NEW CONSTITUTION OF 1928
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By the early 1920s, the legislature (the Combined Court) comprised of persons mainly from the middle class and the legal and medical profession. By that time most of the elected members were non-White (African, Indian, Portuguese and Mixed); there was only one member drawn from the sugar plantation owners who were seen as representatives of the White segment of the population.
Most of the elected members were in regular conflict with the Governor and his Executive Council over the allocation of finance for development projects. The Governor and the Executive Council, on the other hand, claimed that they were restricted by financial restraints placed on them by the colonial constitution which placed distribution of funds in the hands of the British Government in London.
Elections took place in 1926, and the electorate of mainly Africans voted solidly for the Popular Party led by Nelson Canon, a Guyana-born White. Among those elected were two Indians, Edward Alfred Luckhoo (to the Court of Policy) and Arnold Seeram (as a Financial Representative). Joseph Alexander Luckhoo, who served as a member of the Combined Court since 1916, failed to win re-election.
Shortly after, the British Government sent a Parliamentary Commission to examine the economic conditions of Guyana and to make recommendations for improvements. This Commission subsequently reported that the lack of control over finance by the Government was hampering development. It made a number of recommendations, but did not suggest any change to the existing constitution. However, it proposed the setting up of a local commission to work out constitutional changes that might be needed. It also expressed concern over the non-involvement (or non-inclusion) of Whites in the legislature.
The local commission was eventually appointed but it had only one Guyanese member, Eustace Woolford, who was also an elected representative in the Combined Court. This commission, after hearing evidence from the public, recommended by majority opinion that a unicameral legislature should be established to replace the bicameral system of the Combined Court and the Court of Policy. The composition of this suggested Legislative Council should be the Governor, Colonial Secretary, Attorney General, eight nominated officials, five nominated unofficial members, and fourteen elected members.
This recommendation on the composition of the proposed Legislative Council gave total power to the Governor who, with his team of nominated and non-elected members, would have a majority in the Legislative Council.
According to the proposals, the Governor was also to be given special powers to carry out any measure in the Legislative Council against the wishes of the majority.
The final report of this local commission did not receive the support of Woolford who argued that the new recommendations would remove constitutional privileges to elected members granted by the old constitution. Nevertheless, the British Government accepted the report, even after Woolford and a delegation of elected members went to England to argue their case against the recommended proposals.
Eventually, the British Government approved the British Guiana Act when King George V signed an Order in Council on 18 July 1928. This Act abolished the old Dutch-influenced constitution, and a British Crown Colony constitution, which followed in great part the recommendations made by the commission, was introduced.
The new constitution was generally regarded as a backward step since it took away the powers from the electorate to elect a majority to govern the country. Of significance, it gave back power to the planter class, who had lost their influence in 1891, since their representatives could now be appointed to the Legislative Council by the Governor.
But a minority of elected members (of all ethnic groups), because of their close orientation with pro-British values, expressed support for the changes.
Despite the setbacks in constitutional change, the new constitution gave voting rights to women, provided they qualified through property ownership of earnings. It also provided for elected members to become part of the Executive Council.
Elections under this new constitution was held in 1930 and among those re-elected were both Edward A. Luckhoo, who was appointed to the Executive Council, and Arnold E. Seeram. A new Indian candidate, Dr. Jung Bahadur Singh was also elected. In a by-election, a fourth Indian, Peer Bacchus, won a seat which became vacant after the death of its holder, A. R. F. Webber, a "Coloured" journalist. In elections held in 1935, the four Indians were re- elected, and a fifth, Charles Ramkisson Jacob won a seat in a by-election. Seeram, shortly after, resigned his seat and left Guyana.
Despite the constitutional changes, Guyana continued to experience economic difficulties. This was mainly due to the fact that despite huge profits made by the sugar industry, there was no accumulation of capital since most of the profits were kept in England. As a result, loans had to be obtained to meet capital expenses for sea-defence, drainage and irrigation, water supply and other essential public works.
To meet financial demands, the Government imposed heavy taxation on the citizens. The economic situation and the standard of living of the people further worsened with the drop in prices for export products and a serious floods in 1934. Unemployment was also rampant and there were numerous strikes and disturbances after 1935.