Gongs law do-over accused of political bias

| 10/09/2018 | 18 Comments
Cayman News Service

Old Cayman Islands gong

(CNS): The government’s proposal to overhaul the system to grant local national honours generated a degree of animosity across the floor of the Legislative Assembly last week, when several opposition members raised questions of political bias. As opposition leader in 2010 when the law was first brought to the LA by then premier McKeeva Bush, Alden McLaughlin made allegations that the system was a political tool. Those same allegations were echoed by the current opposition when McLaughlin, now premier, presented the new bill and commended the original efforts by Bush, though he said the old bill was not entirely fit for purpose.

McLaughlin said that when Bush introduced the law in 2010 to create Cayman’s own local honors, it “was long overdue”. But he said there had been challenges with the first attempt because so many were given away and it seemed as though the honours were devalued and the system had not worked as intended. He said the quality of the insignia was poor and they were easily tarnished, and the system appeared incompatible with the British royal awards.

But the premier said that the 60th anniversary of the Cayman Islands Coat of Arms provided an opportunity “to relaunch and reinvigorated the order”. He explained that the passage of the amendment bill would allow sufficient time to launch a public information campaign and to begin attracting nominations ready for the National Hero’s Day in 2019.

McLaughlin said the current law made provision for too many grades of awards, so the system would be simplified. He also said a new council would be created, chaired by the chief justice, to select the winners from the nominations. 

Two members would be nominated by the premier, one by the opposition leader and one by the speaker, making up the five people. This new system of gongs will be overseen by the cabinet secretary, as there were concerns that previously, when the system was under the premier’s office, it had not been well managed.

The premier said the revised system would be “rigorous and transparent”, ensuring that the honours have value and remain exclusive. He also told the LA that the medals were going to be redesigned, and people who had received the original honours could, if they wanted, swap their old awards for new ones.  

Deputy Leader of Opposition Alva Suckoo said the opposition supported the principle of a national honours system but the government had done nothing to remove the same concerns that McLaughlin had when Bush introduced the law more than eight yeas ago.

Suckoo said the system was still going to be subject to politicization and the premier was effectively paving the way for the same system he had criticized when he was in opposition. He also questioned why the speaker would be an appropriate office to make nominations, regardless of who sat in the chair.

The opposition asked why the new law did not address the potential for politics to tarnish the awards. However, the bill was voted through its second reading ahead of some amendments expected to be made during the committee stage, which government is expected to deal with this week.

National Honours and Awards (Amendment) Bill, 2018

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Comments (18)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Cayman should have Dukes and Earls. I mean why not? Think of it—The Duke of West Bay, Earl South Sound, Baron of North Side. This would be way better than JP or Hero.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Should be called Bongs to better reflect our culture.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The fact that this is a topic of greater importance than enactment of the Standards in Public Life Law (2014), tells you everything you need to know about the moral decay in that room.

  4. Someone who knows about this sort of thing says:

    The real problem with all of this is the UK will not give out its own honours in any territory or country with its own honours system. So by reintroducing this, local politicians will be depriving Caymanians of the possibility of gaining real honours not tainted by accusations of corruption and political game-making. In addition there are basic constitutional/protocol issues with the bill, particularly the Premier naming himself Chancellor and Principal Companion. The Governor should be the Chancellor and Principal Companion (like the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario – the Queen’s Representative in Ontario – is Chancellor of the Order of Ontario). On top of that the Premier wants to be able to make appointments independently of the council to be chaired by the Chief Justice: one companion, two officers and four members a year. If that isn’t for vote/support buying I don’t know what it’s for; the council should be perfectly capable of deciding to honour those truly worthy. Finally the bill states that Cayman honours take precedence after all UK honours except the Certificate and Badge of Honour and UK Campaign, Commemorative or Long Service awards. This is simply wrong because the Certificate and Badge of Honour IS a UK award (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Badge_of_Honour) given in three other territories and its precedence is fixed by the UK above certain commemorative medals but below the Overseas Territories Police Medal. It is not within our competence here to determine precedence for honours or change the precedence here of a UK award. Honours are a UK matter.

    The whole thing suggests the UK wants nothing to do with any local attempt to grant local honours or else the Governor would be Chancellor. That can only be because it is self-evident that no honour flows from our politics and thus our politicians cannot give honours. It’s a joke, something I never expected Alden to stoop to doing. I am very disappointed in him. There is no honour in receiving an award from the holder of an office not deemed to have any. Being Premier is a great privilege; it also means you climbed the greasy pole and did all sorts of dishonourable things on the way up, which presumption precludes you from awarding anyone else with much of anything. The fount of honour is the Queen and her representative is the only office that can bestow honour upon other people and even then only in her name. This is basic stuff that, of course, our local protocol resources are unable to comprehend.

    I never comment on other bills but this one I will be contacting MLAs to explain the problems with. It needs committee-stage amendment to be slightly less of a disaster. And to the UK, if you’re reading: my generation will not perpetuate this dubious honours system. We are not going to be handing neck-worn dinner plates to each other. We are going to be down to business and if nominated and honoured by the UK we will be grateful, but we are not going to take matters into our own hands and cover each other in what is effectively jewellery to wear over those ill-fitting suits and garish Sunday dresses at Heroes Day.

    • Anonymous says:

      ‘Someone’s’ otherwise interesting and (perhaps) knowledgable post was marred by the last sentence. Not everyone can have their suits customs made and personally I prefer to see ladies dressed in their Sunday best out of respect for the occasion to the ‘come as you are’ style of those who have little regard for protocol or ceremony. It’s a personal observation, not a criticism.

      • Someone who knows about this sort of thing says:

        A fair comment. I can assure you of the knowledge behind the post. My suits are not custom made either, and I prefer Sunday best to ‘come as you are’, as well. I am simply giving the reader a visual, where most people invited to ceremonies have also been given these honours and all wear them over questionable clothing choices, and to anyone educated or sophisticated, the spectacle is laughable and sad. You don’t have to have a custom suit to have one that fits, you don’t need to be wearing flowers to be in Sunday best, and you can’t get an honour from an office from which no honour springs that actually means anything – making sure to wear every chance one gets makes it even worse. A bit of class all around is what I’m asking of my fellow Caymanians.

        • Anonymous says:

          If you derive your self-esteem from classic posturing, it says you have nothing to say of substance.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Give and take. Low hanging fruit. Nobody cares.
    Also, we should have Junior Gongs for our yoots.

  6. Anonymous says:

    How can a territory have “national” honours?

  7. Anonymous says:

    cayman and its national awards…..laughable.
    remember self priase is no praise.

  8. Anonymous says:

    So the nominees come strictly from the politicians even with the new bill. And how will it not be biased or “a political tool”? Netflix needs to come and do a series. People would think it could not be real and the stories must be made up.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Alden makes my head hurt……. how can you do the same thing that you criticized bush for when you were the opposition! This man has got to go…#notaclue

    • Anonymous says:

      They have no real morals, no convictions, no real guiding principles, what they argue against today they will support in 4 years (in Austins case what you argue for today you vote for in a year and a half)

      Same thing with the new duty allowance in 2015 the government argued against the proposal and then they took the exact same proposal and passed it in 2018

      Our government seemingly sticks with policies in accordance with the tides

  10. Anonymous says:

    Way to go Al, call them out when you see a problem. If it was unacceptable to the present Premier back then, without the necessary changes it should still be unacceptable. The Premier need to stop putting his credibility in jeopardy just to cozy up with the unsavory. He should be above that.

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