Highlights — 19 June 2015 — by Adele Ramos
Unions canvass members as GOB prepares to table PetroCaribe amendments

BELIZE CITY, Wed. June 17, 2015–Amendments to the controversial PetroCaribe Loans Act are due to be tabled in Parliament next Friday, June 26, and constituent unions of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) have been asked to canvass the views of their membership on the proposed amendments before the executive of the Congress meets this Saturday, June 20, 2015.

NTUCB president Marvin Mora told Amandala today that his union, the Belize Energy Workers Union (BEWU), has already begun to disseminate information to members and they will be canvassing the views of their general membership on the proposed amendments.

On May 27, 2015, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow met with NTUCB officials to discuss their concerns about the PetroCaribe Loans Act, as well as his proposals to amend the law at the upcoming House meeting.

Two weeks earlier, Barrow had announced that the new PetroCaribe bill would be amended by repealing subsection 2 of section 3, to include a clause specifying that, “…the money borrowed from APBEL shall be kept in a fund at the Central Bank of Belize, which fund shall form part of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of Belize…”

He also said that the law would be amended to stipulate that funds may be withdrawn from time to time as the need arises, and the withdrawal and spending shall be subject to the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act and all other applicable laws.

He thirdly announced the proposal to repeal subsection 3 and replace it with a new clause to allow the Government to allot a portion of the PetroCaribe funds for compensation to the former shareholders of Belize Telemedia Limited and Belize Electricity limited, the two nationalized utilities, as well as to assist with the buy-back of the billion-dollar Super-bond.

Fourthly, a new clause would be introduced which would require quarterly reports on PetroCaribe funds, and will also include a retrospective bill for spending, as well as a prospective allocation proposal for future spending not already approved in the national budget. The first such quarterly report is expected to be tabled along with the bill.

Marvin Blades, president of the Public Service Union, informed Amandala that all constituent unions of the NTUCB were asked to do internal consultations with members, so that they could be ready when the Congress meets this Saturday. The representatives of the unions would vote as delegates, and the majority position will be final.

Mora told us that Senator Ray Davis, who represents the trade unions as well as civil society in the Senate, would be fully apprised of the NTUCB’s position when the matter comes up in the Senate for a vote there.

When the original act was passed at the end of March, Davis had abstained from voting. For its part, the NTUCB had not yet solidified its position, as it is aiming to do in the days leading up to the presentation of the amendments to the principal act.

Mora told us that every union member is being given the opportunity to have their say on the matter and if NTUCB members countrywide say “yes,” that would be the position put forth by the NTUCB.

Mora underscored the need for union leaders to take the work of the trade union seriously. He said that, “This is not the time for politics; this is the time for the union’s work.”
“Trade union leaders need to step up now or shut up!” Mora told us, underscoring the need for union leaders to get the facts to their people for both sides of the argument, the pros and cons.

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