Mon | Mar 27, 2023

Al Miller loses national award

Published:Thursday | October 7, 2021 | 12:12 AMJovan Johnson/Senior Staff Reporter
The Rev Al Miller has lost his national award.
The Rev Al Miller has lost his national award.

The Government has withdrawn the national award it bestowed on popular pastor Merrick ‘Al’ Miller, bowing to public pressure over the decision amid the clergyman’s criminal convictions and his unrepentant attitude. The development comes as Prime...

The Government has withdrawn the national award it bestowed on popular pastor Merrick ‘Al’ Miller, bowing to public pressure over the decision amid the clergyman’s criminal convictions and his unrepentant attitude.

The development comes as Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced his intent to overhaul the selection process for the nation’s highest civilian honours.

“It has been rescinded some time now,” confirmed Dr Horace Chang, deputy prime minister and chairman of the National Honours and Awards Subcommittee of Cabinet, the group which recommends awardees.

Chang said Wednesday that he could not discuss the issue further because it was a Cabinet matter.

Miller was among 144 awardees named on Independence Day.

However, Jamaicans lashed out at the pastor’s selection, citing his two criminal convictions – one of them tied to the deadly events of May 2010, in which he was caught transporting then fugitive Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, a feared gangster whose hunt and capture made global headlines.

Miller’s response that he did not regret his role in the Coke saga, and would do it again, in addition to subsequent comments raising doubts about the vaccination of children against COVID-19, hardened public sentiments against him.

But he has now said he acknowledged the public’s disapproval in a letter he wrote to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) in which he “graciously” indicated he would not accept the award “at this time”.

“Some [people] still think there is a lot of uncertainty – the case in court and the concerns. This atmosphere is not good for the nature and the spirit of the award,” he said, noting that the issue was addressed before the September 3 meeting with Holness at Jamaica House.

Miller, who was awarded the Order of Distinction (Commander Class), said he “appreciated” what the Government did. He’s appealing one of his convictions.

“When we serve, we don’t serve for rewards; we serve and do the things we do in the best interest of people and the country and of God,” added the founding pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle, the mega church located in St Andrew.

Honouring Miller risked “spoiling what ought to be the good taste and sanity reflected in the honours list”, argued Justice of the Peace Everton Pryce, a critic of the decision.

Concerns have been raised over the years about the criteria used to select awardees.

And 12 years after a parliamentary committee recommended a more transparent system, the OPM last month announced that Holness wrote to Governor General Sir Patrick Allen advising him that the process and criteria of selecting future awardees was under review.

The OPM said a broad-based review committee – to comprise representatives from State, Government, Opposition, and civil society – will be announced shortly.

Over eight months, the committee is expected to make recommendations on a merit-based selection process, including capping the number of candidates to be awarded per category.

A system for deeper due diligence and robust vetting, as well as mechanisms to screen out undesirables, will also be considered.

The National Honours and Awards Act, which was enacted in 1969, is silent on the criteria for the Order of Distinction in both the Commander and Officer class.

The regulations and applications used to nominate persons vaguely indicate that the order can be conferred on a citizen of Jamaica or any other country who renders “outstanding and important services to Jamaica”.

The 2021 national honours will be officially presented on October 18, National Heroes Day, in a virtual ceremony.