September 19, 2020

Norman Manley as premier


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Michael-Burke-logo-2_w95By Michael Burke From Jamaica Observer

Fifty-five years ago, on August 14 1959, Norman Washington Manley was formally sworn in as the premier of Jamaica, the first of two persons ever to hold this post — Sir Alexander Bustamante being the other on April 24 1962. On August 6 1962, Bustamante became the first prime minister of independent Jamaica.

Jamaica achieved full self-government in 1957, when the then colony took charge of national security and defence. However, the title of premier was bestowed after the elections on July 28 1959, which were won by the People’s National Party (PNP), led at the time by Norman Manley. Previously, the head of government was referred to as chief minister

The PNP came to power on January 12, 1955 and won a second term in 1959. Full self-government meant that the Government could make certain decisions with full authority. Full self-government was but a few steps below political independence. For example, Jamaica, as a self-governing colony, took the decision to boycott goods coming from apartheid-riddled South Africa in 1959 when the Manley was premier.

In 1958, Jamaica became a part of the West Indies Federation. The original plan was that each territory would have its premier or chief minister and there would be a federal government. And the plan was also that, on May 31 1962, the West Indies Federation would have been an independent nation consisting of ten countries and their dependencies.

At the time, the Cayman Islands and the Turks & Caicos Islands were dependencies of Jamaica. On September 19, 1961, in a referendum called by Norman Manley, as premier, Jamaica voted to secede from the federation.

Norman ManleyIt is very important to point out that today, the Cayman Islands has full self- government, which explains the development of Cayman since the 1970s. The British makes a distinction between Crown Colonies and self-governing colonies, a point that is missed by several Jamaicans who compare the Cayman Islands with Jamaica.

As mentioned last week, one Caymanian wrote to me in my personal e-mail some years ago that the only thing that Britain does for Cayman is to pay the salary of the governor. He was expressing annoyance at Jamaicans who mistakenly believe that Cayman’s advancement is because they are still a colony.

Norman Manley, as leader of the Jamaican Government, saw to some very important changes in Jamaica. The first thing his Government did in 1955 was to remove the requirement that bicycles had to be licensed and taxed. The bicycle tax was imposed in the Crown Colony era, between 1865 when the entire House of Assembly resigned, and 1944 when Jamaica was granted universal adult suffrage and partial self-government. Paying a ten-shilling tax was the minimum requirement to vote in elections before universal adult suffrage was declared in 1944, so those who only paid bicycle tax could not vote.

There is an anecdotal story that Bustamante laughed at his cousin Norman Manley for abolishing the bicycle tax all at once and five years before the next elections were due. He said that he should have reduced it by a little each year until the following election. In that way, the people would remember who removed the bicycle tax.

In terms of practical politics, Bustamante was right, if the story is correct. In 1958, the West Indies Federal Labour Party (WIFLP), that had the PNP as its ally, won less seats in Jamaica than the Democratic Labour Party, which had the local Jamaica Labour Party as its affiliate. However, the WIFLP won a majority throughout the region. But had that been a Jamaican general election, the PNP would have lost and would have been a one-term government.

One reason for the negative result for the PNP in the federal elections of 1958 was that none of the PNP top brass ran in the election. Still, it is of interest that the PNP Government headed by Norman Manley had already opened the beaches to the Jamaican public by the Beach Control Authority Act.

In addition to this, the Norman Manley-led government had already started the Common Entrance scholarships, which opened the doors of schools previously the domain of the privileged to the masses and, of course, had removed the bicycle tax.

The above was done even before Jamaica had achieved full internal self-government. Due to the organisational skills of the then 23-year-old Percival Patterson and some others they romped home with a smashing victory in July 1959.

With full internal self-government after 1957, the Government of the day built a few housing schemes, established a government-owned radio station — the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation, which is no longer in existence — to develop the local culture and established the central bank of Jamaica.

Sometimes when I state that I am a Norman Manleyist some readers confuse Norman Manley with his son Michael, who was the ‘print-out’ of his father, the ‘computer’. This does not mean that the characters or personality of the father and son Manleys were the same. Indeed, there were vast differences.

In a 1997 article entitled ‘Heroes, ‘sheroes’ and zeroes’ in the now defunct Jamaica Herald, in the aftermath of Michael Manley’s death, I wrote that any plan to make Michael Manley a national hero should at least 50 years before any decision was made. I opined then, and still do so 17 years later, that to award Michael Manley the honour of national hero, there would be a hue and cry to award other political leaders, living or dead, until just about everyone was a national hero. And, by the way, my views are not necessarily my brother’s views and vice versa.

And I repeat once again, that being a Norman Manleyist does not mean that I support any political party at the present time. Again, I reiterate that, in my opinion, the greatest difference between the political parties today is in the spelling.

PS: I am seeking a venue to start some classes on the philosophy and principles of Norman Washington Manley (for a fee). In this way people will understand why I take the position that I do.

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