BELIZE CITY, Wed. Sept. 19, 2012
The trade unions have joined the private sector in supporting the Barrow administration’s move to restructure the billion-dollar super-bond, in an effort to reduce payments from the public purse, but they have also made a list of 11 contingent demands on the Government of Belize, including a demand for the government to stop the wanton distribution of the nation’s patrimony in corrupt, under-the table deals; and a demand for government to quit hiring unqualified persons and padding the public service with contract workers.
Is the NTUCB going too far with its demands? “I don’t think so!” President of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, Dylan Reneau told Amandala in response to that question. “It is not overly ambitious for them to do.” He went on to say that whatever is on the list of demands is what the government should be doing, in any event.
Reneau recalled that the unions had met with the debt negotiation team back in August, and it had been consulting with affiliate unions over the past few weeks. Incidentally, though, their statement is being released to coincide with the expiration of the 30-day grace period for Belize to meet its US$23 million payment on the super-bond, which was due August 20.
Reneau said that there are bondholders in their midst, because workers of the Belize Sugar Industries (BSI) had invested millions from their pension fund for the purchase of bonds. However, said Reneau, the BSI workers who are bondholders are also supporting the government’s move to renegotiate the terms. He emphasized the need for the best possible deal that would foster national development.
This was echoed in the NTUCB’s statement, which said, “…government must ensure that it gets the best possible terms that we can finance on a continual basis.” Those terms, the NTUCB added, “…should enable growth of the economy, curb unemployment, address the crime situation and afford the much-needed repair of our country’s infrastructure.”
Whereas Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow has told the media in response to public calls for redress against persons whose corrupt transactions were bundled into the super-bond that “the transactions are done deals,” the NTUCB is not accepting that stance.
In its statement, it calls on the government to take “deliberate steps to bring to justice person(s), or at the very least, recover the millions from those that have benefited from the public purse and have made no attempts to pay the debts incurred whilst they benefited.”
They also call on the government to curtail wasteful expenditure and to stop outsourcing services.
The unions, in their demand list, call first for the Barrow administration to complete finance and audit reform, which includes the upgrade of the financial orders for the public service. They also call for the reactivation of the Integrity Commission, the resurrection of the Governance Unit, and the proper funding of the Statistical Institute of Belize, which Reneau said provides information to the government that forms the backbone of decision-making.
“Government needs to do something about the Auditor General [reports]…” the NTUCB also said.
Reneau noted that year after year, there is no real follow-up on the reports, which are merely submitted to the House of Representatives and which do not get discussed until they are taken up to the Senate.
The NTUCB also calls on the government to include the unions in the formulation of the annual national budget.
“Currently, there is no consultation done with the NTUCB for the budget drafting exercise; and the NTUCB is the recognized umbrella organization and voice of the workers of Belize,” it said.
Of note is that the unions have been in talks with the government on their outstanding collective bargaining agreements. Reneau told us that three unions—the Belize National Teachers’ Union, the Public Service Union and the Association of Public Service Senior Managers—are currently talking with the government, but government is reluctant to advance talks on a salary adjustment requested by workers.
Reneau said that whereas government has taken the position that it cannot entertain such talks while it is asking for a restructuring of the super-bond, the unions would like to know what will be the long-term plan to pay workers.
For its part, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry has asked the government, when they expressed support for the restructuring, to “…use any fiscal relief achieved through a renegotiated bond to introduce programs to stimulate and promote economic growth and investment…. and take appropriate measures to trim its own expenditure so that it can introduce balanced budgets and avoid the recurrence of an unsustainable debt burden.”