A short history of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce & Industry

The Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry was established under the name “The Chamberof Commerce of the City of Georgetown” in the year 1889. The formation of the chamber begun at a meeting with Royal Agricultural Commercial Society and a Commercial Committee held on the 20 the December 1888. Under the initiative of Mr. J. Errest Tinner a sphere of useful discussions were held and it was decided to merge these two bodies. On the 17th June, 1889 at a meeting of Merchants and others it was decided to form a Chamber of Commerce for the City, which should be recognized by law. The Memorandum and Articles of Association were drafted. These were submitted at a General Meeting held on the 8 th July, 1889 and the President, Vice-Presidents and Council were elected.

It was intended for the Chamber to be registered under the Company’s Ordinance in 1864. However, there was no provision made in the Ordinance for permitting the omission made in the word “Limited” when registering institutions similar to the Chamber of Commerce. It was undesirable that the liability of Members should be unlimited. As a result, the Council petitioned the Governor and Court of Policy to incorporate the Chamber under a special ordinance. The Petition was favorably received. The then Attorney General suggested the title be shorten by omitting the word “Incorporated” and it was entered into the Statute Book as Ordinance No. 4, of 1890.

The Membership roll for the year 1889-1890 was 77. Of these three were struck off for non-payment of Subscription. The membership subscription per year was $10.00.

In the pre-independence era, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, as it was then known, was invariably headed by expatriate business executives and was an exclusive “Club” for men.

Of course, then were Guyanese who were elected presidents of organization, most of them representing foreign owned companies, for example Bookers, Sandbach Parker, Demerara Bauxite Company, Demerara Tobacco Company, Sprostons and the Banks.

The Wight family (Guyanese) who owned two of the three daily newspapers, along with insurance companies and properties, and business magnate Peter Stanislaus D’Aguiar, whose company Banks DIH Ltd., were very active in the chamber.

The Gajraj family who operated a merchant and motor vehicle business gave the chamber its first East Indian President (Guyanese) Mr. Harold Gajraj. His brother, Mr. R.B. Gajraj was also a member of the Chamber’s Executive Council.

Both the Chamber and the two traditional churches, Anglican and Roman Catholic, played active behind the scene roles in the administration of the country with Governor of the day seeking their advice on a number of national issues.

The Annual General Meetings of the chamber were looked upon as special events and wide coverage was given to these proceedings and speeches by Governor, representatives of the government of the day, and both the incoming and outgoing Presidents. It should be noted that not only was the press (Newspapers) in private hands, (the Wight’s), but also the expatriate firm of Bookers, with the lone Radio Station in the hands of a British-owned company (Reddiffusion), (the monthly business meetings received ample coverage in the press).

Although the business community under the British was represented in the Legislature, it was Mr. D’Aguiar, the soft drinks, rum, beer and fast food, pioneer whose political party the United Force that took the bold step by entering into local politics and eventually winning seats in parliament.

The United Force subsequently formed a coalition with the Peoples’ National Congress which was led by Mr. Forbes Burnham, who later became Guyana’s first Executive President. The coalition did not last long and Mr. D’Aguiar took his party into opposition with the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan’s Peoples’ Progressive Party. Their ideologies were poles apart.

With the gradual introduction of certain socialist policies by Mr. Burnham, on the body politic, the influence of the Chamber began to wane. The Chamber was once described by Mr. Burnham as a body made up of “Commission Agents”.