BELIZE CITY, Wed. Mar. 17, 2021– The Joint Unions Negotiation Team which had engaged in budget consultations with the government in an effort to find ways to reduce government spending, held a press conference on Wednesday, March 17, at which they disclosed the contents of their counter-proposal that they submitted in response to the government of Belize’s announcement of proposed salary cuts and increment freezes. The leaders of the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), the Public Service Union (PSU), the Association of Public Service Senior Managers (APSSM), and the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) called for the removal of Financial Secretary Joseph Waight, Auditor General Dorothy Bradley, and Central Bank Governor, Ambassador Joy Grant.
The unions’ letter to GOB clearly states, “The Joint Unions are not in support of a reduction to the staff’s salaries, and neither can we agree to any long-term agreement to a reduction in salary. Significant time and effort have been spent on the generation of three Cost-Saving Revenue Enhancement Reports, which we believe if the Government, via the Financial Secretary had implemented as were proposed, would have yielded in excess of $60M per year.”
The Joint Union Negotiation Committee is thus calling for the removal of long-time Financial Secretary, Joesph Waight, who has served as the government’s chief financial officer for the past three administrations and is, by and large, the leading expert in the fiscal management of the country.
The Public Service Union’s 1st Vice President, Dean Flowers, however, said that Waight has failed to carry out his mandate as Financial Secretary and has violated SI 95 of 2010, the Fiscal Transparency and Responsibility Regulations.
These regulations were put in place, upon recommendation of the International Development Bank (IDB), by the Barrow administration to remedy the problem of fiscal mismanagement and lack of accountability that had been seen during the Musa administration. Flowers said that Waight was mandated to give semi-annual financial reports to the public; these were to have been gazetted and, according to him, would have given the social partners a real-time snapshot of the country’s finances.
Ten years later, not even one such report has been compiled, according to the Joint Union Negotiating Team, and they consider this grounds for the immediate removal of the Financial Secretary.
“The joint unions received a very strong mandate that we ought to call for the removal of the Financial Secretary and his accompanying staff, especially those that are over the age of fifty-five,” Flowers stated.
He explained that the reports that should have been prepared by Waight would have included a full overview of government finances and would have allowed the public to monitor the country’s finances in real-time.
“Detailed in that report would have been government expenses, government revenues, government assets, government liabilities, and also the assets, liabilities, revenues, and expenses of every single statutory body out there that government is giving monies to and we don’t know how they are performing. We have no clue how most of these revenue-generating statutory bodies are performing. We don’t see the publication of any financial statements, similar to us not seeing anywhere the government finances are confirmed. So it is our view that the Financial Secretary has breached, not breached, but he is in violation of the S.I., of the law, similar to the former prime minister, and he needs to be held accountable,” Flowers said.
During his presentation, Flowers also called for the replacement of the Auditor General, Dorothy Bradley, and the Governor of the Central Bank, Ambassador Joy Grant. He claimed that these individuals also failed to carry out their responsibilities, which are a fundamental part of their specific posts.
The Auditor General was appointed on September 1, 2011, but according to the PSU’s Vice President, over the past 10 years during which she has held the post, she failed to carry out audits of certain high-risk Ministries and statutory bodies receiving government funds.
One example that Flowers cited is the proverbial “hotbed of corruption” alluded to by former Prime Minister, Dean Barrow. Flowers questioned why a full audit hadn’t been done in that department since 2008 when a fire sale of government assets that had been carried out under the previous PUP administration came to light.
In reference to their recommendation that the Governor of Central Bank be replaced, Flowers flatly questioned the competence of Joy Grant, Governor of the Central Bank since late 2016. The members of the Joint Union Negotiating Team believe that the Central Bank failed in its role to steer the country away from fiscal mismanagement and an economically unsustainable path.
“We believe that better competence is out there where the Central Bank governor is concerned. And so we are asking, look: make we get competent people in place. This cronyism that resulted in that appointment, because we respect the Governor, but we don’t believe she has the kind of experience and competence to make fiscal and monetary policies for the country.” Flowers said.
The Government, during an all-day Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, went over the proposal from the Joint Unions and pledged that dialog will continue in good faith with the unions.