National Award: What it is and how it is done

A piece on protocol correctness

By: Soulay Daramy COR

Belated Happy Independent Anniversary to my Sierra Leonean sisters and brothers. Very many belated hearty congratulations to all those who received insignias and awards during the independence anniversary awards ceremony held on Tuesday 27th April, 2021, marking the 60th independence Anniversary. A very special congratulations to “me yone person’’ who was honoured with a national award. You deserve it and may Allah bless you for your contributions to mama Salone. Anniversary cheers everyone!! Without going into the merits or otherwise of celebrating/commemorating the 60th independence anniversary, I wish to simply state that anniversaries/should be celebrated or commemorated, no matter what. It is simply a reflection on a past event and looking forward to the future with renewed hope.

I am writing this piece, however, to share with the general public what a national award means and to point out some protocol mistakes we have made with the hope that we can learn not to repeat them at future engagements. Officials visit by other Heads of State to Sierra Leone and celebration or commemoration of a state independence are formal state events that deserve appropriate protocol attention. “ Nor to pikin bizness or lefu lefu ting’’ State protocol is required at it’s best.

Without malice and with all due respect to all those who organized the events, there were several unacceptable protocol mistakes for a state function. Mistakes which should never have happened if anyone of those involved in the arrangement had a little technical/protocol knowledge and experience. The task force was adamant in their refusal to seek appropriate advice. Someone from the corridors of power resulted in self exhaltation by saying “any tem wi de do dis una kin say le wi call so en so, nor to den normor sabi. Mi sef sabi. Afterall ar don woke na govement long pass den all. Wettin de wi ar nor sabi bot govement event’’.

What a shame and a sad state of affairs in the highest office. Length of stay in public service has nothing do with professionalism and expertise. One must undergo training in a specific discipline and years of stay in the field gives some experience that could be an added advantage to enable one know and understand the technical nitty gritty of the profession. Protocol is no exception. Protocol is simply about doing things in the correct way. Orderliness and standard procedures that ensure we do things to maintain finesse and decorum in accordance with the prescribed laws/regulations guiding what we do.

Surely, visit of a Head of State to another country as well a national insignia award do have rules and procedures. When these rules and procedures are followed, the event can be classified as having gone well. The April 26 – 28th visit of Heads of state and the national awards ceremony were anything but correctly executed.

Let me begin with the National Awards, what they are and the rules and regulations that we must follow.

A national insignia and award is the finest and highest form of recognition and appreciation of a citizen by the state, for services rendered to the nation or mankind in a particular field over time or at a particular time. This is provided for in our national constitution which confers the powers upon His Excellency the President to give honour and tittles to us citizens. The national award acts from parliament further establish the rules, regulations and procedures of these honours and awards.

Accordingly, there are two orders of dignity in Sierra Leone known respectively as the ‘’Order of the Republic’’ and the ‘’Order of the Rokel”

The “Order of the Republic’’ is the premier Order of the state of Sierra Leone and consists of three (3) ranks in this order;

Grand Commander – GCRSL

Grand Officer – GORSL

Commander – CRSL

The “Order of the Rokel’’ which is the second Order of the state of Sierra Leone consist of five (5) ranks, in this order:

Grand Commander – GCOR

Grand Officer – GOOR

Commander – COR

Officer – OOR

Member – MOR

There is also a decoration for bravery known as the “Decoration of Honour” and two medals for merit and services known respectively as the:

National Award Medal and

The Presidential Award medals – Gold and Silver

Over the years, the ceremony for the presentation of insignias and awards is done every year on the 27th April (Independence Day) except where His Excellency the President decides.

The national Insignia and Award Ceremony is the highest formal state function with the participation of the citizenry and the other arms of government. It is a solemn event which takes place on a specific date to mark the occasion or as part of celebration/commemoration of some other event, in our case, the country’s independence. The national Award Act further establishes a chancellery comprising the following;

The Attorney General

The Speaker of Parliament

The Chief Justice

Minister of Foreign Affairs

Minister of Information

The Secretary to the President as secretary

A member can be coopted temporarily, as and when necessary, to provide technical back – up. The chancellery shall perform such functions as scrutinize the nominations from MDAs and general public, collation of a register of recipients, compilation of citations or any other duties the President may direct.

Preparations for the award ceremonies commences in September/October of the preceding year and announcement of awardees are made in January 1st (New Year’s Day message) for the upcoming ceremony in April. MDAs are normally requested to submit nominations for awards. The act further specifies the insignias of each rank of the orders, the position of the badge of honour and how the sash should be worn.

The 2021 Ceremony!!

The National Award Ceremony is a highpoint in most people’s life. It affords the citizen an opportunity firstly to be identified from amongst the general populace for the distinguished, dedicated, exemplary or outstanding contribution or performance in a particular field of service to the nation. Secondly, it enhances the pride and boost the ego of the individual by stepping forward at a magnificent ceremony and a laudable citation is read out. Thirdly and most comforting and rewarding, it affords the citizen the wonderous privilege to be decorated by the highest authority the supreme power of the land – His Excellency the President. The significance of a national award therefore, is for a citizen to be:

a) Identified

b) Recognized and

c) Decorated

These three instances should be played out to reflect the significance on the day of the ceremony. This year, the ceremony was rushed and the awardees were not accorded the opportunity to enjoy the splendor of their awards.

Granted, the global pandemic and other state events stood in the way, but at least the awardees specific distinguished contribution should have been properly highlighted. Furthermore, due to the desire to complete the program in record time, the traditional constitutional greetings and citations from the statutory instrument, which adds pomp and pageantry and solemnity to the event were completely omitted.

This was inappropriate and a deviation from the standard norm. The insignia award ceremony is the only national formal event in this country where ordinary citizens take centre stage and garner pride, honour and sense of belonging to a state. To waterdown the proceedings to a mere school – like certification program is unfortunate and not good enough. The soothing and melodious beating of the retreat by a joint military and police bands was completely ignored, even though it was stated in the official program. That was a protocol breach.

Earlier, His Excellency the President hosted a few of his colleagues to dinner and the following morning, all visiting Heads of State were at a ceremony where they were decorated.

Let me say this, the Office of the President is the highest office in the land. There is no room for error and protocol at that level should be top drawer activity. Protocol blunders at that level are not acceptable. Protocol blunders at that level are not acceptable. The State chief of protocol should conduct protocol matters at all times to ensure that correct protocol is always applied.

State protocol in most countries, Sierra Leone included, is the responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. All other MDAs play complimentary or supporting roles to ensure the events come out successfully.

The MFAIC is the only department that has the protocol competence to organize, direct and lead events, particularly with international participation.  Protocol specifics such as precedence, seating positions, flag designs and position, salutations at formal gatherings are cardinal principles in protocol. These are commonplace activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Which is the competent agency to provide appropriate direction and services in these matters.

The several protocol mistakes during the recent visit/event were shameful and unacceptable. For example, the Sierra Leone flag at Lungi was vertical stripes. The Sierra Leone national flag is three equal horizontal bands of green, white and blue colours. One visiting Head of State was on the left of the host, to the surprise and shock of a visiting protocol officer. Proper protocol demands that the guest should always be on the right of the host – sitting, standing or walking on the red carpet. The sash on all the Heads of state were wrong (uniformly wrong). The Sierra Leone sash should flow from the left shoulder according to the regulation of the act.

The common protocol blunder in Sierra Leone is the erroneous belief that everyone knows protocol elements. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Everyone performs protocol functions, all be it, unknowingly and/or unconsciously. But Foreign Service Officers have the competence and experience. They are trained and practice protocol on a daily basis.

Granted, mistakes or fauxpas do occur. But they are quickly amended if the culprits are aware of the mistakes. Lack of knowledge on the other hand may cause huge national embarrassment or disgrace. I hope we have had our share of national embarrassment from what happened in the recent past, from now on we should endeavor to follow protocol practices and procedures at future national and international events.

Protocol tips for an insignia and national award ceremony!!

Caution must be taken by the chancellery not to duplicate the award to any recipient

Previous recipient could only be given a higher award

The Breast star and badge shall be worn on the left breast and the ribbon across the chest shall be from the left – shoulder

A person appointed to any rank of the order may use the letters designating the rank, e.g., Soulay Daramy COR

A person appointed to any higher rank shall case to hold any lower rank to which he/she may previously have been appointed. He/she shall also cease to be entitled to use the insignia and initials of any lower rank of the same order

The holder of any honour must conduct himself/herself in a manner consistent with the dignity of that honour otherwise the President has the power to withdraw title and honour.

The outstanding service(s) and sector of life which the awardee is decorated should be highlighted. “He who knows and knows that he knows is wise. Follow Him”

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