BELIZE CITY, Wed. Aug. 17, 2016–Teachers and public officers who were anxiously awaiting the final tier of their three-year salary adjustment package last month—amounting to a 3% salary increase—are being asked to hold off until next April, the start of the next budget year.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow met with leaders of the three unions representing them to formally ask them to delay the salary adjustment. Barrow said that the request was made as a consequence of Hurricane Earl, which two weeks ago caused individual property losses of upwards of $15 million and losses to agriculture and tourism of over $100 million.
On Monday, Barrow shared the preliminary damage assessment with the members of the Belize National Teachers’ Union, the Public Service Union and the Association of Public Service Senior Managers.
“They naturally have to consult their membership, so they are not able to give me an answer,” Barrow told us.
Barrow said that total hurricane relief received to date from external sources amounts to $1.2 million, including monies from Taiwan, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), the Inter-American Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB). The Government will also be pursuing loans for post-hurricane restoration, Barrow indicated.
Next Friday, August 26, the Government will ask Parliament to authorize the issuance of more treasury bills—not to help meet expenses for hurricane relief but to pay the second portion of the arbitration award for the Ashcroft Alliance due next year.
Barrow said that the Government is entitled to request a deferral in the payment under the framework for the collective bargaining agreement, which says that such deferral is permissible if there is a change in material circumstances.
We asked Barrow about reports that the Government is contemplating an increase in the rate of the general sales tax (GST).
He said that in his meeting with the unions on Monday, he gave an undertaking to the unions that there will be no tax increases before certainly the next budget year. He said that this does not mean that there will be tax increases next year but that if there will be, they will have to come then.
He told us that Government would not respond to a situation where lives have been shattered by Hurricane Earl by increasing taxes on people.
The only possibility, he said, is doing something in relation to “that good old staple”—speaking of fuel prices, but even that, he indicated, is not likely unless the cost of acquiring fuel plunges.
However, he told us that he did advise the unions of the need for “a degree of fiscal consolidation,” next year, given where we are with the productive sector, the economy and falling oil prices.
“What we are trying to do is reach out to private sector, the unions… as many sectors of society,” to ensure that whatever changes the Government “is obliged to do next year… at least nobody would have been ambushed, nobody would have been bushwhacked,” said Barrow.