THE PPP GOVERNMENT OF 1953
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The new House of Assembly was inaugurated on the 18 May 1953, and the Speaker, Sir Eustace Woolford, an appointee of the Governor, commended "the exemplary behaviour shown by the electors during the conduct of the elections." He agreed that this behaviour was "contrary to all expectations". By this he was expressing the view of the colonial authorities that they had expected the PPP to foment strife and violence during the campaign.
It was also clear that the colonial authorities were already persuing plans for intervention in Guyana even before the April elections. The Commissioner of Police had advised the Governor on the 10 April that the growing political strength of the PPP "may soon constitute a serious threat to the internal security of the Colony. . . ." He was subsequently requested by the Governor to evaluate the readiness of the Police and the Volunteer Forces to deal with riots expected to break out on the event of a PPP victory. At about the same time, the British Colonial Office set about to plan how fast and effective would British troops in the Caribbean be dispatched to Guyana if disturbances should ever break out. And interestingly, on the 3 June, when the PPP Government was only two weeks in office, the Colonial Office requested that Governor Savage should inform the British military headquarters in the Caribbean on a regular basis of developments taking place in Guyana under the new Government.
A joint meeting of the legislature, (the House of Assembly and the State Council), took place on the 30 May 1953 when the Governor, Sir Alfred Savage, read the message from the Queen. Shortly after, he presented his own policy message to the joint session. In commenting on the positive manner in which the recent elections were conducted, he noted that "a most heartening feature . . . . was the absence of racialism."
No doubt, the Governor and officials of the British Colonial Office were taken by surprise by the overwhelming success of the PPP at the April elections. They had hoped that no party would have been able to win a majority of the seats, and that the elected Ministers would have been drawn from a number of parties. This would have enabled the Governor to maintain full control over the Executive Council (of Ministers).
During the election campaign, the PPP had published its programme, and as soon as the legislature began its work, the Party decided to implement it. This, of course, did not go down well with the colonial authorities and the opposition forces, which tried their best to delay or oppose this programme. For these forces arrayed against the PPP, the programme was seen as "communist" and therefore it must be firmly opposed.
The House of Assembly passed a Bill to repeal the Undesirable Publications Ordinance. However, it was held up in the nominated State Council where the PPP was in the minority, and it eventually lapsed after the Government was overthrown in October. The House also passed a bill to lift the ban on the entry of certain West Indian trade unionists and politicians.
The PPP then set about to bring relief to rice farmers who were renting lands from large landlords. The House passed an amendment to the existing Rice Farmers (Security of Tenure) Bill to assist rice farmers during droughts. The amendment also sought to protect and secure the rights of tenant rice farmers. In the original legislation passed in 1945, landlords were not penalised if they did not maintain the infrastructure - dams, drains and canals - in good condition. The amendment gave the landlords time to do the work. If they did not comply, the Government would do the work and recover the cost from them. However, the State Council rejected this bill with Lionel Luckhoo, one of its members, describing it as "totalitarian dictatorship".
The PPP Government campaigned to remove Church control of schools, as it had stated in its election manifesto. It did not propose an end to religious instruction, but proposed that the schools should be directly supervised by the Government and local education committees. This system was more democratic than was then existing, since schools run by a particular Christian denomination did not allow other Christian groups to give religious instructions in their schools. And none of the Church controlled schools allowed Muslim and Hindu groups to offer their religious instructions to children, even though a very large proportion of Hindu and Muslim children attended these schools.
The Government also tightened on the expenditure of the Public Works Department which was known for its wasteful spending. This cutback included heavy spending on the building of large houses for senior Government officials. It also set up committees to investigate problems of domestic workers and to make proposals for the revision of the Workers' Compensation Ordinance. And for the first time, ordinary people were appointed to Government boards and committees.
Another action of the PPP Government aimed at helping the poor was to commence a revision of the fees for doctors under its employment. It also instituted a policy of refusing additional leases of State owned lands - or Crown lands - to landlords who already had large landholdings.
There was also a cut-back on unnecessary expenditure of public funds. The House of Assembly refused to approve payments to members of the State Council. This action was not taken well by the majority non-PPP members, even though this was a recommendation of the Waddington constitutional commission.
As part of this cut-back, the Government also decided in July not to send delegates to meet Queen Elizabeth II on her November visit to Jamaica. The Government felt that this was unnecessary since it had already sent a four-member delegation in June, just a few weeks before, to attend the Queen's coronation in June in London at a cost of $100,000.
The refusal of the Government to send a delegation to greet the Queen in Jamaica was also described by Alexander Bustamante, the Chief Minister of Jamaica, as "an insult to the Crown". The Guyanese press also used this statement to expand its hostility to the Government
The press, which was owned by persons opposing the PPP, carried out a vicious anti-communist campaign against the Government. This campaign was even waged by some religious denominations, particularly the Anglican and Catholic Churches. The Chronicle and the Argosy newspapers, fiercely anti-PPP, deliberately distorted a statement by Forbes Burnham, the Minister of Education, who proposed that the Government intended "to revise the curriculum and text books of schools to give them a true Guianese socialist and realistic outlook." The two newspapers removed the words "Guianese" and "realistic" from the statement so it read "a true socialist outlook", which the anti-PPP forces used to their advantage in attacking the Government.
The press also attacked the PPP Government for passing a resolution in the House appealing to US President Eisenhower to grant clemency to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who were sentenced to death for allegedly passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. This resolution was interpreted by the opponents of the PPP as being motivated by political (pro-communist) rather than humanitarian consideration. Officials in the US Government saw this as another piece of evidence that the PPP Government was "red" and thus posed a threat to US security in the region. As such, it was their opinion that the Government had to be removed, and the US authorities, who have been following the political situation in Guyana very closely, certainly expressed this view to the British Government.