In the past Guyanese looked forward to the announcement of national honours on Republic Day. Even though after 1992 they were announced on Independence Day in an effort to restore the celebration of Independence to pride of place, Republic Day has remained the larger event because of Mashramani. Today is a good day to reflect on the subject of national honours.
Since the awards were established, thousands of mostly deserving Guyanese have been honoured. However, the two past PPP/C Governments have awarded national honours only once each in 2002 and 2011. This Government has made no awards. Those Guyanese who toil selflessly for a lifetime in service of our country, even if most of the truly deserving make their contribution without the thought of national recognition, have ceased being acknowledged. As a result everyone now appears to have forgotten that a system of national honours exist and the sense of anticipation at an annual announcement, be it on Republic Day or Independence Day, has completely dissipated.
In the past it meant a lot for our country that those who lead by selfless example should be recognized for what they do, as well as being representative of what many others are doing, because not every deserving person can receive a national honour. The recognition of our heroes helps to build patriotism, a national ethos, commitment to service and greater effort, set examples for and inspiration to youth, establish narratives about great Guyanese who achieve so much for our people and make exceptional contributions to our welfare. All of these reasons, and more, why national honours exist in countries have been forgotten in Guyana and the system of national honours has been cast aside as a useless relic.
The award of national honours is statute based. The Honours Committee is headed by the Chancellor of the Judiciary. It makes non-political recommendations based on nominations it receives from all kinds of bodies. It now advertises for nominations as well and its recommendations still include retiring civil servants, nurses, teachers, social workers, cultural workers, business entrepreneurs, sports personalities and others. The recommendations then go to the President. He would normally add his own honourees, mainly of political but perhaps of other deserving persons he may wish to have included.
More than ten years in total have elapsed during which those Guyanese, and they are many, who have toiled for the benefit of our nation have remained and will remain forgotten. Since no explanations have been given, we must assume that the past Governments did not, and the current one does not, believe either that there are Guyanese or enough Guyanese who qualify, or that national honours should be retained.
An example of an egregious omission is Wordsworth McAndrew. In 2007 he was ailing and it was a matter of urgency that he be considered. A substantial effort, made at about that time, to obtain a national honour for him in 2007 did not succeed. But others far less deserving were individually honoured just months later. He died in 2008 and embarrassed but, as it turned out, empty promises were made to honour this national treasure in some way. Even in 2011 when a long list of persons were honoured, including posthumously, Wordsworth’s name was omitted.
Today would have been a great day to recognize his vast contribution to Guyana’s cultural wealth, exemplified by his unforgettable narrative poem, ‘Old Higue,’ by naming an event for him. For his vast contribution to Guyana’s cultural wealth, his name will live on as long as Guyana exists. His country’s acknowledgment of his contribution was declined even though Guyanese culture could have been recognized through one of its most famous living representatives, while he was alive. His case is one of the best examples of those who have worked selflessly for Guyana for a lifetime just for the love of doing so. There are others, some well known but maybe without the correct political credentials, others less so.
The last thing on the minds of people who serve Guyana beyond the call of duty is recognition of any sort. They will continue to do what something in their character compels them to do. They will still be Guyana’s heroes but we will have to seek them out in the nooks and crannies of our communities, working against overwhelming odds, never complaining, except to point out how much more they can do, with just a little bit extra. Their example will continue to shame and haunt us because we could not do what they do, and our nation never sees the wisdom of giving that little bit extra. Worst of all, it appears that our nation no longer recognizes that there are such people in our midst.
While we joyously celebrate our nation’s achievements today, and look forward to negotiation and compromise from our leaders to further develop Guyana, let us on this Republic Day also proclaim and remember the existence of those who toil unheralded for the less fortunate among us, and say thanks to them, even as the authorities fail to recognize them.