EDITOR, The Tribune.
Last year, the Government of Australia practically begged a former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, to accept their highest honour, a Companion of the Order of Australia.
Rudd served two terms as Prime Minister and acquitted himself well at home and on the international stage, especially on climate change. Today he is an accomplished author who is pursuing a doctorate at Oxford University while simultaneously lecturing at Harvard University.
The Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat forwarded his name to two separate Prime Ministers and twice he refused because he said others were more deserving than he. He did leave the door open to accepting the honour one day.
It is customary in Australia that all former Prime Ministers receive the award on leaving office.
In the UK, it is customary that a knighthood be granted to all former Prime Ministers and most have graciously accepted the honorific with notable exceptions being Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
We don’t have a settled custom here yet, but what we have seen most recently is a misguided and very unstatesmanlike attempt by our two living ex-PMs to upstage the sitting Prime Minister.
The National Honours Committee decided to establish the Order of the Nation and to create an automatic ticket for anyone who has held and then demits the office of Prime Minister, among other high office holders such as Governors General.
It is not a stretch to believe that this honour was not created specifically for Perry Christie and Hubert Ingraham. Their resumés just happen to qualify them.
Just as they cannot erase the fact that they have served as Prime Minister, so too they ought not to be able to obfuscate the issue by refusing to accept this approbation.
Mr. Ingraham is reported to have refused to contemplate a Knighthood from the Queen and that was his right, one that any reasonable republican can understand and accept. We don’t know if Perry Christie will follow him on that high-horse should Hubert Minnis dangle in front of him the opportunity to become Sir Perry.
We can note though that neither Christie nor Ingraham refused another honorific that came with the job. It is customary for the Queen to invite her Prime Ministers to become members of her Privy Council and concomitantly bestowed with the title “The Right Honourable” something our media overuses to nauseating effect.
Both could have refused the appointment to the Privy Council and it is doubtful that Her Majesty would have been offended.
The British honours system that we are trying to shed is replete with a number of customs and conventions, one of which is that if you decline an honour you are not supposed to talk about it.
Messrs. Christie and Ingraham took to the press to thumb their noses at our highest national honour which was given, one assumes, more out of respect for the Office of Prime Minister than for any individual holder of the office in the past, present or into the future.
The honours should stand and we should remove from recipients of these high honours, the option of declining them. The title should stand but they could refuse, of course, to use it in their personal lives.
The late Nelson Mandela didn’t go looking for honours but graciously accepted them when they came his way. He accepted his country’s highest honour, the Order of Mapungubwe, with great humility and appreciation of what it represented not to him personally but to all the people that he represented in South Africa, the wider African continent and around the world.
It’s a safe bet that there are die-hard PLPs and FNMs who were delighted to see their leaders recognized in such an obviously bi-partisan manner.
In the US, since 1963, the highest honour bestowed on any American from all walks of life is the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And even they created a special channel for former Presidents. All Presidents since John F. Kennedy except three, (the disgraced Richard Nixon who resigned, George W. Bush and Barack Obama) have received the honour. There is a customary waiting period which perhaps explains why Bush and Obama haven’t received theirs yet.
The beauty of honours is that it is a joy to see them bestowed on the living. There is another option available to a grateful nation to honour its heroes: we can always wait and do so posthumously.
August 26, 2018.