Senators in one accord as National Honours Amendment Bill passed

Reigning Panorama champions Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra will become the first steelband in Antigua and Barbuda to receive a national honour, after the government decided to confer the accolade on the 75-year-old band during the 2020 Independence celebration.
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By Carlena Knight

There was a unanimous show of support by senators on both sides yesterday as they all were in favour of the National Honours Amendment Bill 2020, which clears the way for recognition of the contributions of institutions to arts and culture in Antigua and Barbuda.

The passing of changes to the National Honours Act 1998 broadens who can receive the prestigious award and will now include bodies such as organisations, companies and social clubs on the list of entities that qualify to be awarded national honours under the Precious Order of Princely Heritage which was once limited to individuals.

The chosen groups would have had to make an invaluable contribution to the promotion of local arts and culture in order to be recognised as contenders for either a gold, silver or bronze plaque engraved with the country’s coat of arms. 

The first group to receive that honour will be the oldest steelband in Antigua and Barbuda – Hells Gate Steel Orchestra — for their contribution to cultural development over the past 75 years.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne, in a recent sitting of parliament, also mentioned that the band will be given the highest award – the gold plaque.

“The sun rises in the east but it settles in the west,” the prime minister, who is also the representative for St John’s City West, the home of Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra, touted, as he gave high commendations to the group.

“It is a most deserving decision based on the success and longevity of the Hells Gate institution which would have literally existed for three generations and continuing,” Browne said.

During yesterday’s debate, Senator Mary-Claire Hurst was the first to give her support to the change as she believes the first recipient of this new change, the Hells Gate Steel Orchestra, is quite fitting to receive the accolade. She believes the original legislation was in fact an “oversight” as it excluded groups, clubs and organisations of the sort.

“We realise that it was an oversight, quite frankly, when this Bill was passed because we needed to include groups. We are now recognising that there are groups, whether cultural, from a union standpoint who have made significant contributions and should be recognised, but the way it was structured back then, it only looked at individuals,” Hurst said.

She is of the opinion that not enough is done to honour organisations or groups within the country and believes this amendment is “a stepping stone” in changing that notion.

The opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) Senator Richard Lewis also stood in support of the Bill and also commended Hells Gate.

He, however, noted that although he is pleased to see the music group being honoured, this new change goes well beyond them.

“Bestowing the award to companies, organisations, social clubs, who would have made significant contributions to the nation of Antigua and Barbuda is a move I applaud. We think of organisations such as the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, Lions Club, etc, and so we are pleased that this amendment has come and that we can indeed recognise these organisations who would contribute so much to the development of this twin island nation,” Lewis said.

Another UPP Senator, Shawn Nicholas, also added her voice in support of the Bill and congratulated Hells Gate for their achievement.

Nicholas however called on the relevant authorities to educate the public more on the process of the national honours “as many people believe it is not for everyone”.

The Bill was passed in the Senate on Monday.

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