A lot has been achieved since the country attained republican status five decades ago. It was not an easy road – there have been numerous problems, in fighting and other setbacks during the period. We have seen eight Presidents: Forbes Burnham, Desmond Hoyte, Cheddi Jagan, Sam Hinds, Janet Jagan, Bharrat Jagdeo, Donald Ramotar, and David Granger. In 1980 Burnham moved from Prime Minister to Executive President following his controversial referendum which changed/amended the Constitution giving the Head of Government sweeping powers. Appeals to the Privy Council were also abolished and as a result there was only one appellate court – the Guyana Court of Appeal – for over 35 years – until the Caribbean Court of Appeal was inaugurated. British awards such as knighthood, CBE, OBE, MBE Queens Counsel were replaced by local honours. Although the Constitution was severely criticized by the opposition at the time, when the PPP won the elections in 1992, no step was taken to amend the Constitution in order to remove some of the wide Presidential powers despite a personal request to Dr. Jagan by Eusi Kwayana, an elderly statesman who is respected by all. Credit should be given to Forbes Burnham for initiating CARIFTA, the forerunner of CARICO but M — the Caribbean Community- CARIFESTA… the festival of arts and culture. The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was also the brainchild of the Guyanese leader, but came into fruition on 16th April 2005.
On February 23, 1970 Guyana became the first co-operative republic and Trinidad and Tobago became a republic six years later. Dominica is known as the Commonwealth of Dominica and has a President as Head of State and not a Governor General. I had the honour to be among the few who journeyed to Magdalendenberg up the Canje Creek with the then Prime Minister Forbes Burnham (now deceased) to the area where the national hero Cuffy struck the first blow of freedom in 1763 and was also in the Committee planning the republic celebrations in the Berbice area.
Although the 1978 referendum was boycotted by 76 percent of the electorates, Burnham claimed that his party/government has copped more than 90 percent of the 91 percent of the electorates who voted in favour of the referendum, and he invoked the change which gave the President wide ranging powers. The 1980 Constitution was referred to as the Burnham Constitution and the horse back rider, Forbes was installed as the Executive President at a lavish ceremony. Mashramani was then introduced. It started at Linden by the Jaycees under the chairmanship of Basil Butcher a former test cricketer. It is very unfortunate that the powers to be had/have not seen it fit to honour Butcher for his sterling contribution as a cricketer and the original organizer of Mashramani which is now a national event celebrated every year on February 23. Race plays an important role in Guyana’s politics since 1957 when the two leaders, Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham parted ways after opening the eyes of the populace about the disadvantages of colonialism and the need for nationalization of the bauxite and sugar industries and controlling the commanding heights of the country. Burnham as Head of Government ensured that competent Guyanese are placed in key positions. He brought Shridath Ramphal from Jamaica to be Attorney General, and Kenneth Stoby from Barbados to be Chancellor of the Judiciary. Lionel Luckhoo was named as High Commissioner to the UK. The University of Guyana which was the brainchild of Cheddi Jagan was developed by Burnham which laid the foundation for tertiary education and as a result there are thousands of graduates from UG. It is unfortunate that the country is still divided along racial lines especially at election time. Afro Guyanese control the police force and the army as well as the public service and to some extent teachers while the Indos dominate agriculture, trade and commerce. The main economic activities are production of rice and sugar, bauxite and gold mining, shrimp, fishing and minerals. The country is hopeful to move from “rags to riches” since massive oil has been discovered and exploration is now underway by foreign oil companies, but there are complaints that Guyana will not get a fair share from the oil boom since the Guyana government has signed an agreement which is more favourable to the giant oil explorers – ExxonMobil, Hess, and CNOOC
General Elections will be held on March 2 and the political parties are now in high gear campaigning. They all want to have full control of the windfall from the oil, but they should work in harmony in order to ensure that the country is not fleeced by the giant oil companies. Guyana boasts of producing hundreds of intellectuals and professionals in numerous fields. Many of them held high positions in the field of medicine, engineering, law, accountants, trade and commerce, university professors and other fields in all parts of the world. Space does not permit me to explore more. Best wishes to all.
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