Walk good, Shahine

Walk good, Shahine

Politicians on both sides hail labour and social security minister after she loses battle with cancer

Senior staff reporter

Saturday, May 30, 2020

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THE woman who changed the tide of losses for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) with an upset in a People's National Party (PNP) stronghold in St Ann North Eastern in 2001, Shahine Robinson, died at her family home in Claremont, St Ann, around midday yesterday, after a long battle with lung cancer.

Prime Minister and JLP Leader Andrew Holness, in paying tribute to his late Cabinet minister, said he has lost a reliable, personal friend, and the JLP and the country have lost a stalwart who was careful to at all times put first the interest of her people. Robinson's life and work, he said, are worthy of significant recognition and celebration.

“Shahine loved her country. She had options, but she chose Jamaica. Shahine was also a dependable and passionate servant of the people of North East St Ann,” said Holness.

“I had opportunity to visit Shahine earlier this week, and to the very end her care and concern were for the well-being of her people. She'll be missed and her passing has left a void in the political sphere in this country which will be difficult to fill,” said the prime minister.

Former Prime Minister P J Patterson, in his tribute, said: “Robinson was a political opponent — and I daresay a formidable one — but whilst we were on opposite sides of the political divide we certainly were not adversaries.

“In fact, during my own period of hospitalisation in 2019 she had been undergoing treatment at the same time and came over to me after being discharged to wish me a full recovery — a gesture that touched me to this day and is now rendered even more profound,” said Patterson.

He added: “The nation mourns a committed, effective and personable professional who will long be remembered for her robust pursuit of the improvement in quality of life for all Jamaicans.”

JLP Chairman Robert Montague said Robinson had a special place in the hearts of the JLP family, not only because of the special person she was, but her victory in St Ann North Eastern in 2001 was a decisive morale booster for the party, which had spent just over 18 years in the political wilderness.

Party Chairman Horace Chang said the late minister was a giant among her peers in terms of her strong connection with her constituents.

“There's no doubt that the party and country have lost a champion who devoted a significant portion of her life to serving her nation and people, and she did so with great distinction,” said Chang.

Yesterday, members of the Senate paused to observe a moment of silence for the late minister of labour and social security, moments after they received word that the 66-year-old Robinson had passed away.

“Just having [said] prayers at the beginning of this session for Shahine, for her strength, for her recovery, for the easing of her pain, I just wish to note, on behalf of the Senate, and recognising that we will give tributes at an appropriate time, our sadness, the blessing that it was for all of us to know her, who knew her,” said Leader of Government Business in the Senate and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith.

Leader of Opposition Business Donna Scott-Mottley also expressed sadness at Robinson's passing.

“I have known her for a very long time. I found her just to be a real person, not a partisan person, but a real person who wanted to serve. She is loved across both parties… When you can be on a different side and everybody feels a sense of loss, that is a testament and a testimony to who you are,” she said.

Robinson, a protégé of late former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, became a household name after pulling off the upset in the 2001 by-election in St Ann North Eastern, defeating the PNP's Carol Jackson by 473 votes to become the second Labourite to win the seat in 14 elections since adult suffrage came into effect in 1944.

The only other JLP candidate to win the seat was Bobby Marsh, who defeated the PNP's Vinroy Brown in the massive JLP landslide of 1980, which ended with the Edward Seaga-led party winning 51 seats to the PNP's nine in the then 60-seat Parliament.

The Immaculate Conception High School alumna solidified control over the constituency in the 2002 General Election, only a year after winning the by-election. She gained 11,155 votes to Jackson's 9,981, and had not lost an election since.

However, it was not an easy battle to hold on to the former PNP stronghold, as she became a naturalised United States citizen in 2006, while sitting in Parliament. She returned her US passport to the Immigration and Naturalization Service office in Key Biscayne, Florida, a year later, in advance of the 2007 General Election, in the belief that this constituted renunciation of her US citizenship.

She went on to defeat the PNP's Oswest Senior-Smith in the 2007 election by 2,022 votes. However, after that election, Manley Bowen of the PNP, a former Member of Parliament and a registered voter in the constituency, sought a declaration from the Supreme Court that she was not qualified to be elected due to her alleged dual citizenship.

Robinson continued to hold her parliamentary seat until a court removed her in 2010, and ordered her to pay legal costs of $15.3 million to Bowen. She went through with the formal renunciation procedure and obtained a Certificate of Loss of Nationality in December 2010.

In the process of the legal actions she was forced to resign from the House of Representatives in December 2010, but returned to the Parliament that same month after defeating PNP challenger Devon Evans in another by-election, and was again sworn in as an MP in January 2011.

In 2011 she was appointed minister without portfolio with responsibility for local government in the Ministry of Housing, Environment, Water and Local Government by Holness, who had become prime minister after the resignation of Bruce Golding. She later replaced Transport and Works Minister Mike Henry after issues arose over the handling of the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme.

In the meantime, she reached an out-of-court settlement to pay Bowen $4 million, just over a quarter of the $15.3 million in legal costs he sought.

She was re-elected in February 2016 when the JLP returned to power and was assigned by Holness to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.

Robinson had a record of about 80 per cent presence at meetings of the House of Representatives up to 2017/18. Then her record of attendance fell below 50 per cent, raising concerns about her health in 2018/19.

News eventually emerged that she was suffering from cancer and was in and out of hospital for some time, up to recently.

On October 26 last year, her younger brother, Peter Fakhourie, who unsuccessfully contested the St Ann South Eastern constituency against Opposition MP Lisa Hanna in 2016, died of an undisclosed illness.

– Additional reporting by the JIS

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