Lighbourne, Robert

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Lighbourne, Robert

November 29, 1909
December 28, 1995

Industrialist, politician, and administrator Robert Lighbourne was born in Morant Bay, St. Thomas. His father, a politician and a wealthy landowner, sent him to England to further his studies after his high school education at Jamaica College. Robert later became a manufacturer in Birmingham, producing ploughshares for Ferguson tractors, as well as other essential equipment needed for World War II. After hurricane Charlie devastated Jamaica in 1951, Lighbourne's managerial skills in organizing relief for the island attracted the attention of the Jamaican authorities, and he was invited home to assist in the rebuilding of the country. He first assisted at Jamaica Welfare Ltd, a national development project founded in 1943. Lighbourne's first significant impact as an industrialist came in 1951 when he became the first managing director of the newly established Industrial Development Corporation, a position he held until 1955.

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), the political party in power, capitalized on Lighbourne's reputation by having him run for elective office in his home parish of Western St. Thomas, in the West Indian federal elections of 1958. Lighbourne won his seat but resigned after one year because of his disenchantment with the federation and to prepare for Jamaica's 1959 general elections.

Lighbourne became the first minister of trade and industry in independent Jamaica, serving from 1962 to 1972, where he displayed exceptional managerial skills. His stellar achievement remains the successful negotiation of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement of 1968, which paved the way for preferential treatment of Commonwealth products to Britain. He also initiated scientific research into the extraction of iron ore out of Jamaican red mud and served as chairman of the World Sugar Conference in 1968. In Jamaica he initiated the First Industrial Incentives Act; the Export Industry Encouragement Act and the New Companies Act; the Jamaica Industrial Development Center; the Jamaican Bureau of Standards; and the Industrial Apprentice Scheme, and he positioned Jamaica in joining CARIFTA (Caribbean Free Trade Association). Jamaica also became an independent member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Lighbourne also introduced the Jamaica Industrial Apprentice Scholars Scheme, which from 1963 to 1974 sent over 120 young high school graduates to the United Kingdom to become engineers. In the 1960s he even proposed to OPEC that it should establish a two-tiered price structure, which gave developing countries the benefit of a lower price than that charged to developed countries, since increasing oil prices would damage their fragile economies.

Despite not being chosen as the new leader of the JLP when a vacancy occurred, he nevertheless contested the 1972 general elections and won his constituency of Western St. Thomas for the JLP. He resigned from the JLP not long after but remained an independent member of Jamaica's parliament until 1976. Lighbourne even formed his own political party, the United Party, in 1974, but it dissolved after a year. In July 1990 the Jamaican government appointed Lighbourne as a special envoy with the rank of ambassador in the area of foreign affairs and trade. He died on December 28, 1995, at eighty-six.

See also Jamaica Labour Party; Politics and Politicians in the Caribbean


Eaton, George E. Alexander Bustamante and Modern Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: Kingston Publishers Limited, 1975.

Lighbourne, Robert. Papers. National Library of Jamaica, Kingston.

dave gosse (2005)