We congratulate the scores of Jamaicans, some of whom are no longer with us, who were on Monday formally bestowed with national honours for their contributions to the nation's development in various fields of endeavour.
As we noted in these columns three years ago, these honours are important. They presume the recipients' efforts to have been of profound value to the national community and add a sense of nobility to the honouree and his work. So, to receive a national award - especially in the higher ranks - for a body of work is, as it were, to transcend oneself.
It is in that context that we have warned before - and do so again - against anything being done that would compromise the legitimacy and/or integrity of the national honours.
We make these observations not because of specific concerns about any of this year's awardees, all of whom, we believe, would have strong, compelling cases argued in their favour.
Ours is a larger issue. It is to protect the prestige of the national honours from the possibility of erosion because they are too easily available, and to highlight our twinge of concern about the signal that might be sent of the category of persons who are likely to receive national honours.
More recognition for businessmen
The last point first. It is noticeable of the more than 80 persons who received awards in the higher ranks of the honours, only four were specifically celebrated for business and/or entrepreneurial excellence, although nine overall had business-related activities highlighted among the reasons for their awards.
Contribution to politics or other areas of national life seems, on the evidence of several years, to be a surer route to a national honour than business.
Indeed, a number of private-sector leaders, who have managed and/or built major enterprises, offered a framework for public policy and engaged fully in the national discourse, remain conspicuously absent from membership in any of the societies of honour. There is a danger, we feel, of the message being sent that robustly analytical offerings from the private sector on the issues of the day and what is required to rescue the Jamaican economy are not the kind of cloth from which national honours are cut.
Less may be more
Our second point is that in the year of Jamaica's 50th anniversary of Independence, and more than 40 years after their inauguration, it may be a good time to review national honours and the criteria by which they are awarded. For instance, we should revisit the number of categories of awards and whether some should be retired.
But more important, there ought to be questions if too many honours are awarded annually and whether the criteria for selecting honourees are thorough enough. A cap of the number of living holders of, say, the Order of Jamaica, as is now the case with the Order of Merit, might be considered. Other, but similar caps could be applied to the Order of Distinction and the change of rank within that order.
The point is that the scarcity factor would add to the prestige of the honours.
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