BELIZE CITY, Tues. May 23, 2017–The Council of Management of the Public Service Union (PSU) voted on Friday morning at an emergency meeting to suspend its president, Eldred Neal, until the union holds an Annual General Meeting in August, when Neal’s tenure is officially slated to end.
We asked why Neal was not at the meeting, and we were told that although he was invited to attend, he had indicated that he had another commitment on Friday. However, executive members told our newspaper that the group felt that since Neal was in Belmopan on Friday, he could have attended if he wanted to.
We understand that a challenge has already been raised on Neal’s behalf by a trustee of the union, claiming that Neal was not given a chance to be heard before he was suspended. We were unable to reach Neal for comment when we called him today.
The decision, taken with 11 votes in favor, 1 abstention and 5 absentees, came on the heels of public disclosure of a recording of a conversation which Neal had back in March with former president of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), Marvin Mora, and president of the Belize Waters Services Workers Union (BWSWU), Lorelei Westby. It is alleged that the anti-Garifuna comments made in the recording are primarily those of Eldred Neal, in contending that the Garifuna people would do anything to ascend to power and are by so doing claiming high ranks in the public service.
For his part, Neal claims that he did not make any derogatory comments against the Garinagu, and he contends that the recording was doctored to make him appear to be against those who helped him to secure the presidency. Neal had overwhelming support from the Garifuna members of the PSU, in securing the presidency of the PSU in 2015. His campaign manager was a Garifuna woman, who is now of the view that Neal should resign the post.
Neal was absent from Friday’s meeting; claimed he had another event to attend
The removal of Neal comes on the heels of a May 6 letter, signed by 9 members of the Council of Management, who we are now told number 17 and not 15, as we had previously conveyed. That letter asked Neal to resign before the upcoming AGM, and to not offer himself again for office, citing an anti-Garifuna agenda to “purge” the union’s executive of its Garifuna members. Neal, who was approached by two representatives of the group on Monday, May 15, refused to step down and maintained that he was being misrepresented.
However, the majority of the Council of Management is convinced that Neal did make those derogatory remarks against the Garinagu, and it was on the basis of the recording, as well as what one executive member described as “affidavits” from other members, that they moved to sanction him on Friday.
“Please note that your failure to honor this request will result in appropriate action being taken at the appropriate time,” said the letter, delivered to Neal on Thursday, May 11, and signed by 9 members of the Council of Management.
There were 12 members present on Friday morning, and Edmund Zuniga, Jr., president of the Belize District branch abstained. He told us that his branch had been “mum” on the issue and at a meeting called last week, they could not get quorum.
Zuniga told us that Neal has been suspended not as president, but as a member of the PSU. We asked for how long the suspension is being ordered, and he said, until the upcoming AGM or up to the time that he comes to defend himself before the Council of Management. He said that provision is made for the suspension in the constitution of the PSU.
We were told that the only branch not represented at Friday’s meeting was the Corozal branch. The 2nd vice president, Kenneth Mortis, was also absent.
Asked what was the reason cited for the absences, Zuniga said that due to work commitments the members were unable to attend.
In Neal’s absence, 1st vice president, Herman Pastor, would act, but we understand that Mortis is expected to take up the baton in the interim, since Pastor is currently overseas.
Speaking with Amandala today, Mortis, who had signed the May 6 letter calling on Neal to step down, said that he was dissatisfied with the comments Neal made. Mortis, a Creole, said that he has followed the Garifuna culture since he was 9 years old and he admires the Garinagu.
As for the road ahead, he told us that they need to also take this matter to the wider membership. Mortis, a fireman, said that when Neal was president, they gave him 100% support and he appeals for the same support from the PSU during his tenure as interim acting president of the union.