The death of the national awards?
Kaieteur News
March 21, 2007

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Every country has some form of rewarding those of its citizens who do something worthy of recognition. Often the reward is for doing something over and above the call of duty, something that goes beyond the ordinary.

In some countries certain rewards are made privately because of the nature of the service and the identity of the person if that person had been operating clandestinely. In times of war a country rewards people for sacrificing their lives and sometimes for merely being wounded.

When Britain ruled the waves, as they used to put it, the queen or the king would each year recognise those of their subjects who did something remarkable. And the people looked forward for those awards. There was none who did not take pride in being recognised and they all sported the award with pride.

To this day, there are people who proudly display their award to the extent that even when their countries award them they often hold the one from the British monarch in very high esteem.

In 1970, when Guyana declared itself a republic and formally severed ties with the monarchy, the powers that be recognised the importance of national awards and so they caused to be set up the council of the Orders of Guyana.

Many can still remember the first investiture ceremony and those awarded wore their awards with pride. For years this was to be the case. People recognised the efforts of their peers and recommended them for awards. And when those awards were made the recipients treasured them.

This was to be the case for three decades. Without fail the nation recognised the efforts of its people and made national awards available to them. Of course, these awards were treasured.

Different governments made these awards at different times. The People's National Congress announced the awards in February and made the awards in May. The succeeding government made the announcement in May and presented the awards in October.

However, over the past four years it seems as if the awards mean nothing. No longer are they being made and there has been no explanation for the apparent discontinuation of the policy of making national awards.

There are those who may conclude that people are being mischievous or malicious when they say that the government is not keen to continue the policy of awarding its people. But that surely appears to be the case. One cannot understand the reason for a nation to suddenly disregard what used to be an annual ceremony.

It cannot be that no one performed beyond the call of duty. For example, there have been cases of people going out of their way to help others. One man broke into a burning home to rescue some children; there were those men who confronted bandits and helped contain a criminal episode; there were people and organisations that offered yeoman service, especially in cases of service to the needy.

Any government that runs the risk of being accused of ignoring its people would do everything to erase that impression. There are statutory bodies in every society. The body responsible for recommending the national awards operated out of the Office of the President but included members of civil society. In most cases the people gave of their time at no cost to the state. Theirs was a case of providing a voluntary service.

The problem must be that the government does not recognise voluntary labour because if there was some statutory limitation as to the life of the term these people served then the Head of State had the power to ink the extension. He did not, sending a strange message to the rest of society.

However, in what must be a clear political statement the Head of State has announced that he will be creating a one-time award for a former President—the late President Cheddi Jagan. Is there to be a special committee? Was the award made through Presidential edict?

None could deny the posthumous award to Dr. Cheddi Jagan although in his lifetime he was bestowed with the nation's highest award. But a burning question remains; ‘Why has President Bharrat Jagdeo halted the national awards, even as none of his predecessors ever considered the thought? Are we witnessing the death of the national awards?

We do not believe that it is a case of the state abolishing the national awards. We also do not believe that there are no people to serve on the committee that determines the candidates for the awards. And we most surely do not believe that the halt in the awards is the result of laziness on the part of the administration.

What is frightening is that the longer the awards are put on hold the greater the chance of there no longer being a national award in this country.