Longest serving Sergeant-at-Arms awarded Medal of Service By Linda Rutherford
Guyana Chronicle
June 30, 2002

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HE IS the longest serving of the three Sergeants-at-Arms to have ever graced the National Assembly, surpassing even his predecessor, Mr. Charles Cadogan, who’d only served 10 years, from 1966, when the then British Guiana became Independent, to 1976 when he retired at the age of 56.

He is also the first public officer to have borne the Mace, the symbol of the Speaker’s authority, which officially came into force on September 10, 1957, and was there on that red-letter day back in 1988 when the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan, then Opposition Leader of the then People’s Progressive Party (PPP), caused quite a stir in the National Assembly when he upset the Mace.

Now retired and due to receive a Medal of Service at this year’s investiture ceremony for long and dedicated service to the Public Service, Mr. Kenneth Carnegie King had just turned 50 when he applied for the job as Sergeant-at-Arms, loosely referred to as the ‘Mace Bearer’, which is one of the functions of the post.

There was a vacancy going, he said, as the then incumbent, Mr. Cadogan, had reached the age of retirement, which, at the time, was 55.

At the time of posting his application, October 8, 1975, he, King, was a Marshall at the Court of Appeal, earning the princely sum of $308.00 a month.

Before that he had worked with the Magistrates’ and the Supreme Courts, holding such offices as Bailiff, Collecting Officer, Departmental Clerk II and Marshall, thus bringing to 49 the number of years spent in the Public Service.

In those days, he recalled, one had to have a military background, which he did, to become a Sergeant-at-Arms. Though he didn’t see active duty, he’d served in both the British Guiana Regiment and the Royal Army Signal Corps as a signaller during World War II. He was 17 when he enlisted, and almost 22 when his tour of duty ended.

He’d also had the added advantage of having prior knowledge of what the job entailed, having acted on several occasions for his predecessor whenever he had to take leave, which is how he came to be the one who bore the Mace on that historic day back in 1957.

Clearly a man who knows what he is about as well as one who has a way with words, what the old-timers would refer to with some measure of deference as ‘a man of fist’, he stated in part in his application: “I consider myself specially qualified for the post for which I have applied because of my earlier practical experiences in the performance of the duties of Sergeant-at-Arms on more than three occasions when I was appointed by your secretariat to act - dating back to May 21, 1957 and concluding on July 16, 1974 - to the satisfaction of the Clerk and Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly.”

He went on to say: “On all occasions when acting in this post, I performed the duties required…with distinction, and am quite familiar with the maintenance and enforcement of the necessary security measures executable, together with the functions of flag raising as it would relate to the instructions given from time to time.”

Perhaps satisfied that he was indeed the man for the job, the authorities appointed him Sergeant-at-Arms effective March 1, 1976 in which capacity he served until his retirement this year, on February 28.

Besides the ceremonial aspect of it - such as preceding the Speaker, Mace in hand, in and out of the National Assembly whenever there is a sitting in session - the job also entails overseeing the preparation of the Parliament Chamber for such occasions and the general running, maintenance and internal security of the area designated Parliament Office, which is located at the top eastern wing of the Public Buildings.

As King explains in a document he prepared prior to the interview: “Prior to 1953, the services to the Legislature of the Colony of British Guiana were provided by the Colonial Secretary’s Office.”

At the time, he explains, the Governor of the Colony presided over Meetings of the Legislative Council. With the introduction of a new Constitution in 1953, however, providing for, inter alia, a ministerial system of government and for the office of Speaker, a separate department, called the Office of the Legislature, was established on April 8, 1953, “in a small section of the top floor of the Public Buildings near to the Parliament Chamber,” which latter is what the area where the National Assembly is convened is called.

It had its own staff of 11 which provided services to the new legislature and its members.

With the increase in membership of the legislature over the years, which in turn meant additional services, records and staff, it became imperative to find new quarters. And thus, was Parliament Office born, he said.

Further increases, not only in the membership of the Legislature, now referred to as the National Assembly, but also staff and records, he said, saw the entire Public Buildings being dedicated to Parliamentary matters following the 1992 general elections, with the exception of part of the ground floor, which still houses the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

According to King, the section run by the Sergeant-at-Arms, who takes his orders directly from the Clerk of the National Assembly, has a staff of eight which comprises an Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms, a maid and six cleaners. He, however, feels that there is need to create two additional posts to accommodate a head cleaner and handyman.

Asked how he passes the time these days now that he is retired, King said he still feels as fit as a fiddle in spite of his 77 years, and was even commended recently on how well he looks. Always very active, he said he still gets up at the crack of dawn as he did back when he had to be at work for 08:00hrs.

He spends most of his time on the typewriter drafting one legal document or the other, for the string of clients he has acquired over the years who regularly seek his service on legal matters. He is currently in the process, he says, of seeking to become a Commissioner of Oaths and Affidavits and a Justice of the Peace.

His one regret in life is never being given the opportunity to attend the Commonwealth Sergeants-at-Arms conference held in London every five years during the month of August despite the fact that he was invited to twice, in 1994 and again in 1999.