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He listened to the people

By JULIEN NEAVES Saturday, May 3 2014

FORMER Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Hochoy Charles has said that late former President and Prime Minister Arthur NR Robinson’s decision to favour the PNM’s Patrick Manning following the general election 18-18 tie was not out of “spite” but based on moral principles and the then President listening to the voice of the people.

Chief Justice Ivor Archie, speaking at the State ecumenical service for Robinson in Port-of-Spain on Thursday, said Robinson “agonised prayerfully” over his decision on the 18/18 election tie “up until the very last minute” and had prepared instruments of appointment for both Manning and the incumbent Basdeo Panday of the UNC.

Speaking on the issue with the media after viewing Robinson’s casket as it lay in state yesterday at the THA Legislative Chamber in Scarborough, Charles said Panday’s recent talk of “spite” on the part of Robinson, choosing Manning over him, was “foolishness” and it was based on deep moral principle.

He noted that Panday called an election and the people voted for a tie, “so the thrust of the population was moving away from those who were in government towards those who were outside of government.” Charles said the only thing Robinson could do was to follow the voice of the people and make the Opposition PNM the new government.

On the 17-17 tie in 2005, he recalled that Manning, who was then Prime Minister, had called the election one year and four months before they were due saying he could not govern the country with 20 seats. Manning had lost one of his 21 seats after the departure of Ralph Maraj and he wanted the population to increase the majority.

He noted that even if the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) had “loved” Manning and wanted to put him in government and give him the two Tobago seats, he would have still had 19 seats, one less than he had when he said he could not run the country. “That’s why, on a matter of deep principle, Mr Robinson decided we are going to support Mr Panday because he did not say he couldn’t govern the country with the 19,” he said.

Touching on some of the measures instituted by Robinson during his tenure as Prime Minister, Charles said few understood the Value Added Tax (VAT) and some people spoke about it as though it was a crime. Charles explained that it was not an additional tax but a replacement tax for the purchase tax which had the lowest rate of 20 percent of any item and the highest 85 percent.

“It was because of his love for his people that he introduced it,” he added. He noted that because of the pressures in the economy and no money Robinson removed the system of purchase tax and replaced it to VAT and reduced the lowest rate by five percent while the basic items were zero rated. “People were taking home more money than before,” he said.

Charles also noted that people do not understand the depth of the statement “attack with full force”, made while he was being held hostage by the Jamaat al Muslimeen during the 1990 attempted coup. He said Robinson is responsible for the country enjoying democracy today.

“Calling on my security forces to kill everyone of us who are inside there, bandits and myself. I am giving my life to save this country so that you people would be free. That is what it meant. I am prepared to die rather than hand over this country to crooks and robbers,” he said.

Charles said Robinson fell between the level of late former South African President and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ in his estimation.

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