Like many presentations of medals and prizes in other countries, the annual awards handed out by the Hong Kong government on the anniversary of the city’s return of sovereignty to Chinese rule attract close scrutiny, sometimes even criticism. But the announcement of the honours list, delayed until National Day this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, has renewed a wider debate on issues gripping our society. A record 687 awards were given this year, compared to 444 in 2009 and last year’s 399. The surge was mainly due to individuals commended for tackling the social unrest and Covid-19 pandemic over the past year, officials say. Police officers took 94 awards of various categories; another 143 people who received the chief executive’s commendation were mainly health care workers. The line-up does not seem objectionable – if anything, it reflects an extraordinary year of turbulence. Since June 2019, the city has been rocked by protests that often resulted in clashes with the police, followed by a pandemic that is still wreaking havoc today. It is only fair that more people in the health care sector are recognised in due course. The recognition of the “meritorious performance” by individual police officers in handling the protests has inevitably reopened old wounds that are still upsetting many in our deeply divided society. There are those who think the police were between a rock and hard place because of political disputes fuelled by policy failures, and that they deserve commendation for maintaining law and order under exceptional circumstances. But others take issue with their enforcement actions and blame the police for aggravating the crisis. This is not the first time the awards have been called into question. Apart from commending outstanding community figures, retiring officials and outgoing politicians, the honours given to some top aides and allies of the chief executive often renew the perception that such awards are political rewards. Some recipients are undoubtedly deserving of an award, but there are other unsung heroes in society who are equally worthy of recognition. The government must be more mindful of the perception to the choice of recipients if the annual honours list is to maintain its credibility and relevance to the people.