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A referendum to decide future national awards?

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As Vincentians continue the debate on who should be this country’s next national hero or heroes, the possibility of having a referendum to decide certain “nationalist” issues has been raised.{{more}}

Last Thursday, at a lecture delivered by Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, entitled “The Making of a National Hero, the Law and Practice in St Vincent and the Grenadines”, the Prime Minister opined that there is a big difference between the naming of national heroes and giving national awards.

Gonsalves, responding to a question posed by proprietor of Nice Radio Douglas Defreitas, said that the two issues should not be looked at in the same way.

“The business of national hero is an exercise in historical reclamation. The national award is an award which is to replace those of the Queen,” Gonsalves said.

“So, you may have the order of St Vincent and the Grenadines to replace an MBE or OBE or CMG, but at the same time you have Her Majesty the Queen, who we have to swear allegiance to the Queen and her heirs.

“I have no doubt that there is no constitutional constraint, but you want to have the national awards, but still keep Queen Elizabeth of Windsor as the Queen of St Vincent and the Grenadines?” the Prime Minister asked.

“They sit incongruously.”

Defreitas, who has had his differences of opinion with Gonsalves in the past, called a reference the Prime Minister made, when discussing national awards, to the 2009 Referendum on constitutional reform, “a cheap shot”.

He said that the outcome of the 2009 referendum should have no effect on instituting national awards in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The issue of national awards has been touted by many as an alternative to naming national heroes.

“…Because I believe if you have a national hero, it’s a national issue, you can have national awards. It has nothing to do with the Queen,” Defreitas argued.

“I believe it is disingenuous to speak to that issue of referendum and national awards, as against national hero. There is nothing constitutional to bar you from having national awards,” he said.

The Prime Minister had earlier stated, that by voting “No” in the 2009 referendum, Vincentians kept the Queen as head of state, and in doing so, the awards issued by her, such as the MBE and the OBE, are now national awards.

Following the victory of the “No” vote in 2009, Gonsalves had said he would not consider another referendum during his political career.

However, last week, at the lecture, he said that it is something he would consider, if those who voted “No” say that they have had a change of heart.

“If you want me to put again the issue to referendum – not the democratic questions, but the two nationalist questions, of the Queen and the Privy Council, I can put them again if you have a popular demand for it. I didn’t want to go back there…

“If you want to do away with the Queen, I can give you the opportunity to do away with the Queen and then we will have national honours.”

Had the 2009 Constitution been approved by the populace, the Queen’s Privy Council, this country’s final court of appeal, would have been replaced by the Caribbean Court of Justice.

Gonsalves during his lecture, made a case for four Vincentians: former Chief Minister Ebenezer Theodore Joshua, former Chief Minister, Premier and Prime Minister Milton Cato, pharmacist and community activist George McIntosh and educator and optometrist Dr JP Eustace, to be considered to the elevation of national hero.

An announcement is expected to be made before the end of the year about who will be the next hero or heroes.

The Most Excellent Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer is the country’s lone national hero to date. He was so named on March 14, 2002.(JJ)

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