Republic Day 2021 dawns on a country in constitutional crisis, unrelieved by the usual pageantry of celebration and National Awards to soften the harsh edges of life in a pandemic.
The lapse of the Republic Day National Awards without adequate explanation from either the Office of the President, which acts as host, or the Office of the Prime Minister, which manages the selection process, is disrespectful to the public which was invited to submit nominations with a deadline of May 31. Clearly, there was an intent to restore the ceremony after last year’s cancellation, and the public deserves to know when and why it was abandoned.
The response of the President’s spokesperson to media queries provides no explanation beyond stating that the President has received no list of National Award recipients for either 2020 or 2021. We refuse to believe that Her Excellency has simply been waiting for lists without initiating enquiries with the PM’s Office. Given that these two office-holders are supposed to meet on a regular basis, surely the issue must have been a point of discussion.
Such a cavalier attitude towards the National Awards reeks of a lack of respect and appreciation for the awards within the country’s two most exalted offices.
If, between them, they do not wish to have the National Awards during the pandemic, they should have said so clearly, and not go through the charade of inviting nominations and disappointing the public that takes pride in nominating candidates and seeing them recognised and celebrated by their country.
There is no logistical reason why the National Awards cannot be held on schedule, assuming those responsible for managing the process can get their act together. Indeed, we would argue that far from Covid-19 being a reason for cancellation, it is precisely in these difficult times that T&T most needs to celebrate service with distinction. Having already lost so much, we should not allow Covid-19 to steal this, too. If we can hold elections in a pandemic, surely we can hold a National Awards ceremony.
The newspaper, for one, was not deterred when we persisted in inviting the public to nominate persons for our Annual Individual of the Year Award. Both The University of the West Indies and The University of Trinidad and Tobago are among those that have also persevered with their graduation and honorary awards with the use of online technology. Given all the publicly-funded resources available to the offices of the President and the Prime Minister, we are mystified by their combined failure to deliver an awards ceremony that would lift the hearts and spirit of a population in need of reasons to celebrate. The fact that they have not seen it fit to explain this failure just adds salt to the wound.
Given recent and ongoing events involving the Police Service Commission, this Republic Day is one for sober reflection. As we ponder such questions as the identity of the public official who intervened at President’s House and thwarted the process of selecting the next Commissioner of Police, let us also consider how our Republic might be made to better work for all of us.