Selection criteria for national honours flawedFriday, September 03, 2021
The conferring of a national honour on Rev Merrick “Al” Miller's is lacking in good taste.
That Jamaica's system of selecting awardees for this honour is in need of urgent revamping is impatient of debate. Indeed, former Prime Minister P J Patterson was himself seized of this need when he wisely appointed the 1996 Rex Nettleford-led National Symbols and Observance Committee, the subtext of which impinged on how we honour excellence in the context of our rich Afrocentric history.
Quarter of a century on, this issue has returned to sharp national focus, in particular the criteria for consideration in the awarding of national honours by no less an august and powerful entity of the State than the national honours and awards selection committee of Cabinet, on account of the debacle surrounding the dubious conferment of the country's fifth-highest honour, the Order of Distinction (Commander class) on the extraordinary, controversial clergyman the Reverend Merrick “Al” Miller.
It is troubling to the image of our democracy that Miller's conviction and role in one of the darkest periods in our fledgling history could have escaped the national honours and awards selection committee, on which sits the serving attorney general, minister of national security, and the minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, who herself is a trained attorney-at-law.
History will recall that following on the 1996 Nettleford-led National Symbols and Observance Committee several recommendations to avoid such a pitfall and to revamp the system of selection were advanced by the 2009 Human Resources and Social Development Committee of Parliament, chaired, then, by the incumbent minister of health, Dr Fenton Ferguson, with the insistence that “merit” and not “ascription” should guide the selection process.
In this context, the appointment of Rev Al Miller against the background of his questionable antecedents merely serves to resurrect murmurs of cynicism about the annual make-up of the national honours list in face of a political system already suffering from voter apathy and the withdrawal of enthusiasm. This has occurred against the background of deep suspicion that there is no willingness on the part of Government to effect meaningful change to the decision-making process of an entity of the State, whose decisions ought, rightfully, to reflect the best in, and among, us.
As such, public disapproval of Miller's induction into the Order of Distinction on the occasion of our 59th anniversary of Independence cannot be ignored, since it threatens to derail the Government's attempt to publicly acknowledge the achievements and solid contributions of groups of citizens.
What both the Government and the wider society need to appreciate is that, in all instances, the preservation of the value and dignity of the annual appointments and awards depends greatly on a sober review of the number of yearly recipients, and, more critically, the actual process and criteria that governs their selection, among other considerations.