It's time to review Dominica's system of granting national awards
Over the past few years, Dominicans have given the impression that they have gone completely out of their minds about the handing out of awards to whomever and for whatever. They say people must be given their flowers before they die. So almost every organisation gives awards to everyone they think deserves that award. But the granting of national awards is a completely different matter.
Last week Saturday, the National Cultural Council dished out another 11 awards, five Golden Drum and six Special Recognition awards, to people who have contributed significantly to the preservation and development of Dominica's culture. Since 1982, when the Council introduced the Golden Drum Awards system, dozens of persons have been recognized for their "sterling contributions" to cultural development.
Additionally, in November every year, during the observance of the Dominica's independence, the Government of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit will, as is customary, present a range of awards to a number of persons in many fields or endeavour. And depending on whether you are a government supporter or a fan of the opposition you will conclude that many of these awardees did, or did not, deserve that particular award.
For example, when the Government of Dominica, a few years ago, bestowed the Sisserou Award on Urban Baron for his contribution as Parliamentary Representative for Petite Savanne there were perceptible moans of dissatisfaction among the witnesses at the national awards ceremony. One disapprover suggested that he could not remember one single statement or contribution that Baron uttered in the House of Assembly. He opined then that Baron's supporters elected him for more than 20 years and over these years Baron just sat lethargically in Parliament. Did he do enough to deserve a Sisserou Award?
Evidently, members of Baron's political party, the Dominica Labour Party (he has since changed sides) thought differently. There were similar reactions in 2015 when Anthony Astaphan, Prime Minister Skerrit's lawyer and spokesman received the Sisserou Award of Honour.
These examples seem to suggest that politicians probably believe that national awards are their property to hand over to whomever they consider to be worthy and, of course, people who publicly support the opposition are never commendable enough to receive awards.
But this abuse of national awards is not unique to Dominica. A case in point is Jack Warner, the then acting prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago who, according to an Express editorial, issued a promise of a national award to Neil Ramsubhag, a 13 year-old school boy who was kidnapped and held in a forest.
Additionally, we are of the view that in a country with a population as small as Dominica's, it will always be a challenge to find many top performers in any field or endeavour who are worthy of receiving national awards. It is a common trend that the first persons who receive these awards are excellent but the others who are chosen over the ensuing years are distinctly less deserving. In other words, the value of the Golden Drum Award or the Sisserou Award of Honour diminishes each year because the administrators of these awards grant so many.
The current approach to the granting of national awards takes away from the prestige of the awards and cheapens them in the eyes of the public. Even enlightened self-interest should cause us to understand this and to do everything to ensure that these awards get the national respect that would ensure that prestige.
Awards are nothing and hold no real value if they do not symbolise the achievement of the best we have to offer in the various areas of endeavour.
We have a similar view on the granting of the Dominica's highest award, the Dominica Award of Honour (DAH). We contend that too many of these medals of honour have been issued and that the numbers should be restricted along the lines of Jamaica's Order of Merit, the third highest honour conferred by that nation on its citizens. Jamaicans have determined that the OM can be held by no more than 15 living persons. In Dominica's case there are no such restrictions and about 28 DAH's have been dished out since independence in 1978. In the Seventies the government of Dominica went overboard in issuing DAH's- in 1974 (3); 1977 (4) and 1978 (5).
Undoubtedly Dominicans consider these awards to be things of value, worthy of being aspired to because year after year we witness the display of pride and joy from recipients of even the lowest award. They believe that these badges and insignias represent something larger than themselves and that their country has recognised their contributions.
Dominicans must, therefore, protect the intrinsic value of the national honours. Any diminution in their value reduces the greatness of the honourable recipients of the past and, most importantly, of the country itself.
Hence we need to ensure that the selection process for the granting of national awards is rigorous and exacting and capable of withstanding any scrutiny.
We believe, therefore, that the process of bestowing national awards must be reviewed. And as we suggested earlier Dominica must place a strict limit on the number of top-tier honours such as the DAH and the SAH. And most importantly, we must develop a selection process that removes the award of these honours from being the almost sole prerogative of the prime minister.
Otherwise there will always be the impression that potential awardees had to subject themselves to the indignity of playing party politics, such as keeping silent on critical national issues, in order to be considered worthy of receiving an award.