Headline — 18 October 2013 — by Adele Ramos
“We’re rolling in $$$”: Barrow!

Oh yea? Well, unions want some of that money!

World Bank, however, rates Belize at 152 of 185, among poorest countries

Since the weekend, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow has been saying that Government is awash in cash—but now, the unions are saying that what they had long believed to be true is clear: that the Government can pay them the salary adjustment they have been requesting since 2008.

George Frazer, a former General Secretary of the Belize National Teachers’ Union and one of the members of the union negotiating team, told our newspaper today that in 2008, when the United Democratic Party (UDP) took office, the cost of living had already risen about 30% since their last salary adjustment. Since then, said Frazer, it has increased at least another 5%.

Frazer said that the minimum the unions had asked Government for is a 5% adjustment. Each 1% raise represents $3 million, and Government could now pay at least the 10% a year—$30 million dollars, he maintained.

He told us that initially, Government had said that economic growth was slowing down, and whereas the Prime Minister disagrees with their request for a minimum salary increase, teachers believe that with developments this year—including the increase in government revenue due to the assumption of control over the international business corporations and merchant marine ship registries, which should boost revenue receipts by several millions—Government can accommodate the 10% increase in the next budget cycle.

Furthermore, Government this week received clearance from the Caribbean Court of Justice to continue collecting dividends from Belize Telemedia Limited. The court froze those dividends last year pending a trial over the legality of the nationalization.

In responding on Tuesday to a ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice, declaring that Government can now receive half of the dividends due from Belize Telemedia Limited for 2012 and 2013—the payment of which was frozen last year—Barrow told 7 News:

You see, the government is so much rolling in it right now that I haven’t even bothered to keep track of how much we [had] been losing out on the dividends; 5 or 10 million is neither here nor there in the larger picture, but it’s a welcomed position taken by the CCJ especially for SSB and for the Central Bank of Belize.”

These comments reflect sentiments Barrow expressed Saturday night in Duck Run II, at a political rally for Cayo North East, where Barrow was trying to convince voters to retain a UDP rep in the seat – notwithstanding the move to recall the current area representative, Elvin Penner, over a scandal in the Immigration Department.

“We have in our coffers millions and millions of dollars,” Barrow told voters in Duck Run II.

Dylan Reneau, president of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), told Amandala: “When he [Barrow] said that, I was just thinking of my salary adjustment.”

Reneau said that the unions may have to go back to the Prime Minister and ask for that salary adjustment to be dealt with more expeditiously.

Barrow said at Saturday night’s rally in Duck Run that, “The kind of spending that you will now begin to see by this Government in the Cayo North East constituency is the kind of spending that nowhere in this country has ever been seen before.

“If you want to see that kind of progress come to this community, come to the surrounding villages, and come to the whole of the Cayo North East constituency, you will do whatever it takes to ensure that the United Democratic Party holds on to that seat in the House of Representatives,” he added.

At the rally, Barrow pledged new infrastructure, including a new school and road works, in the area – if people in the constituency keep the UDP in the seat. He also said that he was solemnly promising that the UDP government would build that new school.

Whereas Barrow claims that government is “rolling in it,” a World Development report just issued by the World Bank indicates that Belize ranks at 152 of 185 countries—near bottom along with the poorest of the region.

The World Bank’s 2014 World Development report says that, on a per capita basis, Belize is among the poorest countries in the Caribbean.

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