March 15, 2013

Selection of next national hero(es) should not be rushed

Fri Mar 15, 2013

Late last year, and earlier this year, one got the impression that the National Heroes Committee was working assiduously towards naming at least one additional national hero by National Heroes Day 2013.{{more}}

They were perhaps given impetus to try to achieve this goal by the prime minister, who, while giving the keynote address at the Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Obelisk at Dorsetshire Hill in recognition of National Heroes Day, 2012, said he hoped that at least one additional person would be named national hero by this year.

Two deadlines for the public to make submissions, December 17 2012 and January 15, 2013, passed. There was a release from the Committee that they would report to Cabinet by early March.

National Heroes Day 2013 has come and gone, with no recommendation being made, as far as we are aware. It is good that the report was not hurried to meet an artificial deadline. Something as important as the naming of the next national heroes of this country is not a process that should be rushed, and one gets the impression that our citizens are just becoming actively engaged in the discussion.

So far this month, papers have been presented at public lectures by Dr Adrian Fraser and Dr Kenneth John on their nominees for national hero, George McIntosh and Ebenezer Theodore Joshua, respectively.

Others have made presentations on behalf of Dr J.P. Eustace, Robert Milton Cato and Norma Keizer. Elma Francois and Captain Hugh Mulzac have also been suggested.

The present National Heroes Advisory Committee was appointed last year by the Governor General. It is broad based committee made up of nine experienced, competent Vincentians, headed by former government minister Rene Baptiste. The committee has been inviting individuals, groups, organizations and institutions to make recommendations of persons who they think meet the requirements for the conferment of the Order of National Hero.

The discussions being held now about the next national hero however, have a particular challenge not experienced when His Excellency Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer was being considered.

Had Chatoyer’s contemporaries been alive when he was being considered for elevation, he may not have made the grade. One would have heard all about his human weaknesses and the persons with whom he conspired or had squabbles. The truth is, we only know the basics – he fought and died in an effort to save our homeland from plunderers.

That is one of the problems with which we have to grapple, when today, we sit to discuss the merits of the nominations before us.

How do we focus on the overall contribution of the individual to nation building, without getting distracted by the nominee’s human frailties?

The point has also been made that in speaking of the merits of the individual one proposes for national hero status, there is no need for one to pull down another nominee. It is not as if there is a finite number of slots available for national hero status in St Vincent and the Grenadines. There is no need to play one nominee off against the other.

Many persons have also made the suggestion that it is time to revisit the proposal to institute a system of national honours, which will allow for suitable recognition of nationals who served our country with distinction, but who may not satisfy all the criteria for conferment of national hero status. Our information is that the process for instituting the system of national honours got to an advanced stage in the 1990s, under the New Democratic Party administration. Perhaps it is time to dust off those proposals and have the public weigh in on them.So we should take our time in this process, trying our best to place each candidate’s contribution in the context of the time in which he or she lived. It took over 200 years after Chatoyer’s death for him to be named. While there is no rush, we certainly do not expect the discussions to go on for another two centuries. There will never be unanimous agreement on any of the present or future nominees.