BELMOPAN, Wed. July 7, 2021– On Friday, during the most recent sitting of the House of Representatives, a bill was introduced to amend the Governor General Conditions of Service Act, Chapter 7. Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño took the opportunity, when presenting the bill, to raise the issue of Belize’s previous Governor General, Sir Colville Young, who is only a few years shy of ninety and is currently caring for his ailing wife. During his 27-year tenure (1993-2021) — the longest tenure of any Governor General in the Commonwealth — Sir Colville Young was not provided by the government with health insurance coverage.
Hon. Briceño said he considered this absence of a health insurance package for the Governor General, as well as the current salary being given to the GG, to be unacceptable. He pledged that his administration would be addressing the inadequacy of the compensation package given to the Governor General and vowed that the PUP “are not going to behave like the previous UDP like what they did with Dame Minita Gordon and just throw her out on the street.” “We are doing it retroactively so that then the previous GG Sir Colville Young who served us well and with distinction that he will also be covered by the pension,” he further said.
Under these new provisions, Sir Colville Young will be receiving a retroactive pension and health insurance package, while our current Governor General, H.E. Froyla Tzalam, will enjoy an increase in salary from $52,848 annually to $75,000 annually and increased duty allowances from $2,000 to $12,000. Lifetime health insurance and a pension plan have also been added to the Governor General’s compensation package as well.
The bill was subsequently debated at Wednesday’s Senate meeting, but not before three new UDP senators — Darrell Bradley, Shary Medina and Ashton McKenzie — were sworn in, the latter two being sworn in as temporary senators. As was the case in the House of Representatives, there was almost full support of the motion to amend the bill, with only one concern being raised by Bradley himself. His argument was that, within the current socio-economic climate, the salary increase seems unfitting.
“The difficulty that I do have in relation to the motion is the timing. And I think that recently a significant portion of our population have been called to bear sacrifices. We have had in this honorable house a passage of law to reduce the salaries of public officers and teachers by ten percent. We have a situation where a significant amount of the private sector are struggling,” Bradley said.
Senator Elena Smith, who represents the unions, expressed a similar point of view. She argued that the Governor General can survive on the current salary that is being paid by GOB.
“For our public officers and teachers who lost their salaries, they are being told that three years later, with a possibility of one year depending how that goes, that we may see a change in that cut in salary. However, Madam President, if it is that we are taking actions such as these, then I don’t see how at the end of one year there is going to be any chance of that happening. And so, while as I said you should be compensated for the work that you do, at this point in time what the current salary is, we believe, at this point in time that the GG is able to live off of that. And so right now this is not a time for us to be telling our people that you must be punishing, you must be struggling to be able to meet the needs of your family, to pay your bills, but on the other hand we are saying, with all of that that is happening, with the fact that we cannot afford, GG you deserve to get this increase at this time,” Senator Smith remarked.
Senator Osmany Salas, who represents the country’s NGO’s, however, made known his stance in support of the Bill:
“We agree with the government’s proposal and some of what Prime Minister Briceño has said in relation to our Governor General. It has been long overdue. It has been long overdue. And yes, I join my colleagues before me in congratulating and feeling incredibly grateful for the stellar service from our previous Governor General, Sir Colville Young. He deserved better than he got. He did deserve better than he got,” Senator Salas said.
Subsequently, the motion to amend the Governor General Conditions of Service Act, Chapter 7 was passed.