Features — 14 January 2014 — by Adele Ramos
GOB’s revenues still not high enough to support public officers’ 5% salary adjustment

Financial Secretary Joe Waight told Amandala this morning that a preliminary financial review of Government’s accounts, as of the third quarter just ended, indicates that year-to-date numbers are “looking positive”—although, he noted that the increase in revenue is not as high as the 10% increase required to pay teachers and public servants the 5% minimum salary adjustment they have been calling for, effective this year.

“We are currently spending about $500 million on wages, wage related grants and on pensions. A back of the envelope calculation is that for every 1% increase granted would cost a further $5.0 million dollars. Therefore a 5% increase would require about $25 million in additional funds,” Waight has informed our newspaper.

Waight also told us that the assertion made by Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow, in his New Year’s Message, that the salary adjustment would be paid in August — not in July as had been previously stated — was a “slip of the tongue.”

According to the Financial Secretary, the Government has committed to paying half of the difference between the revenue collected last financial year (2012-2013), and this financial year (2013-2014).

Figures published in the approved budget for 2013-2014 indicate that the spread between the recurrent revenues for this financial year versus the former was anticipated, at the time the budget was approved, at roughly $20 million.

Since then, the Government has taken over the international business companies and merchant ship registry, which reportedly garners roughly $10 million a year, and it has won a claim before the Caribbean Court of Justice to unfreeze a portion of dividends from Belize Telemedia Limited, which means that the Government would have also gotten a further $7 to $10 million or so from that source.

Assuming the other revenue sources are meeting their budget targets, this tallies to a revenue increase in the region of $37 to $40 million.

Waight told Amandala that every percentage point increase in salary to teachers and public officers will cost the Government $5.5 to $6 million, and to meet the demand for a 5% floor for the salary adjustment would mean that the Government would have to show a revenue increase of $50 million.

He said that the payments will have to be made from recurrent revenues – not a source like the PetroCaribe Fund. It would have to be drawn from sources such as import duties, Income and Business Tax, General Sales Tax, and so on.

However, indications from the Fin Sec, who declined our request to disclose more specific numbers on the preliminary budget outturn for the third quarter, is that Government will receive “a little bit more” money than had been anticipated.

Waight told us that they are “not anywhere close to that” $50 million in excess revenue needed to pay teachers and public servants a 5% adjustment.

Earlier this week, the Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU) told journalists that the cost of living has skyrocketed 35% since their last salary adjustment and they are merely asking for the income to be adjusted, to allow them to catch up with the lost value of the dollar.

Waight said that by the end of the first quarter in the 2014-2015 Financial Year (April to June), the Government will be able to say how much it will pay out to teachers and public officers. He explained that the speed at which the extra funds will find their way into the hands of the workers will depend on how fast ministries themselves can put into effect the change, after making the needed adjustments to the pay scales, but, he said, he is confident that by August everybody will get what is due to them, and the payment would be retroactive to April 1.

Although Barrow had said in his New Year’s Day Message that the salary adjustment would be substantial, Waight specified that year-to-date figures are “positive”—but not as high as 10% over the last financial year.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Patrick Faber told us that he supports the teachers’ bid for a salary adjustment. “I do, I really do!” he told us.

But what he does not support, Faber said, is talk of industrial action, because negotiations with the Government have not broken down.

He said that on Wednesday, a group from the BNTU was in his office requesting a meeting, to which they have agreed, and he is certain that the Prime Minister would also be willing to meet with them.

Faber also expressed the view that what the Prime Minister has offered to the teachers and public servants is quite reasonable, but the Prime Minister “is not willing to commit for obvious reasons…”

He said that nobody can argue with the fact that progress has been made in the negotiations, and while they have signed off on a partial agreement, they are moving towards a final agreement with the unions.

BNTU told the press on Monday that it had been several months since Government had sat at the table with them. The last meeting, they said, was convened in July 2013.

Today, the BNTU kicked off a series of weekly district rallies which will be held across the country, to raise the profile of their activism in addressing the need for a salary adjustment, but also to highlight a gamut of national issues, chief among them being corruption, including the passport/visa scandal which rocked the Barrow administration in the latter part of 2013.

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