Slike stranica
PDF
ePub

needed more attention, and the plantations found that rice was causing a dislocation to their labour. This is still one of the great problems of the sugar interests in the Colony.

In 1917, as the result of public opinion in India, the Government of India abolished the indenture system and no more Indian labour was allowed to enter the Colony. The Indian population at that time was 126,517. By 1938 it was 142,736. By 1950 it had risen to 192,500 and by 1952 it totalled 207,000 or 45 per cent of the total population of the Colony. Comparison with the figures for the Africans is of interest. In 1921 there were 117,000, approximately 9,000 less than the Indians; in 1952 there were 162,700, making a difference of 44,000 between them and the Indians.

The cause of this great and sudden rise in population in recent years has been the conquest of malaria. It is sad that this magnificent achievement, which has reduced the infant mortality rate enormously and so improved the general health of the Colony, should have created a new set of problems which have as yet hardly begun to be solved.

In 1927 a commission reported on the British Guiana constitution. The constitution at that time provided for a division of legislative power between, on the one hand, the Governor, seven official and eight elected unofficial members and, on the other hand, six elected members known as Financial Representatives. The purpose of this two-chamber system was to divide legislation into a financial division controlled by the Financial Representatives and a non-financial, dominated by the Governor and his 'Court of Policy'. In addition to this there was an Executive Council headed by the Colonial Secretary and the Attorney General. In executing his powers the Governor was bound to consult the Executive Council and if he acted against their advice on any matter he was compelled to give his reasons fully to the Secretary of State.

The Commission recommended that a single Chamber should be set up, with full powers of legislation, saying that the division of power was not a satisfactory basis for a constitution. The Chamber, they said, should consist of fifteen exofficio, nominated official members and nominated unofficial members, and fourteen elected members. The Commission strongly recommended that all members of the Executive

Council should be taken from members of the Legislative Council. They upheld the Governor's reserve powers, saying, 'we recommend that the Governor should be given power to reserve, for his decision, any matter which he and the Secretary of State consider essential to the good government of the Colony.'

The franchise had changed little since 1849, except that the income qualification had been reduced in 1909 from £125 to £62 a year. Every literate male British subject over twenty-one with the property or income qualification was allowed to vote. The Commission recommended extension of the franchise to women. This last recommendation and some of the others were adopted in various modifications to the constitution.

In 1950 a three-man Commission under the chairmanship of Sir E. J. Waddington reported on the constitution in the light of the economic and political development of the Colony. They recommended the introduction of universal adult suffrage, extending it to illiterate persons, for the Commission appears to have recognized the fact that, in an undeveloped country, great intelligence can go with illiteracy. They found that candidates for election had often appealed to the electorate on racial grounds and added that it was 'imperative—and fundamental to the beliefs that inspire our constitutional proposals—that racial preoccupations should be banished if British Guiana is to make real progress.' They suggested that it should be made an offence for anyone to refer in an election speech to the racial origin of any candidate.

On the question of the Legislature the Commission was guided by James Madison's speech to the Federal Convention, at Philadelphia, in 1787, in which he said that 'democratic communities may be unsteady and be led to action by the impulses of the moment. Like individuals, they may be sensible to their own weaknesses, and may desire the counsels and checks of friends to guard them against the turbulency and weakness of unruly passions.'

Early in 1953 the Constitution, drawn up according to the recommendation of the Waddington Commission, was brought into force. Its points were:

1. Universal adult suffrage.

2. A bicameral legislature with a life of four years consisting of a

House of Assembly composed of twenty-four elected representatives and three ex-officio members-the Chief Secretary, the AttorneyGeneral and the Financial Secretary, and a State Council composed of nine members appointed by the Governor.

3. An Executive Council consisting of the Governor as President and three ex-officio members of the House of Assembly, six Ministers chosen by ballot from among the elected Members of the House of Assembly and vested by the Governor (on the basis of individual ministerial responsibility) with the charge of government departments and subjects which fall in their respective portfolios, and a Member of the State Council elected by that Council to be Minister without portfolio. One of the Ministers with Portfolio to be chosen by his colleagues to be Leader of the House of Assembly.

4. A Public Service Commission to be established to advise the Governor on matters relating to the Public Services.

5. The Governor to retain the usual reserve powers.

In the General Election for the House of Assembly the People's Progressive Party under the leadership of Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Mr. L. F. S. Burnham was successful, gaining 51 per cent of the total votes and eighteen out of the twenty-four

seats.

This constitution was suspended on December 22nd, 1953. after the Royal Welch Fusiliers had been sent by the United Kingdom Government to control any outbreak of violence which might follow suspension. The White Paper on the Suspension claimed that the P.P.P. Ministers showed no concern for the true welfare of the Colony and threatened its progress as an orderly state, that it had seriously endangered the economic life of the country and had set it on the road to collapse. The Constitutional Commission under the chairmanship of Sir James Robertson reported in 1954 that the suspension of the Constitution had been justified and that the P.P.P. was under Communist domination. It recommended a period of 'marking time' before the constitutional question should be reviewed.

The House of Assembly was disbanded; all political parties were forbidden to hold meetings and certain P.P.P. leaders were forbidden to leave Georgetown. Mrs. Cheddi Jagan was gaoled for six months for holding an illegal meeting. The Legislative Council was now composed of nominated and exofficio members.

The P.P.P. leaders claimed that they were given no chance

to prove their worth and objected to the Governor's reserve powers. The Robertson Report agreed that these powers were incompatible with fully responsible self-government but said that they were necessary so long as that goal had not been reached and ultimate responsibility for the welfare of a territory and its people remains with Her Majesty's Government.' It added that the Governor had not once used his reserve powers and it could not be said that the P.P.P. had been thus 'goaded into extreme paths'. The Commission summed up:

'On close examination of the Constitution, therefore, we do not find its provisions, taken singly or in combination, irksome or such as would in practice render them unworkable. "Checks and balances”a much over-worked phrase in British Guiana-were certainly included in it, but none of these were in themselves so severe as to prevent a party, which was prepared to work the Constitution constructively, from carrying out a programme of radical social reform.'

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

3. THE PEOPLE

IT

T would take, I imagine, half the lifetime of a social anthropologist to define the structure of Georgetown society accurately; to plot the relationships between the various peoples, the Chinese, Indians, Negroes, coloured people, highcoloured people, British and Portuguese, not to mention the results of miscegenation between them all, would require the subtlety of a Guianese Proust. It is a subject which has, in fact, preoccupied the Guianese novelist, Edgar Mittelholzer, in many of his novels. Subtleties of social position exist largely among the 'coloured' people, that is to say people who have European blood, whether or not it is dominant. Out of a total population of 435,000 there are roughly 50,000 people, mostly living in Georgetown, who come into this category. It is surprising that a greater miscegenation has not taken place since inter-breeding between colonists and slave girls was practised from the beginning of colonization. As late as 1806, when Staunton St. Clair, a British army officer, arrived in the Colony, there were few European women there.

'The first thing generally done by a European on his arrival in this country', he wrote, 'is to provide himself with a mistress from among the blacks, mulattoes, or mestees, for here they are to be found of all the different shades of colour:

The Sambo black, and the mulatto brown,
The mestee fair, and the well-limbed quadroon.

The price varies from £100 to £150. Many of these girls read and write; and most of them are free. Some of them are tasteful and extravagant in their dress, but inviolable in their attachment, and scarcely a particle of inconstancy can ever be established against them. They perform all the duties of a wife except presiding at table, and their utility in domestic affairs, their cleanliness, and politeness, are acknowledged by all.'

Many of the high-colour families of modern Georgetown could trace their ancestry back to these liaisons. Occasionally one sees an obvious high-colour man doing a menial job, but in

« PrethodnaNastavi »