Thursday, December 14, 2017


CJ reveals at funeral: Former president agonised till the very last minute over selection of a PM


OFF TO TOBAGO: Members of the military carry the coffin bearing the body of former president Arthur NR Robinson into a National Security helicopter bound for Tobago at Piarco International Airport yesterday. —Photo: Jermaine Cruickshank

Mark Fraser

At the time of the 18-18 tie in 2001, then President Arthur NR Robinson “agonised prayerfully up until the very last minute” over his selection of a Prime Minister.

He even had two instruments of appointment (for Prime Minister) prepared—one for Basdeo Panday and one for Patrick Manning.

Chief Justice Ivor Archie made this disclosure at the State Ecumenical Service for the former president at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) in Port of Spain yesterday. Robinson died on April 9 at the age of 87.

True to his words, former prime minister Panday who never forgave Robinson for not selecting him as prime minister,  did not attend the funeral and neither did Manning, the beneficiary of Robinson’s selection.

Robinson’s choice of Manning, on the basis of “moral and spiritual values”,  caused a lot of anger then and remains controversial to this day.

“How many of us know that at the time of the 18-18 tie ... that he agonised prayerfully up until the very last minute. Even going to the extent, and I think he would not mind my saying this now, even going to the extent of having two instruments of appointment prepared—one for each of the contenders. I think that he was doing his best, even if for some his best was not good enough,” Archie stated.

Archie said Robinson was meticulous to a fault about matters of financial probity. “If he went away on an official trip and had $20 unspent, he would return it. The truth is and we cannot deny, that he is that very rare breed of politician who has spent many years in public life in powerful positions and there has never been a credible hint of corruption levelled against him. That is by itself, an accomplishment worthy of celebration,” he said.

The Chief Justice noted that while there were many labels which could apply to Robinson—visionary, nationalist, distinguished Caribbean son, international statesman—this country had a “very human propensity of chewing up and spitting out our leaders. ... And it seems that we can hardly ever bring ourselves to praise Caesar unless we are also burying him.” 

Archie said, however, he believed Robinson was less concerned with opposition or dislike or hatred, compared to the fear of being misunderstood. 

“To understand the man you have to go back to the beginning. Born into a family that was a pillar of the Methodist church in Tobago, he was imbued from an early age with strong, religious conservative, some might say, almost puritan values and a commitment to service that characterised his public life.

“He felt strongly about fighting injustice and in his mind if one was on the side of right and doing God’s will, then there was nothing to fear and no sacrifice too great,” he added.

He said whatever one may say about the wisdom of some of the things Robinson did, the walk from the People’s National Movement (PNM) in 1970 took courage. 

“The call to attack with full force (in Parliament during the 1990 attempted coup) was not selfish, or with a view to claiming a place in history, as some sort of martyr. It was a typically defiant refusal to surrender democracy to anarchy. It was something for which he was prepared to die,” he said.

Archie recalled the government Robinson led was forced to implement difficult economic measures prior to the attempted coup. “And I suspect that the unkind things that were said in the wake of the event must have hurt more than the bullet (he received at the hands of his captors). But he bore it all with dignity.

“He needed to be understood, he needed to have his story told. Something in me believes that he refused to die until we had had a Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 coup. However incomplete, it would have given him a sense of closure,” the Chief Justice said. 

Archie said Robinson was above all a very formal man. Archie a Tobagonian, said his family and the Robinsons were friends, having grown up in the Methodist Church together. 

He said whenever he went to visit Robinson, he always came to the door in his jacket, notwithstanding the fact that Robinson was more accomplished than he (Archie) and was his senior “because he was greeting the Chief Justice”. 

He noted, however, that under his “reserved exterior was a wicked sense of humour”.