Friday, December 15, 2017

Open up national awards process

How does the National Awards Committee determine the veracity of an act of heroism when someone is nominated for an award for gallantry? That is a paraphrase of the question that opened a story by Richard Charan published in the Express four days ago.

It is a valid question that this newspaper repeats and expands: how transparent is the process by which awardees are selected? Did someone nominate late teenager David Sancaro for a national award, or did the nomination come from the National Awards Committee or President Anthony Carmona himself who disclosed at the awards ceremony at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) on Republic Day that he knew the deceased from his hometown in Fyzabad?

The cloaked process by which selections are made avails itself to these and many other questions.

Also marring this year's presentation of national awards was an accusation of ableism from Glen Niles, president and founder of the Down's Syndrome Family Network, who observed that while members of the Trinidad and Tobago World Championships relay team were awarded the Chaconia Medal (Gold), para-athlete Akeem Stewart was recognised with the Hummingbird Medal (Gold) for winning two gold medals and breaking a 20-year-old world record in the shot-put event.

Indeed, even before a single award was handed over for the first time in its Republic Day time slot, this newspaper questioned the process by which the decision was made to move the awards presentation from Independence Day. While one acknowledges the wisdom of the move, the process by which it was done remains removed from public involvement and buy-in.

The posthumous award of gallantry to Mr Sancaro was determined ahead of the court matter precipitated by his death. A 37-year-old man has been charged with murder and sits in remand at Golden Grove Prison, Arouca. The preliminary enquiry at the Magistrates' Court is yet to begin. Yet the National Awards Committee, President Anthony Carmona and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley determined Mr Sancaro's actions on a July night were heroic, implying a judgment about a court matter that is only in its infant stages. That the National Awards Committee is led by Chief Justice Ivor Archie heightens interpretations that the committee's judgment pre-empted the legal process.

Should Mr Sancaro be proved a hero after the long process of determining guilt and innocence is concluded, that will have been the appropriate time for his posthumous national award. For who could argue against a youth being nationally recognised for his proven bravery and civic-mindedness? Indeed, then Mr Sancaro would be a model of the best expression of active citizenship.

National awards started in 1969, replacing the system of Commonwealth Awards conferred by Her Majesty the Queen of England. They are meant to inspire the citizenry by recognising outstanding contributions of exemplary citizens. The premature award to Mr Sancaro and the cloistered process that determines national awards only diminish what was meant to be a significant, celebratory aspect of national Independence.