It was not former National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) prime minister Arthur NR Robinson's leadership style that made him unpopular with the masses in 1990 but, rather, his personality.
Former finance minister in the NAR government, Selby Wilson, giving evidence at the Caribbean Court of Justice yesterday before the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 attempted coup, spoke of Robinson's character flaw, even as he stoutly defended his style of governance. He said: "He always appeared a little too stiff. He didn't have a naturally warm personality. He was clinical to the point. "He was a very formal and proper man. He didn't have the kind of charisma that Manning (Patrick) and Panday (Basdeo) exuded," Wilson told the commission.
Wilson, responding to a question from commissioner Eastlyn McKenzie, added: "I don't think his leadership was inappropriate. "I think it was his personality. He trusted my good judgment (as finance minister) and I was a fierce defender of whatever policy he put in place." He said the NAR clearly stated in its 1986 manifesto that economic restructuring was necessary and put several programmes in place, especially to alleviate the suffering of the less fortunate. He blamed a communication deficit for the ignorance of masses about those things.
Further, it was former United National Congress leader Basdeo Panday who, using the race element after the 1988 split in the NAR coalition, succeeded in painting Robinson in a certain light, Wilson told the commission. He said: "The race element in politics became more prominent when Club 88 (comprising dissident UNC members of the NAR) was established. "Panday had to resort to elevating the race element in politics to make the split. "Winston Dookeran (NAR MP) said he wouldn't win the Chaguanas seat again because he elected to stay with the NAR. "Panday called him a neemakaram, someone who turns on his people. Emmanuel Hosein (another NAR MP) suffered the same fate."
On the issue of the prevailing climate of discontent in the society at the time, Wilson told the commission it was erroneous to link that with the coup attempt. He said the Jamaat al Muslimeen, who staged the 1990 insurrection, was emboldened and empowered by people of all levels in society for different reasons. He said that included business people who hired them as debt collectors. Wilson said under the PNM administration, preceding the NAR regime, the then national security minister did not enforce a court judgment concerning the Mucurapo land issue. Further, over the years, he said, both the People's National Movement and the United National Congress used the Jamaat in their election campaigns.
He added: "There are allegations that the Jamaat was involved in the 1991 campaign of the PNM and the 1995 UNC campaign. "This was common knowledge on the street. There were statements by Bakr himself that he assisted one party or another." Wilson said there were allegations that even the NAR had the support of the Jamaat in its 1986 general election campaign. He said he distinctly recalled the Muslimeen insurgents when they stormed the Red House on July 27, 1990, saying they had instructions to let Panday go. Wilson said: "I could only assume those instructions came from Bakr. "There was a fair amount of pandering to that group. I think we reap what we sow." (YB)