Monday, September 1, 2014

Diplomacy, Controversy & Recognition...

Awards serve two purposes: they recognize the contributions of the awardee deemed worthy of public acclaim, and they use that recognition to broadcast to the widest audience those qualities that we think admirable and deserving of note so as to impact the society as a whole through emulation.

With that said, this column was almost entitled 'The Theatre of the Absurd.' It is no overstatement to say that this year's national awards ceremony has been dogged by needless controversy and mishandled to the extreme, creating fiascos where none needed to be. Putting aside the human resource responsibility of dismissing those responsible for the cluster faux pas, we need to take urgent and positive steps here to undo the damage to such an important national institution so as to prevent the awards themselves becoming tarnished and devalued.

The fact that no one received the Order of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago this time around seems only to underscore the point being discussed on all levels of our society that, all controversies aside, no one was more deserving of such recognition than Dana Seetahal. To hear her family speak, accolades and awards meant nothing to Dana unless it was something that she was actively striving for through dint of sheer effort and hard work, in which case one would be advised to get out of her way.

The real reality here is that granting her the Order of the Republic does nothing for Dana, in fact it takes more than it gives. She does not need it to complete her or her legacy as a legal and social champion or as a reliably strong voice and clear mind through cloudy times, if anything, as a recipient she now contributes to the value of the thing. Perhaps this is what those charged with the responsibility failed to understand, the organic, almost ephemeral nature of issues such as these. That judged solely on the pantheon of those who have received the award for contribution deserving of the highest of national recognition raises the value of the award itself or, conversely, handing it out too cheaply devalues and diminishes the contribution and even the reputations of those others who have gone before.

It is for this reason that I have said that neither Basdeo Panday or Patrick Manning deserve such a prestigious recognition for simply doing their job. Neither of them were so extraordinary a leader that we are bound to immortalize them, if anything both seemed to suffer from the same feet of clay that grounded them and robbed them both of their individual legacies. That is stuff for another discussion, what we need to do right now is find a way forward that restores the reverence and the lustre of the national awards and puts the wrong things done here right.

The public will not be satisfied with anything less than the Order of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago for their reluctant hero, and the government has the power to agree and acquiesce. The family and custodians of her memory have graciously agreed to accept the award at a future date, so why not use that opportunity to reflect on the life of Dana Seetahal to see if an error was in fact made, one that cannot be put right as a win for everyone?

It is regrettable that the process itself could have been so cheapened by this mishandling of what should have easily been a public relations coup for a government badly in need of a victory where public opinion is concerned, that they could hardly afford another misstep of any kind at this point is itself an understatement, especially one this avoidable. I have said before and am prompted by these events to say again that the Prime Minister seems to be almost a victim of her own advisors as some of these unforced errors seem almost designed to make the good lady look bad.

As no other leader in recent history has so mastered the art of accepting consequence in hindsight and then doing the right thing as this Prime Minister has, we can at least rest easy knowing that the solution, when found, can be said to be in good hands. That her leadership style has become one of sober thought and decisive leadership where and when required is without question, so if anyone can fix this with a decision shared with the public, she can.

In this case Madame Prime Minister, and with an abundance of respect I suggest that you play to your strengths and demonstrate that now trademark quality that promises to define your own legacy. I implore you to reach across the limitations of this mortal plane and bring Dana back to life. Engage this most devoted and giving daughter of the soil and bless us all by awarding her the highest accolade that we all can give, in tribute and recognition of a life so richly lived.

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