chancery, Jamaica House and government ministries, departments and agencies.

Awards are announced in the press on Independence Day, August 6. The awards are presented by the governor general on National Heroes Day, which is the third Monday in October.