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Caribbean Islands-The Robinson Government

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Robinson was sworn in as prime minister on December 17, 1986. He had been involved in Trinidadian politics since 1958, when he was first elected as a representative from Tobago. Robinson had served the PNM as finance minister from 1961 to 1967 and as minister of external affairs from 1967 to 1970, when he resigned from the party. He returned to Tobago to head a local party that later became the DAC; when the DAC joined the NAR in 1986, he was elected leader of the new party.

Robinson reorganized the cabinet, creating a number of new ministries. In April 1987 the ministries were those for education; energy; external affairs, international marketing, and tourism; finance and economy, which Robinson kept for himself, designating two additional ministers to serve with him; food production, marine exploitation, and forestry; health, welfare, and status of women; industry, commerce, and enterprise; labour, employment, and manpower resources; national security; planning and reconstruction; works, resettlement, and infrastructure; and youth, culture, and creative affairs. He named Selwyn Richardson as attorney general, a post Richardson had formerly held under the PNM. Deputy leader Panday resigned his post as head of the ATSE/FWTU to become minister of external affairs, international marketing, and tourism.

The Robinson government was immediately faced with serious economic problems. On taking office, Robinson found that financial affairs were much worse than had been apparent. In April 1987, in his report to the nation Robinson painted a grim picture of an empty treasury with little relief in sight. The 1986 deficit was US$2.8 billion rather than the US$1 billion claimed by the previous government. Because the deficit had been covered by borrowing from the Central Bank, there were few financial reserves left. Reserves, which had been US$3.3 billion in 1981, dropped to less than US$400 million by the end of 1986. Oil prices fell, aggravating the situation, and the state-owned oil companies expected to lose money in 1987. Robinson promised to conduct a more open government than the PNM and proposed a number of construction projects to stimulate economic growth. He also attempted to cut costs by withdrawing the cost-of-living allowance in the public sector, causing a storm of union protests (see Role of Government, this ch.).

Since independence Trinidad and Tobago had never had a change in party administration, and it experienced transition problems when the NAR took over in December 1986. Questions arose as to whether the public service commissions could be fair and nonpartisan since they were a product of thirty years of PNM government. The commissions and the civil service were scrutinized to ensure that their members would serve an NAR government as loyally as the former PNM government, to which they owed their jobs. Provisions for retraining were made, and new guidelines on discipline were established. When President Ellis Clarke, the first president of Trinidad and Tobago, came to the end of his five-year term, Parliament elected Noor Mohammed Hassanali, a Muslim and a former judge. Immediately prior to the end of his term in March 1987, Clarke made two appointments to public service commissions that angered Robinson, the latter claiming he had not been "consulted" as provided in the Constitution. Robinson caused a storm of protest by proposing a constitutional amendment to clarify the legality of appointments made by an outgoing president. The proposed constitutional amendment was later withdrawn because of the intense criticism, and a commission was appointed to review the Constitution for possible changes.

In an effort to deal with government corruption, the Robinson administration published a formerly unpublished drug report that detailed an increase in cocaine activity made possible by corruption in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (see National Security, this ch.).

By the time of its party convention in July 1987, the NAR was struggling with the responsibilities of trying to solve large national problems with few resources; as a result, there were strains within the four-party coalition as well as strikes by various unions. Local government elections called for September 14, 1987, were the first referendum on the Robinson government. The NAR held together and scored some gains, winning two of the four municipalities previously controlled by the PNM and retaining six of seven county councils. It failed, however, to capture the important Port-of-Spain municipality from the PNM, giving both the NAR and the PNM reason to feel confident about the future.

Data as of November 1987

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