THE CONSTITUTIONAL COMMITTEE, 1958
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The PPP government set out with determination to press the demand for independence for Guyana. To encourage the people's awareness and to whip up support for the cause, PPP leaders held public meetings throughout the country. This issue was eventually raised in the Legislative Council on 6 June 1958 when opposition representative Jai Narine Singh-now sitting as an "independent" member-introduced a motion urging the British government to discuss constitutional reform for Guyana.
In the discussion that followed, Jagan introduced a resolution which called on the British government to grant Guyana the status of a "fully self-governing territory" within the Commonwealth. Forbes Burnham moved an amendment to the resolution suggesting that Guyana should be granted only "full internal self-government." However, this amendment was defeated and on 11 June, the resolution presented by Jagan was passed unanimously. The resolution called on the British government to receive a representative delegation approved by the Legislative Council to discuss:
1. Constitutional reform with the view to the granting to British Guiana of the status of a fully self-governing territory within the Commonwealth; and
2. The working out of an agreement between the British Guiana government and the United Kingdom government for a transitional period whereby the United Kingdom government would exercise control over defense and give guidance in foreign relations other than trade and commerce.
After this resolution was passed, Jagan urged the British government, as was already done for Trinidad and Jamaica, to grant his government cabinet status which would allow the Chief Minister to replace the Governor as chairman of the Executive Council. The British government refused to do so, but in September 1958, the Secretary of State for the Colonies instructed Governor Renison to establish a constitutional committee to consider proposals for a new constitution. This committee, set up on 5 November, included the Speaker as chairman, and all the elected and nominated members of the Legislative Council. The official members of the legislature served on the committee as advisers without voting rights.
During the meetings of the commission, the PPP members called for total independence, a fully elected unicameral legislature, and voting at the age of 18 under the first-past-the-post system. The PNC on the other hand argued for internal self-government, a bicameral legislature, and voting at the age of 21 under the system of proportional representation (PR).
The proposal for proportional representation was first suggested by nominated member Anthony Tasker who was later to become head of the Booker companies in Guyana.
The committee held 19 meetings and finally presented its report to the Governor on 6 August 1959. Its main recommendation was that Guyana should become an independent state within the Commonwealth with the British Queen as head of state to be represented by the Governor, and a cabinet and parliamentary system of government.
The committee also suggested that the legislature should be unicameral with elections held every four years under a block-vote modification of the first-past-the-post system. Under this system, two members would be elected in each constituency with each voter having two votes through which they would make their "first" and "second" choices from among the candidates. There would be, thus, 48 members elected in the 24 constituencies, as were demarcated in 1953. The Speaker should also be elected from among the 48 members, and the power to dissolve the legislature should reside in the hand of the Governor on the advice of the Prime Minister.
The Committee, based on a majority vote, recommended that elected ministers should take over the responsibilities of the Chief Secretary, Attorney General and Financial Secretary. Internal security, including control of the police, should also be handled by an elected minister. And a Defense and External Affairs Council, with an equal number of members appointed by the Governor and the Prime Minister, with the former as Chairman, should be responsible for defense and external affairs.
Another recommendation was that a Council of Ministers comprising nine to twelve members of the legislature should be appointed. The Governor should appoint a Prime Minister on whose advice other ministers would be named.
A proposal by Jagan that the new constitution should include a "fundamental rights" section based on the UN Declaration on Human Rights won unanimous approval.