The transgression was not the complaint that the award had been given to the wrong person.
That criticism is as old as award ceremonies themselves.
It’s, rather, the concern over the apparent penchant to gift the country’s national awards in a manner that seems relatively gratuitous and inconsistent with their origin and purpose.
The most blatant contamination of he National Awards with politics occurred when Bharrat Jagdeo boasted of stepping outside of the provisions of the Orders of Guyana to create the Order of Liberation , custom made for President Cheddi Jagan- a one-time singular honor, never to be conferred again, as if it were to go ‘poof’ after the ceremony.
The motivation was, unquestionably, that of deifying Cheddi, elevating him past President Forbes Burnham who was the recipient of the Nation’s highest honor, the Order of Excellence. So a crass one-upmanship, a higher than highest, was resorted to which ironically, indelibly highlights the motive of Jagdeo more than it does the indisputable contribution of Cheddi Jagan to Guyana’s politics, he being a pioneer and champion in the campaign for British Guiana’s independence from Britain.
That usurpation of authority, creating a Special Award under the banner national, as if it were the will of the people, began its race to dilution. The conference of awards then took on a more political face, as claims of those selected because of “outstanding work to benefit country” could easily be disproven… nominees who were largely of a specific racial hue and partisan persuasion; challenging the Awards on the bases of efficacy and purpose.
And like those things go, the charade, subsequently, became burdensome and all but stopped for about four years because, as some say, these ceremonies require a level of social comportment, an elegance and belief in protocol that seemed to be an uncomfortable fit for those who would confer, within the PPP.
So, when the Coalition entered government and President Granger vowed to revive the Ceremony of National Awards, the arc of expectation sort of shifted from flat line to blips of restoration. People liked that the National Awards were going to revert to its stature of origin -symbols of the country’s values and pride with demonstrable and checkable contributions.
Everyone, after all, doesn’t get to have a ribbon.
There was more than just disenchantment,therefore, when the Order of Roraima was awarded to a Mayor who had virtually squatted in place for two decades, neutered by a government’s revenge for allegedly reneging on a shared ‘Mayoring’ deal….between him and a PPP selectee. And the issue doesn’t need a polemic analysis, not when the facts are that he ‘Mayored’ Georgetown during the years of its shift from garden to garbage city; all amidst his adamant pledges to ‘mismanage’ in place.
A resignation from his Mayorship to protest the administrative strangulation of the PPP may have catapulted him past many of his blemishes into the realm of award recipient but he stayed, even after admitting that he had struck the rotation deal, unable to effectively do his job.
The distinction between selfish defiance and political martyrdom leaps out here…though some would make this a discussion between strident polemic and defensive assertion. Public service and Self service are starkly unrelated and reside in two different arenas, melding only when there is some element of impropriety. Knowingly collecting a salary to not perform the duties you’re expected to is not public service , even if your claim is that you were protecting the sanctity of the seat you unsanctified with your unholy pact.
Even the lawyer who suggests that this behavior is part of an enduring philosophy must know of the Doctrine of Clean Hands…
The awards were reinstated but they are falling frighteningly short of collective expectations. They are still symbols of the country’s values and pride. By themselves, they are physically worthless but what makes them valuable is the perception of their value, a perception that is not intuitive but created…and can be dismantled by what may be seen as an arbitrary hand out, even when lionized by ethereal words of praise and exaltation.
There was unspeakable joy when President Granger reinstated the awards on the back of : “These awards must not be conferred capriciously or irregularly…..” It signaled the return to national decency and celebration of those whose contributions can be measured against the substance of the awards.
But how does one measure “Sterling Contributions to National Development” when the contribution is ongoing, is not finite and was gauged on performance that has a lifespan for just about that of the government? Is the inference here that the National Awards is a, fundamentally, scandalous institution that may often have nothing to do with earning but more to do with its gifting? This questions not only the integrity of the award but that of the recipient who knows that theirs is a gift and by extension the erosion of this institution that is a repository of national values.
What has changed? The lament is that the return to national decency has been truncated by the incontinent enthusiasm to practice that noxious tribal politics. Wrong is a universal application. It was wrong when the Opposition disrespected the symbolism of National Awards and is wrong when the Coalition continues to do it.People want to celebrate those amongst them who are genuinely making a calculable difference, so it is important that the prize goes to the right person and for reasons that are meaningful, not contrived or exaggerated or just plain non existent.
As long as the Nation believes that its awards are a reflection of its core values, that they are a symbol of national pride, then they have to be awarded to the right people or their efficacy will be diluted. Equally as important, if the same awards are made to both the deserving and undeserving then the whole thing just becomes political theater.
The government, therefore, has a fiduciary responsibility to preserve the integrity of National Awards, if only for the people who have elected them to enforce lawfulness.
A National Award is a form of cultural capital that accrues to those deserving of it and should come not from gift or grant or as reward for an over stay in office that yielded only diminishing returns.
A National Award is not the reward or gift of a politician.
It is one of the things that belong to Caesar.
That said, there are many recipients who have been duly awarded and their “Sterling Contributions to National Development” are without dispute because theirs, incontrovertibly, rise above the disease of politics, the tarnish of cronyism and the blemish of nepotism.
In short, it was not a hand out, a one-size-fits all reward to stamp political presence.
Will add that an attorney opined that suggesting Mayor Green squatted in office “smacks of ad hominem malice”.
The irony …..when ad hominem and malice were weapons wielded with enviable dexterity by this politician.
But one must admit that the phrase has lawyerly cadence to it….