Thursday, December 14, 2017

‘We owe him a debt of gratitude’

Members of the Senate yesterday paid tribute to former president and prime minister ANR Robinson in both a professional and a personal capacity, praising him for his integrity and fiscal decisions from which to date this country’s economy still benefits.

Senator Dr Bhoe Tewarie, who worked with Robinson as a young politician, spoke of the former president as “a kind of father figure” who was “honest and decent”.

“ANR Robinson served this country in various capacities for all most 50 years; he was not a populace man. He took both hard and controversial decisions— he was a leader who was more respected than loved. 

“His battle against a monolithic PNM, his Cabinet reshuffle of 1987, his expulsion of Basdeo Panday from the NAR, his decision in 2001 not  to reinstate the incumbent government that had not lost the election. Throughout all of these controversial decisions one sees a certain consistency of character.”

Robinson, he said, empathised with the poor and those who knew him well appreciated his genuineness, his warmth and his capacity for humour while those at a distance regarded him as “somewhat aloof”.

Tewarie said there is no doubt that he was a patriot and no allegation of corruption against him ever stuck— “the life he lived, the way he conducted his business, the issues he was interested in belied any false allegations that may have been made against him”. 

“At a certain level ANR was a simple man, he was a country boy who grew up in a small village with a strong sense of right and wrong — this guided him  throughout his career in public life.”

Robinson, he said, got his inspiration and strength from the grassroots and was a persistent and patient man but he also made controversial decisions.

“The structural policies of the NAR ultimately consolidated the Trinidad and Tobago economy, building on initiatives earlier taken by Prime Minister George Chambers  and set into motion policies that were by and large irreversible. From 1992 to 2008 Trinidad and Tobago had an unbroken run of economic growth and relative prosperity.”    

“Although the NAR receded after 1991, ANR Robinson persisted in public life for nearly two decades afterwards.

“I had a long respectful  affectionate relationship with Mr Robinson. I was young when I entered Parliament and Mr Robinson was a seasoned parliamentarian and politician. Because I was first a minister without a portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister I interacted with him regularly in the early days of the NAR; he had a lot of confidence in me and said so publicly in the party forums and once in Parliament,” Tewarie said.

He said during the 1990 attempted coup he was with Brigadier Joseph Theodore during the negotiation of Robinson’s release.

“Our relationship continued until the end. I visited Mr Robinson at the St Clair Medical the Saturday before he died, I am glad that I went on that Saturday— I took the opportunity to thank Mr Robinson for giving me the opportunity to serve in his government and to work side-by-side with him in an important time in our history. 

“This country owes a genuine debt of gratitude to ANR Robinson and on behalf of the government of Trinidad and Tobago  and the people of Trinidad and Tobago, I say thank you,” he said. 

Opposition senator Camille Robinson-Regis, who paid tribute on behalf of the Opposition, who quoted a scripture from the Bible “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted”, said the country is indeed in a time of mourning for Robinson, whom she described as “ forever a Caribbean Statesman” who emulated principles that all hope to emulate. 

“Mr Robinson’s presence represented an affiliation with a time that is long past, with a different type of Trinidad and Tobago, perhaps to a type of Trinidad and Tobago to which we are seeking to return.”

She spoke of his courage to leave the PNM, the foundation of his political career, to move on to become a leader.