The postponement of the Republic Day National Awards ceremony is a bitter pill to swallow for a nation that now needs every opportunity to seek inspiration from achievement and patriotic endeavour.
With every citizen fighting hard to rescue some element of normalcy from the abnormal existence imposed by Covid-19, it is disappointing that those entrusted with managing the National Awards could have allowed it to become another casualty.
We find it difficult to accept that the process of nomination, consideration and finalisation of awards was allowed to be derailed by the uncertainty and disruptiveness of Covid-19 and the August 10 general election. If this is indeed the reason, we do not accept it as sound enough to have scuttled the National Awards. All over the world, graduations and other ceremonies are continuing seamlessly, memorably, and with unique styles on online platforms. We see no reason why the awards could not have been delivered on schedule with a timely management intervention.
Even less convincing is the suggestion that the Prime Minister may not have considered it prudent to finalise the list during the election campaign, given the possibility of a change in government. If anything, what this particular explanation would validate is the need to protect the National Awards from the vagaries of politics.
In this regard, we recommend that consideration be given for removing the final say in the selection of awardees from the Prime Minister. Giving the top political office-holder the final say-so on the list of nominees recommended by the National Awards Committee has always carried an unhealthy risk of partisanship in what should be a non-partisan process. This year’s postponement may be just the opportunity needed to review the entire process and consider whether the Awards Committee should be removed from the ambit of the Office of the Prime Minister and either stand alone or be transferred to the Office of the President.
The postponement of the National Awards has brought into the open the political risks that have long been a factor in these awards. This year, they have been postponed because of an apparent high demand on the PM’s time and the possibility that the selection of awardees by one government may not have the support of a successor government. The suggestion here is that Dr Rowley’s approved list may not necessarily have found favour if the government was lost to a party other than the People’s National Movement. The very idea that the National Awards could be caught in such a political entanglement underscores the urgency of rescuing the awards from the risk of partisanship.
While the postponement has placed the issue in the spotlight, the fact is that the National Awards have long needed to be protected from the Prime Minister’s political clout which has been used and abused at various times by prime ministers in different administrations, to the point of becoming debased.
If National Awards are to be worth their names they must enjoy the confidence of the population as a whole. It is the public’s acceptance of the recipients’ worthiness, and not mere medals, that gives the awards their credibility and value.