THE INDICATION by Udecott chairman Noel Garcia that the Red House renovation is on target for completion by the end of next month raises the likelihood that our parliamentarians will soon be able to return to that historic building. As we celebrate Independence Day, we warmly welcome the prospect of the return of the Parliament to its original seat.
The Red House is a reminder of the power of symbols to shape our shared national identity, something which has been tested in recent times by highly divisive politics, social malaise, and rampant criminality.
President Paula-Mae Weekes a few days ago had cause to draw attention to a variation to the national anthem performed at an official state event, the closure of Carifesta XIV. The President’s intervention was regarded by some as unnecessary and as demonstrating skewed priorities.
However, the President is a creature of our constitution; she is as much a part of the architecture of our modern state as any of our national emblems, and her pointing out long-established rules and guidelines in relation to the anthem was more than within her remit.
Part of our strength as a people is our wonderful creativity and resourcefulness, a fact demonstrated by our invention of pan music from the discarded remnants of the oil industry. But the long-established practices in relation to our national emblems were designed to ensure a degree of standardisation as well as to instill values such as respect.
“Our national flag belongs to all our citizens,” Dr Eric Williams declared on August 31, 1962. “Our national coat of arms, with our national birds inscribed therein, is the sacred trust of all our citizens. So it is today, please, I urge you, let it always be so.”
Like the flag and the coat of arms, the national anthem does not belong to any one individual. Just as there are legal standards in relation to how these emblems are to be displayed and handled, so too must the anthem be handled with sensitivity. As one Newsday letter-writer recently suggested, it would be impossible for people to sing along to the anthem if it changed with each rendition.
It seems many are unaware of the laws and regulations governing our coat of arms, flag, currency, and related symbols. At the very least, the President’s intervention has drawn attention to these rules which serve a greater purpose.
As we celebrate our 57th anniversary as an independent nation, we have much to be inspired by. The recent achievements of our sporting heroes at the Pan Am Games, the dazzling spectacle that was Carifesta XIV, the continued excellence of our artists and cultural ambassadors – all, like our national emblems, remind us of the need for respect, harmony and togetherness as we move forward.