“More isn’t better; sometimes it’s just more.” – Sabrina Fairchild
Last week, The Bahamas celebrated its 49th anniversary of independence as a sovereign state.
We have much to be proud of as a nation. Since that historical day on July 10, 1973, which culminated with the lowering of the British Union Jack on Clifford Park, we have charted our own course.
During the independence anniversary celebrations, the governor general conferred more than 200 Bahamians with recognition under the National Honours Act.
Some Bahamians were amazed at the sheer number of honors that were granted. Even more do not know what the awards mean or the criteria employed in their selection.
Two prominent Bahamians, who were signatories to our constitution 50 years ago, and were selected to be honored last week, turned down the national honors offered to them.
Therefore, this week, we will consider this — If we accept that more is not always better, do we risk diluting our national honors by awarding too many of them to our citizens simultaneously?
Many countries have established national honors to recognize their outstanding citizens.
It is essential to highlight those citizens who excel in various disciplines and have made exceptional contributions to national development.
Until recently, Bahamians “eagerly” anticipated Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s announcement regarding those upon whom she had conferred such honors.
And by and large, there would be only modest controversy or commentary surrounding such awards. Also, in the past, the queen’s honorees were never as plentiful as this year’s Bahamian honors recipients.
Wisely and naturally, The Bahamas decided that we should not depend on “Mother England” to award Bahamian citizens for their outstanding national service. Therefore, after many years of sustained activism, The Bahamas passed the National Honours Act in 2016.
This year’s honorees
At the outset, it is essential to make it clear that neither this author nor the many Bahamians who have questioned the massive number of people honored this year wish to diminish or denigrate any of this year’s honorees.
There are several positive aspects to this year’s recipients of our national honors. The most impressive optics regarding this year’s recipients is that the selection committee has honored people on both sides of the political divide.
This is commendable, especially in an environment where our political discourse has descended to an unprecedented level of divisiveness and incivility.
However, the concerns expressed by many, both in public and private, center around the selection process.
While our national honors are reasonably new, most Bahamians do not understand the award categories or the criteria used to select the honorees. This does us all a disservice.
If we are going to recognize the contributions of honorees, we should have a better understanding of the selection process and the significance of each award category.
Furthermore, some recipients were advised that they were selected within only days of the independence celebrations. They were not allowed to understand the nature or significance of the honor or given sufficient time to accept or reject the honor.
Finally, there is a valid observation regarding the vast number of people honored this year. Most countries in this hemisphere do not honor so many of their citizens in any given year. The excessive number of awards tends to diminish their importance.
“I respectfully decline”
This year, two of the signatories to The Bahamas Constitution, A. Loftus Roker and George A. Smith, were among the Bahamians who were selected to be honored.
Both were part of the 15-man delegation that traveled to London in December 1972 for constitutional talks on independence from the British. The remaining living signatories to the constitution were previously honored.
It was immensely instructive that both men declined the award for various reasons. When questioned by National Review, the weekly column by Candia Dames, regarding his decision to decline the honor, Roker said that his reasons were complicated.
Roker said he received a call the day before Independence Day about the honor and consequently felt that the decision to select him was insincere. He told National Review, “I don’t believe the national honors were done properly.
“I don’t believe the committee that was set up to do that, I don’t believe that they took everything into consideration when they were [deciding] these honors. Really, now, this thing about the most honorable is really a joke.”
He affirmed, “I didn’t go into politics to get anything. I went into politics to serve the Bahamian people.” This is why he turned down a Queen’s Honour in 1987, the year he retired from politics.
Roker further opined about the fact that that the national honors system has a title designation of “most honorable”.
He said, “When they started this most honorable thing, I was laughing at them. I thought it was a joke, so if I think that’s a joke, you think I [am going] to take it?”
Roker also stated that it was insulting to have received a call on July 9 advising him that he had been selected for a national honor when he was not even invited to any official events marking the independence anniversary.
Smith also turned down the honor.
He indicated that his reason for doing so was because “the value of the awards has been watered down by the sheer number of people on the list and the failure of the selection committee to explain to the Bahamian people why each individual was chosen”.
“I turned it down, too, because I know we can do it in a better way and I want to send that message,” Smith said.
“It has nothing to do with disrespect. I want it to be done in a way where, if you receive those things, you feel the country has singled you out, and I think that the people who did it, I hate this word … and I would have avoided using it, but they did a piss-poor job.
“I also know when you do too many of any one thing at any one time, it ends up becoming problematic and I stated that position when I saw the number of people my party in government assembled in terms of the diplomatic service.
“We just overdid it and that meant that the excellent people in it are diminished because we throw in people just because we like them or just because of their partisan loyalty to me or to someone else, so the excellent people in these things end up being diminished because we do too many.
“We pick people sometimes for reasons other than what they ought to be picked [for]. If you’re honoring people, pick people because they deserve to be honored.
“Don’t do it just because you like them or don’t do it just because you think they’ve been around so long. Do it because they deserve it and they are the best among us and they ought to be [honored].”
Similar sentiments were raised earlier this year when the list of new Queen’s Counsels was published. Many in the legal fraternity felt that some of those who were selected highly diluted the honor of Queen’s Counsel (QC).
One attorney said that he seriously considered returning his QC honor because some of the people named this year were an insult to the honor and their appointment significantly debased the honor.
This is another classic example where more is not always better.
Our 50th independence anniversary
As we approach the 50th anniversary of independence next year, hopefully, those who plan the festivities will note the commentary surrounding this year’s celebrations, especially the honors selection process.
Ideally, if the National Honours Committee wanted to accentuate the significance of the honors, they would limit the recipients to 50 on the nation’s 50th anniversary of independence.
Then, and only then, will our national honors live up to their status as superlative honorifics, genuinely characterizing their intended significance. We shall see.
We have come a mighty long way as a nation in the last 49 years. Yes, we have achieved political independence.
However, the equivalent achievements of economic independence persistently remain beyond our reach.
We continue to grapple with the intractable realities of poverty, an unacceptable level of crime, food insecurity, the adverse effects of climate change, and a more comprehensive approach to our environment.
As we approach our 50th year of independence, we should constantly appreciate that “more is not always better; sometimes it is just more.”
In the case of our national honors, quality will always trump quantity.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Bahamas, Advisors and Chartered Accountants. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.