The Emperor's New Clothes and our national honoursThursday, October 07, 2021
For a very long time, Jamaicans have been 'wearing' The Emperor's New Clothes, if we can borrow from the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen's 1837 folk tale, in welcoming the proposed review of the national honours and awards process.
In its essence, The Emperor's New Clothes illustrates how nobody believes something, but thinks that everybody else does, and so is unwilling to criticise it.
Everybody knows that the Jamaican honours and awards process is badly flawed but is reluctant to say it publicly.
Last week, at last, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that a formal review of how candidates for national honours and awards are selected will be undertaken over the next eight months.
It's been an open, if not shameful secret that undeserving people have received national honours as reward, not for exemplary service to kin or country, but through connected parties, while people who have obviously met the criteria for such awards have been overlooked.
Long-serving politicians seem to have a rite of passage and don't have to provide distinguished service to receive national honours. We would think that if the idea is to promote the concept of service to country, then that service should at least be of some distinction.
Still, we admit that it is not immediately clear to us why the Government chose this precise moment for such a long overdue review. As far back as 2009, a committee of Parliament voiced grave concern about how the selections had been made.
“The members are of the view that individuals should not be honoured or awarded based on the discretion of those making the recommendations and, therefore, propose that the system of national honours and awards be transparent,” the committee said in its final report. Nothing of any consequence has been done since.
There is suggestion that the current process has been severely embarrassed by the award of the Order of Distinction (Commander Class) to the controversial Rev Merrick “Al” Miller and, to a lesser extent, House Speaker Mrs Marisa Dalrymple Philibert.
In 2011, Rev Miller was convicted for negligence in the loss of his licensed firearm which he insisted was stolen from his car as he stopped to pick plums at a St Andrew school. He was fined $80,000.
In 2016, the pastor was found guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice and sentenced to a $1-million fine, after Tivoli Gardens strongman Mr Christopher “Dudus” Coke was apprehended in Mr Miller's car while police searched for him in connection with an extradition request by the American Government on gun and drug-running charges.
Shortly after the honour for Miller had been announced, Rev Miller drew widespread condemnation for suggesting that schoolchildren were being used as experiment because they were being given the COVID-19 vaccine, as the Government endeavoured to reopen face-to-face classes.
Mrs Dalrymple Philibert, an attorney-at-law, went before the General Legal Council for allegations of professional misconduct over her handling of a client's estate more than two decades ago. That matter has not been concluded.
For us, the review committee cannot complete its work fast enough. The one weakness in the criteria as outlined is that there is no provision for rescinding an award from a person who has brought the national honours and awards scheme into disrepute.