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The confusing National Heroes issue


The heads of CARICOM have been meeting here this week and I was tempted to focus on this, looking particularly at what is happening with the march toward the establishment of the CSME.{{more}}

However, like many others, the enthusiasm which I had for this and for the future of CARICOM itself has long disappeared. One wonders sometimes about the body’s relevance. Its failure to comment on the political impasse in St Kitts/Nevis is even more appalling than the political imbroglio itself, if I dare to label it so. Except for the Grenada ‘hiccup’, the region, compared to a number of other countries that had once been colonies, has had a relatively good record where respect for constitutional rights is concerned. The blatant violation of the spirit of the constitution of St Kitts/Nevis and the discarding of precedents set in the Caribbean and Commonwealth should be cause for concern within the region, before it loses its reputation where constitutional governance is concerned. Maybe, if enough attention had been paid to Grenada in the last years of Gairy’s political tenure, the calamitous events of 1979 and 1983 would have been forestalled and Grenadians would have avoided the tragic times that they had to endure. Even now, the healing is not complete.

This is, however, for another time. Tomorrow is National Heroes Day and I am not sure if anyone else is as confused as I am about the status of the process which had been set in motion last year to select our next national hero. One expected that by now we would have had some kind of update, but something seems to have gone awry with this. We have not been hearing very much from the committee set up to facilitate the process. The process itself seemed ill-conceived or not properly thought out. I had expected that the committee members would have discussed among themselves the submissions made to them and a short list prepared. My understanding, although not confirmed, is that two members of the committee have resigned. This is along with Jomo Thomas, who had withdrawn himself some time ago.

The committee was to have had meetings throughout the country. Even this was not very clear to me. What was the purpose of the meetings? Was it to get additional submissions, or to discuss submissions already received? How was this to be done? What were the expectations of the audience at those meetings? Were they to show their agreement or rejection of names submitted by a show of hands? Would they have been in possession of the information necessary to allow them to make informed decisions? My understanding of the process was that the committee was supposed to submit its findings to the Prime Minister through the Governor General. Was the Governor General simply a courier or does he have a significant say in the matter? If he has any greater say in the matter, is he expected to act in his own deliberate judgement?
The final decision is to be made by Cabinet, but the process became compromised when our Prime Minister appeared to have made his own recommendation. This is based on the fact that the original topic, as advertised, of the lecture he delivered at the UWI Open Campus seemed to be conveying the impression that he was making a case for Milton Cato. When this was questioned, the PM suggested that he had the right, like anyone else, to comment on the issue, but indicated that his lecture was not meant to suggest preference for any particular individual, but to give his views on the names which were being talked about. But having listened to the lecture, I have no doubt that it was meant to indicate a preference for a particular individual. But the Prime Minister was, along with Cabinet, to be the chief arbiter. This was too much for Jomo Thomas who cesigned from the committee, purportedly on principle.

I do not know at what stage of the process we are at this time. The number of meetings and the kinds of discussions that were to fuel the process did not take place. Fortunately the UWI Open Campus took on the responsibility of lifting the consciousness of the population, through a series of public lectures. If we are to treat this matter with the seriousness it deserves, we have to ensure that the final product does not succumb to the country’s political divisiveness. Imagine a National Hero that does not have the support of the majority of our people, especially if there are questions about the process.

Despite the fact that criteria have been laid down to guide the selection process, it is fair to say that there is a great deal of misunderstanding on this matter. Over the past year there have been names suggested by different people. These are, in most cases, individuals who have made worthwhile contributions to the country, but who do not qualify, based on the criteria, to be considered as National Heroes. I have for this reason been suggesting that a system of national honours be put in place before or at the time we plan to launch our next National Hero. This will avoid some of the confusion. Please let us move beyond the petty partisan politics and keep in mind the interest of the country. If we are unable to do this, then crapaud smoke our pipe.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.