1901-1999 Chronology

Guyana Chronicle
December 31, 2000


* Brass helmets were distributed to members of the British Guiana Fire Brigade to protect their heads from the intensity of blazes and smoke, while on emergency duty.

* The British Guiana Gas Company closed down. Between 1838 and 1873, there were several abortive attempts to introduce gas lighting in Georgetown. Indeed, during that period, some five Ordinance governing gas lighting were presented and approved. However, it was not until 1872 that Mr. F.A.R. Winter was authorised to transport the well-known premises in Charlestown to the new Company and at last, in 1873, gas lighting became an accomplished fact.

* Sir James Alexander Swettenham arrived to assume the reins of the government. Swettenham was the first Administrator to arrive so surcharged and saturated with the early literature of the colony. He came enthused with Gravesande's traditions, a critic of the planters and a friend of the immigrant Indian worker.

* The installation of overhead telephone cables was started.

* The Guiana Rifle Association held its first meeting. The Association was established to promote and ensure the development of rifle shooting as a professional sporting activity in Guiana.

A new code of Education Regulations was introduced. This 1904 Code is much criticised for legitimising the obnoxious aspects of the Swettenham Circular of 1902, which institutionalised official abdication of any responsibility for the education of Indian children and legalised the delinquency of Indian parents in so far as they neglected the formal education of their children. Joseph Rohomon and Kassim Bacchus have argued that the Swettenham Circular was designed to keep Indian children away from school so that their labour could be exploited on the sugar plantations.

Shooting of Rioters at Ruimveldt. Seven persons were killed and 17 wounded.

On December 1, 1905, trouble erupted at La Penitence and Ruimveldt where police reinforcements were not as strong as in the city itself. Nervous and trigger-happy policemen opened fire at Ruimveldt and discharged several shots at the crowd. By a stroke of bad judgement, a cart was sent through the city taking four wounded workers to the hospital. The act inflamed the riotous situation in the city, aimed at venting anger and disapproval with the symbols and representatives of the colonial and capitalist oppressors.

The Guiana Gold Company commenced dredging operations in the Konawaruk River. The company, for several years, succeeded in paying a regular dividend of 10 per cent to its shareholders and in some years even more.

A stoppage of work over the insufficiency of the price for supplying and weeding took place at Plantation Friends, Berbice River. The immigrants marched to New Amsterdam with their tools. A sub-inspector met them at the bend in the Providence road and escorted them to the New Amsterdam Police Station where statements were taken from them. They were persuaded to return to the Plantation where a full investigation of the complaint would be made by the Immigration Department. The dispute was resolved before the district magistrate could investigate.

* The jail at No. 63 Village, Corentyne, Berbice was closed by an application in the Official Gazette.

* The Convent of Mercy Compound in Georgetown was incorporated fully into Georgetown.

* Stoppage of work at Plantation Peters Hall on the East Bank of Demerara. This dispute was over wages. Repeated applications had been made to the estate authority for an increase, but these only resulted in promises, which were never fulfilled. After the customary report to the Immigration Agent General in Georgetown, work was resumed pending investigations by him.

Massive fire destroys buildings in Lombard and Lower Water Streets. On December 22, 1913, an explosion of fireworks took place in one of the Chinese business places on Cornhill St., Werk-en-Rust which destroyed all the buildings on both sides of Cornhill St. east nearly to High St. and west to the river; extending north, it reached Bugle St. and south it raced to DeRooy and Harel Sts. on the south. The estimated cost of the damage amounted to $750,000. About 2/3 was covered by insurance. There was a rather heavy death toll in this fire as the explosion of the fire-works killed many instantaneously. The known deaths were returned at 23 and the injured at 33, the subsequent discoveries of charred remains showed that more perished than were realised at the time.

Hubert Critchlow led a demonstration of aggrieved workers, the hungry, the unemployed and the Georgetown dispossessed to the Governor, during which he indicated his intention to form a Trade Union. The Governor received a small delegation headed by Critchlow, and advised that the Union should be formed on the `lines of a British Trade Union Movement'. This was the defining moment in the history of the Trade Union Movement in Guiana. The thousands of workers waiting outside eagerly accepted the idea of a Trade Union and many signed on immediately.

Sir Harry Moorehouse arrived on a mission from the Colonial Office to advise on the reorganisation of the British Guiana Civil Service. The Civil Service of the early twentieth century was relatively simple in structure and functions. The Governor was at the centre of the administrative system and under him was the Colonial Secretary who was functionally the administrative head of the Government, since most matters had to be channelled through him on their way up for consideration and final decision and directive by the Governor and Secretary of State for the Colonies. Lieutenant Col. Harry C. Moorehouse, CMG, DSO who investigated the Civil Service in British Guiana in 1926-27 has left a very useful account of both its structure and problems

A Whitley Council for Civil Servants was established following a decision of the government in its anxiety to promote permanent improvement in the relations between itself as an employer and civil servants of all ranks in its employment. Initially, there were to be two councils, one to be concerned with the affairs of civil servants and the others with the affairs of other government employees. Government's decision to establish a system of Whitley Councils was regarded as one of the outstanding achievements of the institution during the war.

A new Tuberculosis Hospital was officially opened at Best on the West Coast of Demerara.

* The machine shop workers of the Demerara Bauxite Company struck and in the protest quickly spread. The strike overtly began because of the suspension of a worker, but the real reason for it was the desire of the workers for recognition by the Man Power Citizens Association, which since earlier in the year had claimed to be their bargaining agent. The Labour Department intervened and work was resumed three days after. A few days after the strike, an agreement between the MPCA and the Demerara Bauxite Company (DEMBA) was concluded. It established a procedure for the avoidance and settlement of disputes. It made provision for the election, under arrangements to be made by the company, of three employee representatives

* The Sugar Estate Clerks Association was registered as a Trade Union. Its name was indicative of its sphere of operation. The Sugar Producers Association was reluctant to accord due recognition to the union. It was not until the Venn Commission, which investigated the industry in the wake of the 1948 Enmore shooting incident recommended that:

Full recognition should be accorded by all companies and the individual estates to the Drivers' Association, the Sugar Boilers Union and the Sugar Estates Clerks Association did the SPA grudgingly relent.

Inaugural meeting of the Venn Commission of Inquiry into the Sugar Industry of British Guiana. The Commission was appointed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies to enquire into and report on the sugar industry in British Guiana, with particular reference to means of production and working conditions and other relevant matters and to make recommendations. The members of the Commission were J.A. Venn (Chairman) President of Queen's College, Cambridge and Gilby (University) Lecturer in History and Economics of Agriculture a Chairman and R. Suddell, F.I.L.A. Agricultural Journalist with Mr. B.G. Smallman, a Colonial Office Principal as Secretary.

The Commission arrived in the colony on December 24, 1948, completed their work and departed the colony on February 19, 1949, and submitted their final report by July, 1949. The Commission enjoyed much popular support wherever it visited and both in Georgetown and New Amsterdam it was flooded with testimonies. One hundred and ninety-two persons and organisations unleashed the floodgates of their anger, their frustrations and their hopes before the Commissioners.

The Report was not made public until September 7, 1949. The long delay was due primarily to Colonial Office's dissatisfaction with aspects of the Report. Discord centred on two recommendations; one for a subsidy of one pound sterling on each ton of sugar produced in British Guiana from the Imperial exchequer (a proposal which HMG rejected), and another, transferring to the colonial government responsibility for providing and maintaining medical, educational and housing services for some categories of sugar workers.

Generally, the Commission indicted the Sugar Producers Association for years of worker exploitation and administrative intransigence and demanded that the system be reformed. HMG found the Report too liberal and was particularly concerned about the cost of the reforms it recommended. It was equally concerned that the urgent nature of the recommendations suggested that they could not be deferred.

Members of the Waddington Constitutional Commission arrived in the British Guiana.

The decision to appoint a Commission to visit British Guiana in connection with the reform of the constitution was announced by His Excellency the Governor of British Guiana in his address to the Legislative Council on December 16, 1948, and on October 8, 1950 the terms of reference for the Commission were made public:

to review the franchise, the composition of the Legislature and of the Executive Council, and any other matters, in the light of the economic and political development of the Colony, and to make recommendations.

The Commissioners were Sir E.J. Waddington, an experienced colonial administrator as Chairman, Professor V.T. Harlow, Imperial historian, Dr Rita Harlow, Fabian activist and Mr. J.D. Flemmings the Secretary. The Commission first met in London on October 25, 1950, and two further preliminary meetings were held, at which, after an examination of the basic documents, the procedure to be adopted in the colony was determined. It was resolved to receive no evidence nor hear any testimony before we arrived in British Guiana.

The Commissioners left England on December 13 and arrived in Georgetown on December 15. The inaugural meeting was held in the Georgetown Town Hall on December 19, after which the Commission installed itself in Queens College where the majority of sessions were held. The Commission subsequently visited Bartica, Suddie, Anna Regina, Charity, Christianburg, New Amsterdam and Springlands taking evidence and holding public meetings.

In all, 40 deputations (consisting of 150 persons) and 54 individual witnesses were examined upon their submission to the Commission and a further 25 individuals were heard who tendered oral evidence. The Commissioners left British Guiana on February 13, 1951. The Report was submitted on June 29, 1951.

Among its several recommendations were a Bicameral legislature, adult franchise and a ministerial system of government.

The Whitley Council for civil servants was established following a decision of the Government on December 18, 1941. The Whitley Council for non-pensionable employees was constituted in December, 1951. The establishment of Whitley Councils was based on the English tradition. In spite of the fact that there existed a legal prohibition of stoppage of work and the acceptance of compulsory arbitration during the first Great War, serious industrial disputes and stoppages of work took place in Great Britain. The proportions of these stoppages became so alarming that in October, 1916, the UK Government set up a Committee on the relations between employers and employed.

Under the chairmanship of Mr. J.H. Whitley, MP, the then Speaker of the House of Commons, the Committee was required to recommend means for securing that industrial conditions affecting the relations between employers and workers shall be systematically reviewed by those concerned, with a view to improving conditions in the future. The recommendations of this Committee have played an important part in the extension and formation of joint negotiating machinery and the development of machinery for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes. Shortly after the first Great War, the principles of the Whitley Report were applied to Government Industrial Establishments. Hence, the development of Whitley Councils in the United Kingdom.

* In the light of the increased cost of running the railway services, a Committee under Hon W.J. Raatgever was appointed to consider ways and means of affecting economies in the expenditure of the Transport and Harbours Department and to examine the Revenue of the Department. The Committee reported that the deficit of the Department increased significantly from 1939 to 1951.

The Municipal Labour Trades Union called a strike of 800 municipal workers in Georgetown. The Union wanted the Town Council to implement a promise alleged to be made to it that they would pay increases recommended by the Hands Commission for Government employees. The union also wanted the Council to pay a four-week bonus. After three days work was resumed and negotiations resulted in modified implementation of Hand's proposals.

* Inaugural meeting of the Caribbean Geological Conference was held.

* Two specially constructed thirty-four-seat buses, for use by the Motor Transport Bus Service arrived in Georgetown.

The Demerara Bauxite Company announced its decision to start alumina processing.

Peoples Progressive Party issued a statement refusing to accept Public memorandum for a new draft constitution.

Start of a countrywide strike called by the Federation Union of Government Employees.

* Joseph Alexander Luckhoo was appointed Chief Justice of British Guiana. The first Guianese and the youngest person ever to hold this coveted Office, the 43-year-old Jurist had been acting for 11 months. Jurist Luckhoo succeeded Sir Frank Holder, CMG, QC.

* Bookers Guiana Ltd., formed a new $3.9M investment with $1 shares to be made available locally. Through its formation, employees of the Bookers Group were able to acquire financial interest in the main Booker Trading Companies in British Guiana. The name of the company was the Guiana Industrial and Commercial Investments Ltd.

* New regulations for local government elections were passed in Parliament. The new regulations cover all arrangements for local government elections including the appropriate forms of use and the symbols to be allocated to candidates. A system of postal voting similar to that in operation in the United Kingdom has also been introduced.

* A fire took place at the New Building Society at the Corners of High and Commerce Streets at around 4.30 pm.

* MV Malali formally put into service from Sprostons Dry Dock in Lombard Street.

* Claude Merriman was unanimously elected as Mayor of Georgetown.

1963 * Forbes Burnham elected Mayor of Georgetown.

* The official opening of the Tapakuma Irrigation scheme took place on the Essequibo, Coast. The advent of the $13M drainage scheme came to the joy of the farmers, who apart from being now provided with an additional 27,000 acres of land will not have to suffer from flooding which formerly destroyed their crops. Rice farming is the predominant agricultural activity on the Essequibo Coast, and such an improvement in drainage and irrigation should bring an increase in agricultural production.

* The government of British Guiana applied to the United Nations Technical Assistance Board for aid to implement a National Pension Scheme, as a supplement to the National Savings Scheme. The award would permit someone to observe the management and administration of the National Pension Schemes as obtained abroad. Included in the proposal was an analysis of the various aspects of a proposed Pension Scheme for sugar workers and an extension of the existing Widows and Orphans Fund, to include non-commissioned Police Officers and Local Government Officers.

* The Guyana Industrial Development Cooperation held its inaugural meeting in the Chambers of the Legislative Council. The GIDC, an eight-man team selected on merit and personal experience was expected to enhance the economic growth of the country. Mr. Ashton Chase was the first chairman of the cooperation.

* Workers at the Guiana Rice Marketing Board began a go-slow campaign, which brought operations to a complete standstill temporarily. The workers launched their go-slow plan in protest against what they called management's delay in settling their claim for a 25 per cent increase.

The first election under the system of proportional representation was held on December 7. The parties contesting the election were the PPP under Dr Cheddi Jagan, and the PNC under Mr. Forbes Burnham. Additionally, there were a number of new parties. These included the Justice Party, (JP), under the former PPP Minister of Home Affairs and Jai Narine Singh; the Peace and Equality Party (PEP), led by Kelvin De Freitas and the Guiana United Muslim Party (GUMP). One other party, the National Labour Front (NLF) which had withdrawn from the 1961 election, but which had retained an organisational structure throughout the intervening period announced its intention to contest. There were therefore seven political parties contesting the elections and on nomination day they presented 199 candidates to the 247,604 strong electorate.

The system of proportional representation adopted by HMG in preference of the first past the post converted the entire colony into a single constituency with the parties each submitting a list of candidates in order of preference. Votes therefore were cast for the party and not an individual candidate within a political party.

The three successful candidates were the PPP with 113,502 votes and 24 seats; the PNC with 96,657 votes and 22 seats and the UF with 29,612 votes and 7 seats. Essentially the PPP with 45.84 per cent of the electorate had increased its popular base by 3.2 per cent, the PNC with 40.52 per cent of the electorate had suffered a mild contraction of its popular base by 0.47 while the UF with 12.4 per cent of the electorate had suffered a 3.97 per cent contraction.

With just under 46 per cent of the votes, the PPP fell short of the required majority of seats by three. On the other hand, the combined opposition enjoyed a preponderance of five. Dr Jagan tried unsuccessfully to rally the support of Mr. Burnham and the PNC, to the extent of conceding the Premiership but Mr. Burnham could not be enticed. Assured of the support of the UF, Burnham announced his readiness to form the new government. Frustrated and convinced that he had been cheated Dr Jagan refused to resign. His refusal created a minor constitutional impasse, which required an Order in Council permitting the Governor to dispose of Dr Jagan and invite Mr. Burnham to form the new Government. Talks were held between Mr. Burnham and Mr. Peter D'Aguiar leading to the setting up of a coalition government, since neither of the two main political parties secured a majority. Mr. Burnham was sworn in as Premier of British Guiana.

The Legislative Assembly of the State of Bolivar in Venezuela formally acknowledged that the eastern half of the island of Ankoko belonged to Guiana.

* A statement in support of academic freedom was signed by 24 University of Guyana Lecturers.

* The Berbice High School was officially bought by the Government from the Canadian Mission Council for $120,000.

* Leader of the United Force, Peter D'Aguiar, announced that he might resign from the Cabinet because of his disagreement with Prime Minister, Mr. Forbes Burnham.

* The Carifta Agreement was ratified by the Guyana Parliament.

* Sir David Rose was sworn in as the first Governor-General of an Independent Guyana.

* An agreement was signed by the TUC, CAGI and AIFLD for the establishment of the Guyana Industrial Training School.

* The creation of the Office of Minister of Public Information was announced.

The Soesdyke/Linden Highway was opened.

* A 300-mile fair-weather road was opened by the Minister of Works, Mr. Desmond Hoyte. The road links Guyana with Brazil and ends at Lethem, from where there is direct link with the Brazilian town of Boa Vista.

* The National Secondary Schools Association was formed. The GSSA with representatives from Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice will be responsible for all secondary school sporting activities at the national and international levels.

* Primary school teacher, Ms. Gloria Layne, was elected unopposed as the first woman Mayor of the mining town of Linden. The elections evoked great public interest and, for the first time in the Council's history, the chamber was packed to capacity for a Mayoral election.

The Guyana People's Militia was officially launched. The Militia was run by the Defence Board, which had responsibility for the Peoples Army and other matters concerning defence of the country. It had it's own headquarters with a small permanent staff. There was a regiment in each region of the country.

The rationale behind the formation of the Militia lay in the recent threats of violation of the country's territorial integrity. The Militia was thus capable of spontaneous action in case of any emergency to supplement the Army and the Police Force in all functions when called upon. The presence of this mobilised, trained force certainly deterred foreign presence, while maintaining normal duties of economic production.

* Women public servants who go on their usual maternity leave, will now do so with pension rights intact, whether or not they receive full pay during the period of absence. This is one provision of a clause 9 bill passed in Parliament, streamlining the pension benefits of certain categories of workers and updating the pension rights of women. Under the Pensions Amendment Bill, women were no longer required to retire from the Public Service when they marry.

Brigadier Joseph Singh was confirmed Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force.

The European Community approved a grant of ECU750,000 to facilitate permanent sea defence repairs along Guyana's coastline and to provide technical assistance for the setting up of a Project Execution Unit which will be responsible for the sea defence repair project.

* Finance Minister Mr. Asgar Ally and British High Commissioner, Mr. David Johnson, signed an agreement for a British grant of US$6M to improve Guyana's pure water supply. The grant was provided through the British Overseas Development Administration for the Guyana Water Supply and Technical Assistance Project, which will be created over six year period, 1994-1999.

* The National Assembly approved a motion on December 1 authorising the Government to appoint a select Parliamentary Committee and to invite individuals and persons from organisations and institutions to assist in its deliberations and activities. The Committee will monitor, analyse and inform Parliament about matters relating to Guyana's historical borders.

General Elections were held on December 15. There were 461,000 registered voters and 10 political parties in competition for the voters favour. These parties included the Alliance for Guyana (AFG), A Good and Green Guyana (GGG), God Bless Guyana (GBG), Guyana Democratic Party (GDP), Justice for All (JFAP), National Democratic Front (NDF), National Independence Party, (NIP), People's National Congress (PNC), People's Progressive Party (PPP), and the United Force (TUF). The PPP received 220,667 or 55.2 per cent of the votes cast and 29 seats. The PNC received 161,901 or 40.5 per cent of the votes cast and 22 seats. The TUF received 5,937 and one seat while the AFG received 4,783 and 1 seat. Overall 408,057 votes were cast, 8,747 of which were rejected leaving a valid total of 399,310.

Death of Gordon Todd, the longest serving President of the Clerical and Commercial Workers Union. Todd had been elected President of the Guyana Trades Unions Congress in 1995. Todd was also the head of the breakaway trade union movement, Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana.

* At the 30th Annual Meeting of the Caribbean Examinations Council, Amlata Persaud of Queen's College was adjudged the most outstanding candidate in the Caribbean and in the Humanities. Sean Bovell also of Queen's College was declared the most outstanding candidate in Business Education.

* D'Urban Street was renamed Pollydore Street in honour of the veteran trade unionist Joseph Pollydore.

The American International School of Medicine (AISM) announced that the first offshore medical school in Guyana would be opened on January 10, 2001.

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