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Sunday, August 6, 2017

The recent announcement from President’s House, with the support of the Chief Justice, that the National Awards ceremony will be moved from Independence Day on August 31 to Republic Day on September 24 is devoid of logic. According to President Carmona, the act of moving the ceremony to Republic Day “would bring greater awareness of the true meaning and importance of the holiday”.

How can that be measured? Why would the President want to downgrade Independence Day in order to create “greater awareness” for Republic Day? Making such a statement ought to include an understanding of what is being celebrated.

Republic Day on September 24 commemorates the first sitting of the first Parliament of the Republic and a public holiday was designated just after Dr Eric Williams and the PNM won the 1976 general election. The Republic Day that we celebrate is not marked on the day that we actually became a republic in law.

That day was really August 1, 1976, which followed when the last governor general, Sir Ellis Clarke, proclaimed the Republic Act 1976. For all these years, we have celebrated Republic Day as the day to commemorate a parliamentary sitting as opposed to the actual day when the jurisdiction of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of T&T ended on August 1, 1976.

There is absolutely no logic behind the President’s decision and the Chief Justice’s support for it. If there is one day of the year that all citizens can recognize regardless of their political persuasion is Independence Day. The President has done a great disservice to the nation by making this decision in the manner that he has.

Who are the stakeholders that he consulted? This goes to the very heart of our history and tradition. When the first National Awards ceremony was held on Independence Day in 1969, T&T made its first move to terminate the granting of British awards as part of our national awards. Independence Day was the most appropriate day to mark such a transfer to our own National Awards.

Why the change? The Father of the Nation, Dr Eric Williams, understood the significance of what he was proposing. President Carmona may very well be presiding over his last National Awards ceremony given the deteriorated relationship between himself and Prime Minister Rowley. It is highly unlikely that he will be reappointed by the Rowley Government when his term ends in March 2018.

President Carmona’s move may stamp his mark on the occasion by shifting it this year. As Chancellor of the Order of the Trinity, he has the responsibility to arrange an investiture ceremony. Hopefully, the next President may shift it back to Independence Day so that we can maintain our history and tradition as a nation.

The Chief Justice is, by virtue of his office, the chairman of the National Awards Committee. His endorsement of this move is surprising seeing that he is expected to refrain from public political opinions. His comment is a very potent one which is politically charged having regard to the background associated with what we are celebrating.

His committee is charged with the responsibility of assessing all of the nominations for National Awards. Those recommendations go to the Prime Minister who will then review the proposed list that has been submitted. The Prime Minister will then decide on what changes he wants to make to the list and he may either subtract or add to the list as he sees fit.

After the Prime Minister has made his alterations of subtraction or addition, as the case may be, he will then send that amended list to the President so that he can make the requisite preparations for an investiture in accordance with prime ministerial advice.

Unfortunately this year, the awardees will have to receive their awards on Republic Day because of a presidential decree as opposed to the traditional day that has been observed for the last 48 years.

Republic Day was terminated as a public holiday by the Basdeo Panday administration in 1996 when Panday introduced Spiritual Shouter Baptist Liberation Day as a public holiday on March 30 that year. Patrick Manning said at the time that he would reinstate Republic Day as a public holiday when the PNM returned to power. He kept his promise and reinstated it as a public holiday in 2002.

Republic Day being celebrated on September 24 has a divisive history associated with it because of its observance of the first parliamentary sitting of the Republic. August 1, 1976, would have been more appropriate because of the link to the end of the tenure of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as our queen when we were a parliamentary monarchy.

In 1985, August 1 was declared a public holiday by the George Chambers administration to celebrate the end of slavery in the former British West Indies. Independence Day is the only one that cuts across the entire population with equal resonance for holding an investiture for National Awards. Please reconsider this decision, Mr President.


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