JG - Honours and awards
Honours and awards
published: Saturday December 22, 2007
Jamaicans love honours. Nothing puffs up Jamaicans more than to be called His or Her Excellency; Honourable and its variations such as Right Honourable, Most Honourable and His Honour; Doctor, even if it is honorific and has not been studied for; Ambassador; His or Her Worship; and, of course, all the military titles which custom and tradition allow officers to retain in perpetuity.
It is not a new delight, of course. Some 300 years ago the King of England ordered the President of the Council (Legislative) in Jamaica to cease using the title 'Right Honourable' which he had assumed without authority. And, in 1944, when elected members of the House of Representatives were first appointed as ministers in embryo, they insisted on being affixed with the title of 'Honourable' even though the Constitution did not provide for this to be so.
One of the things which have amused me over the years is that when a president of the United States visits us, we attach to him the title of His Excellency, perhaps because our leaders feel embarrassed to be identifying themselves with honorific titles such as Their Excellencies, Honourables, Right Honourables and now Most Honourables, while the president is simply 'Mr.' in his own country.
By courtesy, a U.S. president may be addressed as "The Honorable," but that's strictly a courtesy prenominal, not provided for in law, and it's a distinction that he shares with the whole range of public officers, down to small town mayors and local judges.
Another of the traditions we have introduced is to allow our ambassadors, high commissioners and consuls-general to continue using the title of ambassador when they demit office, and which they use for the remainder of their lives. Yet, ministers of government are no longer Honourables the moment they demit these offices. Incongruous!
Prime Ministers, of course, are different. They hold the title of Most Honourable for life even if they no longer hold the office - the exception being Prime Minister Golding who has said he will not accept it. So far.
One of William Shakespeare's memorable quotes is:
"Man, proud, man,
Dressed in little brief authority,
Plays such high fantastic tricks,
That makes the angels weep."
This has not meant anything to our people. They love honours and flaunt it constantly. Nothing pleases them more than to see their photographs with their names and titles in the newspapers. They forget that there are still pit latrines in Jamaica and that the paper used to clean the mess is the same newspaper with their photograph.
Once I was in Chapelton, Clarendon, when a motorcade of some 12 or more cars entered the town and stopped. In one of the vehicles was a friend who happened to be a minister of state. I greeted him. "What is this motorcade for?" I asked. "Elections are three years away."
"You don't understand," he said. "I have been visiting my constituency all day and I have to show my constituents that I have influence. So I have brought various officials to join me on my visit."
He then introduced me to the chairman of the parish council, the superintendent of roads and works of the council, the public works engineer, his permanent secretary and personal assistant, and others, each in their own car.
"When one of my constituents come to me with a complaint, I can call the public works engineer or the superintendent of roads and works and introduce them and ask them to see what they can do to help. My constituent is impressed."
"I see," I said.
Three years later, elections were held and my friend lost his seat. He was also no longer carrying the title of 'Honourable'. And, for the following five years he was alone on his visits to his constituency.