The August 1961 general election – nearly fifty years ago – was one of the most significant in the pre-Independence period. Guyana Review reprints this official account that was first published in the book “Report on British Guiana for the Year 1961.”
Between January and July 18, when the new self-governing constitution came into effect, British Guiana was administered by the Governor, Sir Ralph Grey, KCMG, KCVO, OBE. After the general election on August 21, 1961, the appointment by the Governor of Dr. the Hon’ble Cheddi Jagan as Premier and assumption of the office of government by the People’s Progressive Party who obtained the majority of seats (twenty) at the general election, the internal affairs of the country were administered by the Council of Ministers, a ten-member executive body presided over by the Premier.
British Guiana’s new constitution, which came into effect on July 18, 1961, provides for a bi-cameral legislature – a Legislative Assembly of 35 members, elected by universal adult suffrage, and a nominated Senate of 13 members, eight appointed on the advice of the Premier, three after consultation with such persons as can speak for the differing political views of opposition groups in the Assembly, and two by the Governor in his discretion.
The life of the Legislature will be four years unless dissolved before this time. The Legislative Assembly is presided over by the Speaker, who may or may not be a Member of the Assembly. The Senate is presided over by a President, chosen by Members from amongst their own number. The Senate has delaying powers only.
The executive body, called the Council of Ministers, is presided over by the Premier, and consists of nine other Ministers, one of whom is Attorney General. The Premier is the member of the Legislative Assembly who, in the judgment of the Governor, is best able to command the confidence of a majority of the members of that Chamber. At least one and not more than three members of the Council must be members of the Senate. The Council of Ministers is responsible to the Legislature.
The Governor must exercise all his powers in accordance with the advice of the Council of Ministers except where otherwise expressly stated (the notable exceptions are in respect of defence and external affairs).
A Bill of Rights incorporated in the Constitution enumerates in detail rights to equality, personal freedom and property and provides for their enforcement by the Supreme Court.
In accordance with the provisions of the new home-rule constitution, Judicial, Public and Police Service Commissions have been established with executive responsibility for appointments, discipline and dismissals in the Services for which they are responsible. Judges of the Supreme Court may be removed only for inability or misconduct and then only by the Governor on the advice of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which itself can be approached only on the recommendations of a locally appointed judicial tribunal.
The first elections under the new Constitution were held on August 21, 1961, following which, the Governor appointed as Premier the leader of the People’s Progressive Party (Dr. Cheddi Jagan) which obtained the majority of seats (twenty) in the Legislative Assembly. Nine other Ministers were appointed and their portfolios allocated on the advice of the Premier. Of these, seven were drawn from the Legislative Assembly and two from the Senate. Two members of the Assembly were also appointed as Parliamentary Secretaries. In accordance with the Constitution, Ministers have been assigned responsibility for all internal matters except criminal proceedings, the audit of public accounts and the Public Service. External affairs (except external trade) and defence remain under the control of Her Majesty’s Government.
In November 1961, both Houses of the Legislature approved a motion introduced by the Premier, requesting the Secretary of State for the Colonies to fix a date during 1962 when British Guiana would become a fully independent country within the Commonwealth of Nations. This was in accordance with the terms of a statement adopted by the British Guiana Constitutional Conference held in London in March 1960. The statement is as follows:
“Her Majesty’s Government accept the principle of independence for British Guiana. On the assumption that constitutional changes are introduced as a result of this Conference, then if at any time not earlier than two years after the first General Election held under the new Constitution or upon it being decided that the West Indies Federation should attain independence, whichever period is the shorter, both Houses of the British Guiana Legislature pass resolutions asking Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom to grant independence to British Guiana, Her Majesty’s Government will early thereafter call a future Conference to consider when it would be practicable to implement this request. Provided that the new situation caused by the decision that the West Indian Federation should attain independence would not be regarded as giving grounds for considering any change in the then operative British Guiana Constitution until it had been in effect for not less than one year.”
Towards the close of 1961, it was announced that the Secretary of State for the Colonies had agreed to convene an all-party conference in London during May 1962 to fix a date for the achievement of independence.
At the end of 1961, the political parties represented in the Legislative Assembly were:-
– The People’s Progressive Party ….. …. 19 seats
(one seat was declared void as a result of an election petition).
– The People’s National Congress …. …. 11 seats
The United Force ….. …. …. 4 seats
The members of the Council of Ministers and the Legislative Assembly constituted under the provisions of the Constitution of British Guiana were as follows at the end of 1961.
The Council of Ministers over which the Premier presides:
– The Premier, Dr the Hon’ble Cheddi Jagan
– The Minister of Natural Resources, the Hon’ble Brindley Benn
– The Minister of Works and Hydraulics, the Hon’ble Ram Karran
– The Minister of Home Affairs, the Hon’ble Balram Singh Rai
– The Minister of Labour, Health and Housing, the Hon’ble Ranji Chandisingh
– The Minister of Trade and Industry, Senator the Hon’ble Jocelyn Hubbard
– The Minister of Finance, Dr the Hon’ble Charles Jacob (Jnr)
– The Minister of Education and Social Development, Senator the Hon’ble Cedric Nunes
– The Attorney General, Dr the Hon’ble Fenton Ramsahoye
– The Minister of Communications, the Hon’ble Gladstone Wilson
The Legislative Assembly
– The Speaker – The Honourable Rahman Gajraj
– The Members of the Council of Minister listed above except the Minister of Trade and Industry and the Minister of Education and Social Development.
– Other Members: (PPP) Messrs George Bowman and Lawrence Mann (Parliamentary Secretaries). Messrs Mohammed Safee, Moses Bhagwan, Victor Downer, Harry Lall, George Robertson, John Caldeira, Maccie Hamid, Derek Jagan and Mohamed Shakoor.
– Minority Groups: (PNC) Messrs LFS Burnham, John Carter, WOR Kendall, Eugene Correia, Neville Bissember, Stanley Hugh, Robert Jordan, HMS Wharton, William Blair, John Joaquin and Claude Merriman. (UF) Peter D’ Aguiar, Randolph Cheeks, Stephen Campbell and Edward Melville.
The Members of the Senate constituted under the provisions of the Constitution of British Guiana were as follows:
– His Honour Senator Ashton Chase
– Senator the Hon HJM Hubbard
– Senator the Hon CV Nunes
– Senator Claude Christian
– Senator Moneer Khan
– Senator Pandit CS Persaud
– Senator Mrs Christina Ramjattan
– Senator Herbert Thomas
– Senator Miss Ann Jardim
– Senator Antony G Tasker, OBE
– Senator CV Too Chung, Deputy President