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President receives nation’s highest award
President Paula-Mae Weekes was yesterday conferred with the nation’s highest award —the Order of the Republic of T&T (ORTT).
Weekes received the award from Chief Justice Ivor Archie during a ceremony at President’s House in St Ann’s.
Weekes spoke briefly at the event to thank media personnel who attended.
The invitation for the event was only sent by Weekes’ office yesterday morning and only journalists from the country’s three daily newspapers were invited.
Archie, who chairs the National Awards Committee, said the award is given to all sitting presidents as they serve as Chancellor of the Order of Trinity.
National awards have been awarded since 1969, with the Trinity Cross being the highest award. The award was the subject of criticism from religious leaders, who questioned why a “Christian award” was being given in a secular state in which freedom of religious beliefs is protected under the Constitution.
In 1995, then head of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) Pundit Krishna Maharaj refused to accept the award because he felt the award did not reflect T&T’s multi-religious society.
Almost a decade later, SDMS secretary general Satnarayn Maharaj and Islamic Relief Centre head Inshan Ishmael challenged the constitutionality of the award.
High Court Judge Peter Jamadar, who has since been elevated to the Court of Appeal, ruled that the award was discriminatory but refused to strike it down as he said such a decision lies with Parliament.
The judgment led then prime minister Patrick Manning to appoint a committee to review the award. In 2008, the award was replaced with the ORTT. The award can only be given to a maximum of five people annually.
Since being launched, the award has been handed out 21 times.
Previous awardees are Professor Brian Copeland, Bertram “Bertie” Marshall, Anthony Williams, Jizelle Salandy (posthumous), Karl Hudson-Phillip, QC, Krishna Maharaj (posthumous), Dr Wahid Ali (posthumous), Kamaluddin Mohammed (posthumous), Ulric Cross, Zalayhar Hassanali, Helen Bhagwansingh, Anthony Norman Sabga, Keshorn Walcott, George Chambers, Adrian Cola Rienzi, Anthony Carmona, Makanda Daaga, Chief Justice Ivor Archie, Professor Ramesh Deosaran, Winston Dookeran and Errol McLeod.
The award was not given in 2016 and last year. This year’s recipients, if any, will be announced shortly before the award ceremony on Republic Day (September 24).
Last year was the first year that the ceremony was shifted from its traditional home on Independence Day.
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