National awardees must reflect nation

Dear Editor,

The APNU-AFC coalition celebrates Guyana’s 50th anniversary since attaining political independence. The coalition announced that it plans to honour (with national awards) individuals and organisations that played a significant role in the struggle for our freedom and/or contributed to national development (only a few independence freedom fighters are still around).

The government can look to the model used in other countries in selecting awardees that will not result in charges of racial and/or political bias as took place last year May after the coalition assumed power.

I visited India last January for its independence and again in March and was privileged to witness Republic Day parade and the announcement by the President’s office of national civilian awardees. (India gives out honours for Republic instead of Independence Day). Individuals and organisations were recognised for dedicated service to the nation or their communities.

India, like other nations, gives out national honours in recognition of distinguished contribution or exceptional service in various spheres of activity including science, arts, humanities, education, literature, sports, journalism (including writings on the Indian diaspora), medicine, social service, public affairs, entertainment, Promotion of India abroad, service to the diaspora, etc. Some foreigners are also recognized (with national awards) who contribute in various ways to India or the diaspora. In India, awardees are given a certificate and medal.

In India, the awardees tend to reflect the face of the nation in terms of geographic and ethnic composition (race, tribe, caste, etc.) of the population and party affiliation. What takes place in India is very much the opposite of what took place last year in Guyana where after only two weeks in office, the APNU-AFC coalition gave out national honours primarily to its supporters who were primarily from one race group. Last year’s blunder should be avoided.

In India, as in the US, Canada, UK, Mexico, etc, the ruling party does not restrict national honours primarily to its supporters. Mostly deserving individuals have been honoured in India unlike in Guyana where national recognition is politically motivated.

As happened under the PPP and PNC, and under APNU-AFC last May, highly deserving individuals were left out in order to favour party supporters.

PPP post-Jagan recognised friends; one could not figure out what some of the awardees did other than being friends to the party leadership. Those who contributed to the freedom movement or anti-dictatorial liberation movement (including from the diaspora) were not recognised.

In fact, PPP recognised some individuals who were in bed with the dictatorship believing they reformed themselves. When the government changed last May, some of them went right back in bed with the former dictators.

The APNU/AFC regime was roundly condemned last year for its racial and political bias in giving out national honours; few Indians and Amerindians were recognised for their contributions to the nation.

People hardly knew some of the coalition awardees; several of them hardly did anything noteworthy or of distinction that benefited the nation or any community or the diaspora.Some were clearly honoured because of the role played in bringing about the electoral victory of the coalition.

It is noted that in India and other democratic countries, individuals implicated in criminal activities are not honoured.

In contrast, in Guyana, criminals were recognised last year under APNU/AFC. An honour was given to a person who was a known rapist and murderer and who planned and executed several other crimes including kidnapping and thuggery.

Another awardee was responsible for the rigging of elections in 1968, 1973, and 1980 as well as the referendum of 1978 and for other criminal activities.

A few other honorees were involved in mercilessly beating up political opponents and breaking up opposition rallies. Some were intellectual authors of crimes. One was an intellectual author of the murder of Rodney and was also involved in the murder of dozens including Vincent Teekah, shooting of Dr Josh Ramsammy, and the attempted kidnapping of Dr Clive Thomas.

There must not be a repeat of last year’s politically partisan and racially biased selections.

A committee of distinguished politically non-partisan individuals reflecting the ethnic composition of the population should be appointed and tasked with choosing national awardees. Such a committee should be jointly selected by the coalition and opposition and composed primarily of civic (non-political) members.

The committee in turn should announce invitation for public nominations with criteria. After vetting the nominations, the committee can make its recommendations of honours (that reflect the face of the nation and the diaspora) to the government.

Unless there is a transparent non-partisan selection of national awardees, the credibility and integrity of the ruling coalition will be undermined, and people will once again accuse the APNU-AFC regime for political and racial bias for its selections.


Yours truly,

Vishnu Bisram