In this year of the 50th anniversary of Trinidad and Tobago as an independent country, I have been thinking of Arthur NR Robinson's contribution to Tobago, and in today's column, I will be writing down my thoughts as my memory, and not deliberate research, permits.
When I was growing up, Mr Robinson was for me the most important Tobagonian in both Tobagonian and national space. I came to know him first as the PNM Member of Parliament representing Tobago East, alongside Basil Pitt, who was the PNM Member of Parliament for Tobago West. He enjoyed higher social regard than Pitt, probably because he had been educated at Oxford and was perceived to be a more careful and eloquent speaker.
He was a Minister, and even acting Prime Minister, in Dr Williams' government and would, after I had reached adulthood, go on to be the first chairman of the Tobago House of Assembly, the third prime minister of the country, and the third president as well.
When, in the early 70s, I was at university, he had quit the PNM — over perennial neglect of Tobago's development and personal and political differences with Dr Williams — and joined the Black Power bandwagon, but not NJAC (the revolutionary National Joint Action Committee). Before that, he was not a man who mixed with the people. I saw him as a socially aloof person and as a leader to admire from a distance. I thought then that if I went too close, I would discover things that would impair my admiration. One of my abiding images of him is his wearing jeans — yes, jeans! — in one of those ubiquitous Black Power marches. To this day, the image is still incongruous!
I was glad when he left the PNM because I thought he would now be free to focus attention on Tobago's developmental needs in a way he couldn't under the suffocating holistic, monolithic PNM. He was. He joined forces with the Tobagonian nationalist forces, formed the Democratic Action Congress and put on the national political agenda the issue of Tobagonian self-government. That would be the issue that would win his party the two Tobago seats in 1976, develop into the 1977 motion of internal self-government for Tobago, lead to the passage of the THA Act of 1980, and propel him into the chairmanship of a watered-down version of the THA. I embraced the issue and joined the progressive forces on the island.
In 2012, however, many of those forces are muted and stagnant, and have been so for a considerable amount of time before 2012.
The 1980 Act, passed under a PNM government, bestowed a measure of self-government on Tobago within the state of Trinidad and Tobago, and it morphed into the 1996 Act, which offered a greater measure of self-government but left intact the status quo of subordination of the island to the parliament and the cabinet of the country.
Without a doubt, its most important clause is the one that set up a dispute resolution mechanism, whose first commission set the ceilings of the percentages of the national budget that should be allocated to the THA for recurrent and development expenditure.Mr Robinson's input was critical to the shape of both Acts.
He would be critically instrumental in the construction of both the deep-water harbour in Scarborough and the Crown Point International Airport (now the ANR Robinson International Airport). But his greatest contribution to Tobago's development — and, consequently, to the nation's development — is his political prosecution of the issue of self-government for Tobago to the point where the House of Assembly was restored, albeit in watered-down form.
He is the architect of internal self-government for Tobago and of the restored Tobago House of Assembly. He is also the quintessential Tobagonian icon — a man who was large in the eyes of Tobago, Trinidad, the Caribbean region, and even further afield.
He successfully challenged Dr Williams, articulated the Tobagonian nationalist cause consistently and convincingly, succeeded Williams as the most experienced and respected politician in the country, and became a respected international jurist.
But despite these achievements, he left his constituency of Tobago East the most undeveloped and neglected in the country (by his own admission) and has left a party that is more cult than structure, with far lesser lights seeking to lead by personality and inertia than by knowledge and rationality.
It's up to the new generation of Tobagonian politicians to valorise and expand the legacy he has left.
•Winford James is a UWI lecturer and political analyst