BELMOPAN, Wed. May 30, 2018– The Public Service Union (PSU) has surely seen its fair share of drama. In May of last year, Amandala reported on the circulation of recordings in which the former PSU president, Eldred Neal, could be heard making derogatory statements about the Garifuna people.
A discussion between Neal and Marvin Mora, former president of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), about the Garifuna race had been secretly recorded, and while Mora admitted to making the statements on the recording, Neal denied having done so.
Around the same time the recordings emerged, a letter from the majority of the PSU’s Council of Management, was released which stated that 9 out of 17 members called for Neal’s resignation before their annual general meeting (AGM) in August of 2017. The letter also alleged that Neal had expressed a desire to purge the union of Garifuna people.
Later, in May 2017, Neal was suspended as president of the union.
However, on August 14, 2017, we reported that at a meeting held by the PSU, Neal admitted to making the recorded statements and was reinstated as president, but with conditions, including his forfeiture of the role of chairperson at their 2017 AGM.
Less than ten days later, we reported that at the PSU’s AGM, Doreth Cayetano-Obermayer, a Garifuna woman, was elected as the new president of the PSU. Obermayer had previously served as vice chair of the PSU’s Belmopan branch (2014-2015), was the branch’s acting chair from 2016-2017, and was re-elected to the executive of the Belmopan branch for 2017-2018.
Now, Obermayer faces her own challenges, as there was a no-confidence vote against her at the PSU’s AGM on Saturday, May 26. According to a high-ranking source in the union, who wished to remain anonymous, the PSU’s Resolution Committee presented ten resolutions given to them by members, with the no-confidence vote being the last on the list.
The process in the PSU for addressing resolutions starts with a reading of the resolution to the members by the Resolutions Committee, who then explain the meaning of the resolution, after which someone can move a motion in favour of the resolution. If someone else seconds the motion, the way is opened for a discussion, then the members are allowed to vote.
The Resolutions Committee chairperson, Jacqueline Willoughby, presented the no-confidence vote, not just for Obermayer, but also for the second vice president, Jerome Lozano, and the secretary general, Fayne Nicascio. Some members believed that they should resign and leave the post vacant for elections.
Apparently, Obermayer’s supporters were in an uproar about the no-confidence vote, and some even suggested that the vote was Willoughby’s doing, instead of that of the other members. Many also claimed that it had to do with the “race” issue that had plagued them last year.
However, according to our source, there were still those who believed that Obermayer was not working up to standard — specifically, that she was not addressing national issues adequately, as well as not dealing with members’ issues on a timely basis.
When we spoke to Obermayer today, however, she said that there was no basis put forward for the no-confidence vote against her and the other two persons. She said that no evidence was presented that she was not doing her job to the best of her ability.
According to her, it is her responsibility, as president of the PSU, to fight for the rights of the organization’s members. She said that the PSU sits on various committees that guide how certain public officers are to be treated, and the selection process of officers.
Obermayer directed our attention to a 2014 issue about the compendium of allowances that were not being issued to members by the Joint Staff Relations Committee, implying that this may have been one of the factors leading to the no-confidence vote. She stated that although the previous president was in the position for two years, nothing was done. She said she was just elected as president in August of last year, and she has already sent a memorandum so that individuals can receive their allowances. Therefore, this does not provide adequate justification for a no-confidence vote, she said.
Obermayer also commented on the complaint that she was not addressing national issues adequately, saying that she has to think of the members first. She said that there are many open vote public officers who will not stand behind her if she decides to spearhead a movement regarding any national issue, because the officers are governed by the Government Workers Regulations and can be sent home by their heads if they lend support.
Obermayer ended by clarifying a matter put forward by the Resolutions Committee at the meeting. According to the Resolutions Committee, the AGM is able to interpret the constitution that governs the PSU, if the constitution is silent on certain issues.
However, Obermayer stated that the constitution is clear that only the PSU’s Council of Management can interpret the constitution on matters regarding which it is silent, and only they can issue a ruling. Therefore, the no-confidence vote should be, essentially, null and void, since it goes against what the constitution dictates, she reasoned.
Had the resolution been taken up with the Council of Management, they would have determined whether there was adequate evidence on the basis of which to put the matter forward, and in the case that it was, the president would have been excused from the meeting, since it was her post that the members would have been discussing. However, this did not happen, Obermayer said.
At the AGM, someone had suggested that the vote be deferred instead of having the members vote immediately. After putting it to a vote, the majority of the members at the meeting agreed with the deferral, and so it will be decided at their next AGM, next year, whether or not Obermayer, Lozano, and Nicascio will remain in their positions.