National awards should be conferred on ordinary citizens making notable positive changes in their communities and not just the “elites,” according to Working People’s Alliance (WPA) executive Dr David Hinds.
“In addition to the usual elites, the committee should receive nominations for awards from communities, through their councils and organisations. The nominees should be people who are making a difference in their communities through their individual and community work,” Hinds told Stabroek News, in wake of the announcement last week of the latest slate of national awardees.
Hinds said while he personally pays little attention to national awards, he feels he has to be vocal about the selection criteria since it is not reflective of great achievements of ordinary citizens.
“If we are talking about a democratic and inclusive society, we have to change the criteria we use to grant national awards. The current criteria is scandalously weighted in favour of the elites in the society. The list of awardees needs to be more socially-and ethnically-balanced. We are doing a fair job at ethnic balance, but it can be improved…. When it comes to social balance, it’s outrageous,” he added.
Acting Chancellor Yonette Cummings-Edwards lead a list of 69 persons who are to be recipients of national awards this year.
Hinds addressed the awards in his latest Hinds’ Sight column, titled ‘Reflections on our independence: Are they not worthy of national awards too?’, which was published in the Guyana Chronicle last Saturday.
“I pay little attention to national awards, for they have come to mean substantively little. The list of awardees this government has put forward since coming to power, reinforces my cynicism. Your people of distinction cannot be 69 persons, most of whom are elites. My God, do you mean we have not learned anything from our past five decades of mistakes? Do you mean to tell me that the only measure of distinction is to be a lawyer or a doctor or some top man or woman? What happen to those tens of thousands who put you in power– are they not worthy of national awards too? We ought to be ashamed to call ourselves an independent society when our praxis is overladen with colonial reflexes,” he wrote.
“Why not go to each village and find some person without titles and letters, but who makes a difference and award them? Why not award a village or community for doing good for itself? But one must feel it in one’s bones and soul for those ordinary people to think that they are worthy of awards. My academic profile or successful law practice does not make me worthier of national recognition than the woman who wakes up every day and opens her cake-shop till midnight to feed her community. It’s time we change this totalitarian elitist mentality, or our independence will continue to mean little beyond raising a flag and clapping,” he added.
Hinds, an Arizona State University professor, told Stabroek News that he believes that a semi-independent committee, which includes representatives across the political spectrum, including the opposition, should be in charge of making the selections. This list would then be sent as recommendations to the president, who is the Chancellor of the Orders of Guyana.
“The guidelines should be clear… ethnic, gender and social-class balance…The elite lawyer and doctor types should not exceed more than fifty percent of the final list,” he said
“We have to democratise our society through democratic action. The farmer in a remote and no so remote village who makes a difference must be as worthy of national recognition as the politician, the lawyer, the journalist and the elite soldier or police. The Indian Guyanese cane-cutter who toils in obscurity, the African Guyanese teacher or public service clerk and the Amerindian rancher or farmer are all equal contributors to building Guyana as the rest of us who are in positions of authority,” he added.
In addition to Justice Cummings-Edwards, who is to be conferred with the Order of Roraima, this year’s awardees include five persons who will receive the Cacique’s Crown of Honour, 44 who will receive the Golden Arrow of Achievement, 14 who will receive the Medal of Service, two who will receive the Military Service Medal and three who will be receive the Disciplined Services Medal.
Among those to receive the Cacique’s Crown of Honour are acting Chief Justice Roxane George SC, Secretary General of the Caribbean Community Ambassador Irwin LaRocque and Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith.