The Prime Minister has just read his first annual budget almost a month late, NOT because of the difficult instances we are facing (which no one will deny), but because the Prime Minister and his Government, for clear political reasons, chose to hide and deny, until after the municipal elections, the truth about their true intentions to cut the salaries of public officers and teachers.
This regime then engaged in a disingenuous exercise on the government’s part, with no intention to heed the unions’ objections or suggestions. And the evidence of the pudding is in the eating.
Coming out of the Easter Holidays, union leaders having sacrificed and suspended their annual tradition of rest, relaxation and recreation, their membership and the nation were greeted with the harsh news that the government will proceed with its intentions to cut their salaries by 10 percent and freeze their increments for three years.
In his address to the nation this past Wednesday, Prime Minister John Briceno described those negotiations with the unions as “full, frank and courteous”.
How “courteous” can those negotiations be when the Prime Minister’s party and the government are simultaneously producing ads lambasting the unions, calling them unpatriotic, making statements like, “They don’t care about Belize”, accusing them of having “political agendas”, and engaging in “showboating”.
Even before those negotiations began in earnest, the Prime Minister himself had disrespectfully and ungratefully declared publicly that teachers and public servants have never had to make many sacrifices, even as our nurses and security forces remain on the frontline fighting COVID-19.
How “full” and how “frank” could those negotiations be when the government continues to refuse to even consider the unions’ recommendations to cut the waste at the top where the politicians cling to their hefty allowances and insist on hiring political hacks in newly created posts and spending millions on new, fancy vehicles and luxurious office spaces?
The Prime Minister keeps reminding the nation, as he did in his Wednesday address, and again in his budget speech earlier today, that he and his government have, as he put it, “a massive mandate”, as if to assert that this means they have a free hand to do as they wish, despite the views or feelings of anyone, in this case, the public officers and teachers.
Even as the Prime Minister is making these remarks, one of his party and government’s ads reiterates the contemptuous message and adds salt to the wound by stating, “Union leaders are pretending that they are in charge.” Translation: We (the government) run things!
This is NOT how a democratically elected administration goes about seeking consensus to address difficult national disputes such as those facing us as an outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting global economic challenges.
And, how can you ask the public officers to make sacrifices when you insist on carrying on with corrupt practices such as issuing contracts to political hacks for procurement of government vehicles and infrastructure works without tendering, while issuing a gag order on the same public officers, threatening to punish them for disclosing information to the people on such public matters?
In short, where this Prime Minister’s budget and the immoral and uncompassionate measures contained in it are concerned, the substance is unacceptable, and the spirit abominable.
Opposition Leader Honorable Patrick Faber and other UDP Parliamentarians will thoroughly dissect and delve into the budget details during the debate, which is scheduled for Thursday and Friday, April 22 and 23.