Maybe instead of the usual bickering, we can use this latest controversy over whether Junior Eurovision winner Gaia Cauchi deserves a national award to unravel a lot of misconceptions and put it into some kind of perspective.
As the story broke and everyone took to their keyboards, it became clear that there was a lot of confusion, partly due to the fact that reference was initially made to Gieh ir-Repubblika. In fact, what Gaia has been nominated for is to be enrolled in the National Order of Merit as a member.
There were also outraged comments that someone like Joseph Calleja never got this award and here an 11-year-old was getting it before him – this turned out to be incorrect, as a quick Google search revealed that he had been awarded member of the National Order of Merit in 2006.
At this very moment, amendments to the law are being discussed in Parliament but until these are passed, this is how the whole thing works. There are a number of awards, honours and medals which are bestowed every year on 13 December, Republic Day, to those who have carried out some kind of noteworthy achievement.
These are divided into different categories, in a kind of ranking order; the top one (the one everyone is talking about, which is Gieh ir-Repubblika) is usually reserved for Prime Ministers, Presidents and Archbishops. The various categories are as follows:
Gieh ir-Repubblika – this can include not more than 20 at any one time; to put it bluntly someone has to die before someone else can be included in this list known as the Xirka. (The government has proposed that this kind of capping should be removed). This highest honour is given for “exceptional merit in the service of Malta or, humanity as a whole”. Maltese nationals and distinguished citizens of other countries may be appointed as honorary members of the Xirka.
This is followed by The National Order of Merit which is divided into:
- Companion of Honour
After that come the Medals of the Republic, divided into:
- Medalja ghall-Qadi tar-Repubblika (service to the republic)
- Medalja ghal-Qlubija (bravery)
- Long and efficient service
Very few people are probably aware that ANY Maltese citizen can propose a candidate (there is a form which can be downloaded here ). The person being proposed needs to have given a special service to Malta, or to a particular locality or to a particular field of activity or to a particular group within the community.
A nominations committee submits possible names of candidates to the Prime Minister who in turn advises the President.
What we had in the case of Gaia, of course, was the Prime Minister announcing it as a fait accomplit during a press conference, which is probably the first time this has ever happened (I stand to be corrected).
A list of all the people who have received such awards was tabled in Parliament this morning. As can be seen, there have been numerous people from the performing arts who have been awarded in this same category.
Should Gaia Cauchi be included among all these names? Personally, I think it’s a bit much for someone so young and in the context of her achievement. She will have plenty of time to receive accolades and awards, and I agree with those who suggested that a music scholarship would have been more appropriate.
Gaia is young, she is talented and she has a great future ahead of her. Gaia will go far, especially if she remains as natural, down-to-earth and devoid of any affectations as she is at the moment. Merit for this must surely go to her parents, who are obviously keeping her grounded despite the fact that she has received so much media attention locally, on Italian television and now on a European level. Which is no mean feat in this world which is celebrity crazy.
Maybe they should get the award instead?