Play mas with your medals

By Raffique Shah
January 01, 2012

Raffique ShahA FEW weeks ago, Dr Brinsley Samaroo telephoned me. After we exchanged pleasantries, he got down to stating the purpose of his call. House Speaker Wade Mark had asked him to make contact with a number of ex-parliamentarians whom he (Mark) wanted to recognise for their service to Parliament, and, presumably, to country. Brinsley informed me that I was among those selected, and he wanted to inform me and to gather some biographical data from me.

“Brinsley, you must be joking!” I exclaimed. “I served for only one term, and during that short time I do not think I distinguished myself in any way. So what’s with this recognition thing? I’m sorry, but I must decline.”

I went on to say that if the Speaker wanted to pay tribute to those who served, he should select only MPs and senators who made sterling contributions. Brinsley said he agreed with my reasoning, and there our conversation ended.

Sometime later, when this country hosted a convention of Commonwealth Speakers at NAPA, I saw on television where Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar presented a plaque to Basdeo Panday. I imagine others—ex-speakers and presidents of the Senate, as well as MPs and senators, may have been honoured. But my media colleagues, with more than a hint of mischief, focused only on Kamla and Bas.

I should add that Panday, who served as an elected member for 34 years as both Leader of the Opposition and Prime Minister, was more than deserving of the highest award Parliament could bestow. This holds true for Patrick Manning too, who has an amazing 40 years service to his credit. Whatever Panday and Manning may have done to incur the ire of citizens within recent times, we must admit that they made significant contributions to the development of our nation.

On the other hand, there were many parliamentarians who simply warmed their seats, enjoyed the perks (tax-free vehicles, special passports), and flushed themselves through the system for as long as their parties or the electors tolerated them. In my time, there was a PNM MP who did not make a single intervention in debates in five years! Panday quipped (of him), “Mr Speaker, he would not open his mouth even to yawn!” And he was not solo as a non-performer.

I make these observations as we enter 2012, the year in which we celebrate 50 years as an independent nation. We have much to be thankful for; maybe our greatest achievement is that we have not imploded along ethnic or religious fault lines, however unkind we may have been to each other. Also, for all our shortcomings, we have not descended into a “failed state”, a fate that befell many one-time colonies.

There will be enough time over the next 12 months to discuss and debate our achievements and failures, post-independence. However, today I shall focus on the issue of recognition and awards, of which there will be a surfeit in 2012. Whenever Independence Day comes around, people scan the list of awardees to see if they know the recipients, and if they believe they are deserving of the awards bestowed on them. Personally, I have long felt that successive governments have devalued our awards by distributing them like Christmas hampers.

Surely, the nation’s highest award (the Trinity Cross, now the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago) should be bestowed only on citizens who have distinguished themselves way above their peers. Or those who have given immense service to the nation.

But that’s just my thinking. Others may feel that every Tom, Dick and Harrilal who shouts “Trini-to-de-bone!” from a street corner deserves national recognition. If that’s the will of the majority, who am I to gripe?

Still, I cannot help but comment on Government’s decision to award medals to all personnel who worked during the recent State of Emergency. Note, I wrote “worked”, not “served”. Because what the soldiers, sailors, and police, prisons and fire officers did during the SoE was little different to what they do in the normal course of duty. They would have worked extra hours—for which all but members of the Defence Force would have earned generous overtime payments.

They fought no war, unless they view fighting crime and criminals as “war”. Law enforcement agencies across the world do this routinely. It’s their job. If we take Mexico’s police officers and soldiers as an example, they can claim to be involved in a “war”, since the drug cartels there are violent in the extreme. Many officers and their families have been wiped out as they tried to restore normalcy to a nation under siege.

I do not know that the Mexican government has awarded medals, except, perhaps, in instances when law officers acted with valour, or otherwise distinguished themselves. So what do we make of our Government sharing out around 15,000 medals to our uniformed personnel? I certainly think it’s ill conceived, even stupid.

Think of the logistics. It would take about a week if each officer is to be presented with his medal personally! Madness! Look, I come from a military generation and tradition in which awards were scarce like gold. Most British soldiers who earned the Victoria Cross, won it posthumously! Even lesser awards—MC, MM, DSC, DSM—meant the loss of a limb in action, or a wound.

In other words, an award to service personnel must have meaning. Service during a State of Emergency simply does not count. But we live in our own synthetic cocoon, steeped in a Carnival culture. I suppose the awardees can take their medals and play mas.

13 thoughts on “Play mas with your medals”

  1. Trinis like praise, it makes them feel important. Same reasoning behind the many holidays, everyone and everything is special. That is why when someone is truly deserving of praise, the haters come out in droves.How dare they be more special than me. Should make for some pretty impressive sailor mas costumes this year though.

  2. I hope the committee managing the awards program use this piece from Mr. Shah as one of the references in executing the program. I am a retiree of the US Military and never while on active duty did I or other members get paid overtime for doing our sworn duty. We were expected to perform 24/7 when called upon to do so hoping our superiors recognized above & beyond duty. Only Trinis have their own rules. I think the response given from Mr. Shah is very appropriate and enlightening.

  3. Is Trinidad Carnival Country? as a retired Federal Law Enforcement Officer and a Viet Nam Veteran, I totaly agree with you. When I read that article I could only think of one thing are are these people for real, thats insanity to its highest heights. medals are for heroes who ever suggested that needs to see a shrink immediately. These security personnel were not in combat or performed any heroic acts, they were just simply being made to carry out their normal duties.

  4. Raff, the presentation of medals is yet another PR stunt used as a smoke screen to divert attention from their most recent faux pas: the SOE.

  5. “Also, for all our shortcomings, we have not descended into a “failed state”, a fate that befell many one-time colonies.”
    It’s probably fair to add, let Her Majesty Queen K , and her PP crew , collectively give themselves an Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago award ,for saving us all from ourselves , over the past two years, I say Uncle Shah.
    I call dis the square peg in round hole syndrome, and one which is in vogue , when leaders are obviously out of their elements, and how sad indeed.

  6. Distinguish service in the field of law. Silk is awarded! was it deserving for two politician naming themselves for SILK.?

  7. And the show must go on……. this woman continues to make a mockery of awards, protocol, festivities and everything else that we as a country should hold dear! She cheapens the national awards by awarding Shat, ah Sat without a reason or should we say without an acceptable reason, she awards soldiers and policemen for following their stupid political directives, turned SOE and now she implicates the head of the judiciary, the DPP and people of good standings only to add herself and that trickster of an AG. She will continue because that is all she knows. Didnt she also distribute hampers this year as a member of the Claus family? See ,,, that is all this woman knows …… Is that what we want to be internationally recognised for as a Country?

  8. I feel your outrage cuz Kian , but think you are barking up the wrong tree, as many of us equally concerned patriots have done over time . This is now 2012 , and so there is a need for a new approach.
    Irrespective of the political system , many work under , political leaders ,generally tend to indulge in allegedly outrageous activities , of one kind or the other , because they strongly feel they can get away with it.
    In thriving democracies such as ours ,one fundamental question must be placed on the table ,and here it is :- Who , or what are the alternatives?
    Where carnival mentality reign supreme ,how do you mobilize the disgruntled ,towards a coordinated push back?

    It is not only in T&T , but globally, that folks believe that their civic duties have ended once they have voted. Some would likewise loudly bray , bell, bell, bell, de cat , but when push comes to shove , who is prepared so to do? I have given up. Just burned my passport for good. Checking out the real estate in St Lucia , and Zanzibar Tanzania.

    Keep de Faith my friend,but more importantly,Luv Humanity, yes?

  9. Its all about saying how generous they are at the same time the PP coalition ran out of both friends and favors.
    Unpopularity ain’t easy ; then they came with the PM sandiwara(plot to kill Pam) Cock & Bull! Perhaps while she is in India she’ll be brief on real-politic in a hostile anti-gov world.
    Politics of hate always trivializes history hence it rely on creating stars with colorless super novas.
    Carnival with no kaleidescope except military brass

  10. Vintage Davy de Verteuil. On old Tobago , one time bare feet, Teacher’s Training College , former A’ Level , Political Science lecturer of mine , use to say ,and I could still remember , “something is good if it works.”
    Time for us more socially conscious ,Digital / political Ddvocates , to maybe do some tweaking/ reappraisal of strategies, redefine, the end game, and decide how to move the goal post forward.
    When it comes to T&T , is is quite problematic to decide who is enemy or foe anymore, a prerequisite for meaningful action, yes?
    We wish our people well.
    Luv Humanity!

  11. I am still waiting for a wing f the NAtional Library to be named in honor of Vere Romain Achong. She did recieve the Chanonia Medal for meritorious service. She, almost singlehanded, pushed every government into building and equipping the NAtional Library, this, after about forty years ago, a board gave way in the old library on Queen’s PArk East, and her foot went through the floor. She organized the Medical Library at the Port-of-Spain general hospital, and who knows what working among those dusty tomes in broken and shabby buildings would have contributed to shortening her life.
    If any one desered further recognition, it is her. She went to the ancestors in 2006.
    I know I am not the sole person who feels this way. I am the one who will keep bringing it up.

    1. Ms. Linda Edwards, the single greatest gift one human can give to another is to teach them to cherish reading.

      Thus, your supportive and enlightening comments on the selfless labours of Ms. Achong on behalf of the reading public is appropriately referenced, aptly stated.

      Any recommendations of how, when, where, et al?


  12. My brother Neal! Again, I must thank you for providing the relective linkages for the ideas presented. The points raised are very fluid and interesting. I just got to thinking that yes! we have a multi-cultural society but our approach to political competition does not of necessity take into consideration who we REALLY are!. You always end with “Luv Humanity” or “Country first” and I know you truly mean that but political considerations in Trinidad is a lot more diluted and complicated than we would like to believe. People understand and pay attention to race and party but pay little or no attention to religion and culture. The fact of the matter is, that is where we confuse ourselves. Dr. Williams understood this and that is why he aligned himself with members of muslim faith and never pushed towards the hindu. The answer to that is simple. The muslim believe in the same God as all Christians do. When a public servant takes the oath of office and put his/her hand on the bible or quoran the majority of the population understand that this representative has just said to us that “I believe if I fail you my god will punish me”. In a way one does not have to be a practising christian to understand that the covenant which he/she signed binds his/her morality to the behaviour which is about to be carried out. On the other hand a large portion of our elected representatives and public servants now align and make oath on the bhagavad gita. The god or gods by which this group swears do not bear the same morality and comittment as the christian/muslim god. The christian god says “thou shalt not have any other god but me”, “I am a jealous god” etc. The christian ethics respond to such a belief system. The hindu god is numerous and plentiful and as such the belief and ethical behaviour allow its practitioner a lot more leeway to do as many wrongs as they like. They only need to do a pooja to correct that. One only need to look at the behaviour of Ramlogan, Rambachan, Gopeesingh, Devant, Kamla and others to see the ease with which they accept public wrongdoing only by mis-characterising the act. I believe that this point need debating and and a whole lot of scrutiny because there are lots of things happening in our country that is political, natural and spiritual that are different fro what’s happened before in our experience.

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