Passing of MP Shahine Robinson leaves PM on the horns of a dilemma


Passing of MP Shahine Robinson leaves PM on the horns of a dilemma

Sunday, May 31, 2020

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From all indications, Mrs Shahine Robinson, the late minister of labour and social security and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Member of Parliament for St Ann North Eastern, was a good and faithful servant of the people.

After careers in tourism and finance, she entered electoral politics in the general election of 2001, winning a seat in a known People's National Party (PNP) stronghold, and going on to win every election since then. Unfortunately she lost her most important battle on Friday afternoon.

Mrs Robinson was noted for her calm demeanour and impeccable comport, but was a fighter, as she displayed when the court forced her to give up her seat because she held United States citizenship. She had lived in the US for over 20 years.

She renounced her foreign citizenship and regained her seat in a by-election, eventually negotiating a financial settlement with the PNP's Mr Manley Bowen, who had challenged her status and was awarded costs by the court.

Mrs Robinson was born and raised in Claremont, St Ann, and attended Immaculate Conception High School in Kingston. She went on to graduate from Miami Dade College with an associate degree in marketing and public relations. She was married and had a daughter.

Her untimely passing poses a difficult problem for the ruling JLP, since it leaves a constituency without a representative in Parliament, at a time when the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic makes it difficult to stage a normal by-election.

Moreover, the expenditure to hold a by-election would be hard to justify even if the public health implications could be managed, given the deep hole the pandemic has dug in the budget.

And yet, constitutionally, a constituency should not be too long without representation. Councillors and caretakers cannot adequately substitute for a Member of Parliament and minister. The questions are: How long can the vacancy remain unfilled and can it wait for a general election, which could be as far as 10 months away, COVID-19 allowing?

How long would the PNP resist harassing the Government about the lack of representation, especially as the party is trailing in the public opinion polls? That would depend on its appetite for another by-election after three consecutive beatings.

The prime minister finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. He cannot leave the Ministry of Labour and Social Security indefinitely without a full minister at this time of massive unemployment and the need for poverty alleviation on an unprecedented scale.

Also, the prime minister can hardly assume responsibility for another ministry, because he would be stretching himself thin were he to do so. He has just accepted the retirement of his most experienced trade unionist, Mr Rudyard Spencer, and Mr Pearnel Charles is in the departure lounge.

Dr Christopher Tufton is nimble enough to handle the ministry but COVID-19 dictates that it would be foolhardy to move him from the health and wellness ministry at this time, so it might be necessary to bring someone through the Senate.

We extend our condolence to the family, friends, and colleagues of Mrs Shahine Robinson who served her constituents, her Government, and the people of Jamaica with distinction. She leaves a gap in the Cabinet which will be hard to fill.

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