First President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana

Guyana Chronicle
February 27, 2000

"OFFICIALS", according to the Guyana Graphic, had hinted that a "dark horse" would have been chosen as the first President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.

Names were tossed around. The Graphic of February 22, 1970 said that according to reliable sources, the list of nominees comprised the acting Governor General whose substantive post is Chancellor of the Judiciary, Sir Edward Luckhoo; Speaker of the Parliament, Mr Rahman Gajraj, who was "highly praised by the Government"; General Manager of the Guyana Development Corporation, Mr Gavin Kennard; and Ombudsman, Mr Gordon Gillette.

One thing was clear though: then Opposition Leader, Dr Cheddi Jagan, was totally against the nomination of Mr Rahman Gajraj. Mr Ashton Chase was the candidate approved by the People's Progressive Party (PPP) as its choice for President. The party had also submitted the name of a retired Amerindian Chief who is the father of Mr Eugene Stoby, a Parliamentarian of the PPP.

The Graphic subsequently reported that the four top favourites - Luckhoo, Gajraj, Gillette and Kennard, had dropped out of the race.

The dark horse turned out to be Justice Arthur Chung, the PNC's choice of Head of State. Then Prime Minister Forbes Burnham made the announcement at a special sitting of the Guyana Parliament on Monday, February 23, 1970.

Small in stature, Mr Chung's appointment was seen in the light of the slogan associated with Republican status of `Making the small man a real man'.

Today, we reprint an article written by Mr Carlton Harry and published in the March 1, 1970, of the Guyana Graphic on `The man most likely to be 1st president', Mr Arthur Chung.

"I feel highly honoured that I was so highly thought of," was the comment of our proposed President, Mr Raymond Arthur Chung, as I sat with him in his High Street home in Kingston, discussing the various phases of his life leading up to his zenithal nomination on Monday last in the National Assembly by the Prime Minister.

Mr Chung, whose nomination was signed by Mr Forbes Burnham and five parliamentarians from his ruling People's National Congress Party, said quite emphatically, "I never had such an ambition, I never thought about it, I still consider myself a practising judge until the final decision on March 17, so I cannot say what my life as a President will be until after the date."

The man likely to be the first Guyanese President was born in 1916 at Windsor Forest on the West Coast of Demerara, and comes from a family of eight, three boys and five girls, one of whom has died.

He attended Windsor Forest and Blankenburg Primary schools before he went to Mr J. I. Ramphal's (the Attorney General's father) Modern High School. Among his school mates there were Mr Justice Guya Persaud, Dr F. Sheo Sankar, the Attorney General Mr Sonny Ramphal, Mr B. O. Adams, lawyer, and Mr Justice˙Amin Edun, now High Court Judge in Jamaica.

In 1938, Mr Chung graduated from Modern High School and joined the staff of the Lands and Mines Department as an apprentice surveyor, and qualified as Sworn Land Surveyor in 1940, after which he joined the staff of the Public Works Department where he stayed for six months.

He was then recalled by the Lands and Mines Department to work as an Assistant Hydrographic surveyor with the Demerara River Navigation Development Project which was at the time involved in dredging the Demerara River.

In May, 1945, he left the country after the Second World War to enter the Middle Temple of London where he qualified as a barrister in 1947. He then worked as Assistant Legal examiner with the British Civil Service. He later joined the chambers of British lawyer Maurice Shear, but returned home in October, 1948 when he joined the local bar and practised as a lawyer until 1953 when he was appointed an acting magistrate to serve in the West Demerara and Essequibo Judicial Districts.

His appointment was confirmed to 1954 and he now had to serve in the Georgetown and Berbice Judicial districts. At this point, Mr Chung paused to say, "I really enjoyed this period of my job, as I was able to see the whole of Guyana, because in those days a magistrate had to cover many areas in one Judicial district."

It was also in 1954 that Mr Chung got married to Miss Doreen Pamela Auan also from Windsor Forest, and at present the couple have two children, Pamela aged 15 who attends St. Joseph High School, and Raymond Arthur aged 12, who attends Queen's College.

Here Mr Chung spoke of the many friends he made, especially those whom he gave severe sentences to while he served as a magistrate. He recalled two incidents which he said he would always remember. He once sentenced a man to six months imprisonment, but as the man was about to leave the dock he turned to him (Mr Chung) and said "I must get you when I come out".

However, while Mr Chung was in Bookers one day doing some shopping, he saw the same man whom he remembered. The man came up to him and said, "You remember me, Sir?" and after Mr Chung replied in the affirmative and was expecting the exact opposite, the man turned to him and said, "Well, you know you boy working now, but I can't stop the thiefing". Mr Chung then turned to him and gave him a polite clap on the shoulder telling him he must try and stop stealing.

He also spoke of a confrontation he had with the notorious `Lashley' who was hanged a few years ago. Mr Chung said that he had dismissed a case which Lashley had brought against the police, and as he left work and entered his car, Lashley came to him menacingly and said, "Sir you rob me in that one". But Mr Chung told him `Lashley I am only here to give justice, it is your witness who let you down.' Lashley appeared satisfied with his explanation and calmly said: "Is all right Sir, I understand."

In 1961, Mr Chung left the Magistrate's Court and went to work as Registrar at the Supreme Court, but was called to act as a judge in the Supreme Court in 1962. He was confirmed a judge in 1963.

As a judge, Mr Chung has featured in many important decisions and cases. He once created history when he broke a 78-year-old practice by ruling that the Director of Public Prosecutions had no jurisdiction to compel a magistrate to convict a person.

He was also involved in a case when he ruled in favour of the Attorney General against Mrs Cecile Nobrega, but the Full Court of Appeal reversed the decision when it was taken there by Mrs Nobrega. The Attorney General finally took the case to the Privy Council which upheld Mr Chung's original decision.

His last case was the Rupununi murder trial which arose from the attempted secession in January, 1969. In this case, three of the accused persons will have to stand retrial for murder, while seven others were set free.

I asked Mr Chung how he would adjust his retiring and conservative life which he lived all his years to suit the publicity and social obligation which his new job would require of him.

He pondered awhile then said, "I lived a simple and lonely life as a judge, because I felt this was absolutely necessary if I were to execute proper justice, and since I still regard myself as a practising judge until March 17, it would not be fair for me to comment on how I would live as a President."

The Presidential nominee also said he devoted quite a lot of his time to his domestic life which included planting his garden and caring for his pets, but this did not mean he did not attend social functions to which he or his wife was invited. He disclosed a personal interest in cricket which he played regularly when he was young and spoke of the pleasant moments he enjoyed playing the game as a schoolboy when he and his friends would quarrel and fight and cheat each other, and make friends again.

As the interview drew to a close, he, however, stressed, "Whether or not I am elected to the post of President, my firm belief will be what it always was, and that is justice must not only be done, but also appear to be done."