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GOB bends to the Demands of the Unions

Public officers and teachers may sleep a bit better tonight as the government has caved into the union demands for compensation in light of the salary cuts and increment freezes. Prime Minister John Briceno made an address to the nation this evening announcing that the government has come up with a final offer to the joint unions after multiple meetings, protests and industrial action, all unfolding since February 9. Before getting into the treats and accommodations for the unions, the Prime Minister says he was disappointed at the unions’ reaction and insistence on protesting the austerity measures despite knowing the current fiscal crisis that the country is facing. After all that has been said and done in the past thirteen weeks, salaries will be cut and increments will be frozen, but there is appeasement for the unions in several forms including the draft of legislations aimed at good governance, and the availability of refinancing and new loans through some financial institutions. We bring you the Prime Minister’s announcement of actions being taken towards good governance.

John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize:Given the national importance of this matter, I will now share with you the details of these undertakings: First Good Governance Reform. The Protected Disclosures/Whistleblowers Protection Bill, 2021 The Government fully endorses the need for whistleblowers’ legislation to protect from civil, criminal and disciplinary proceedings persons who report improper conduct such as commission of a criminal offence and conduct that shows gross mismanagement, impropriety or misconduct in the carrying out of any activity that involves the use of public funds.

To that end, the Government has drafted the Protected Disclosures/Whistleblower Protection Bill, has delivered such draft to the Unions and the business community and undertakes to the public that upon receipt of comments from the Unions by no later than May 18, 2021, it shall cause to be tabled before the House of Representatives by the end of June 2021 with a view to enactment thereof by the end of July, 2021. The Civil Asset Recovery and Unexplained Wealth Bill, 2021 Recognizing the grossly negligent and corrupt behaviour of public officials in the past in the acquisition, management, handling and disposal of public assets, the Government fully supports the establishment of a law that provides for recovery of public assets wrongfully acquired or disposed of, including the provision for unexplained wealth orders against those persons whose total wealth exceeds the value of their wealth lawfully obtained.

In that respect, consistent with the Unions’ request, the Government has drafted the Civil Asset Recovery and Unexplained Wealth Bill, and delivered the draft bill to the Unions and the business community. Upon receipt of comments from the Unions, which should be no later than the 8 of June 2021, it shall cause to be tabled before the House of Representatives. We hope to have this bill enacted by the end of July of this year.  Campaign Finance Reform Bill. Government supports the Unions’ request for the enactment of a campaign finance law. This is in line with this administration’s Plan Belize Manifesto to return principle and probity to public life.

The Government is now in receipt of draft campaign finance reform legislation from both the business community and the Unions and has tasked the Attorney General’s Ministry to review the draft legislation and to develop a draft Campaign Finance Reform Bill by the end of August 2021. 

Also as part of the good governance exercise, the Briceno administration will now be probing into how the PetroCaribe Funds were spent under the previous administration. Prime Minister Briceno noted that there are some offers that were on the table for the unions including a land credit and a cut in working hours. He says some of the offers were rejected by the unions. Despite the rejection, however, there are still some sweets available for the public officers and teachers including an annual bonus.

John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “We are prepared to undertake the following: 

Performance Bonus Option

National Health Insurance for Public Officers

Discounted data packages for teachers

Cash flow relief on loan payments

Waiver of Stamp Duty on Assignment of Residential Mortgages

Special Facilities at DFC and National Bank of Belize

Reduction of Ministers’ Salaries and allowances and

Increments Remain Applicable to Pension Payments

Government shall pay in the form of an annual bonus, after the close of each of the current and next 2 fiscal years, any amounts that exceed the relevant annual Primary Balance Target. The Primary Balance Targets established in the Recovery Plan are as follows:

Year 1, FY 2021/22, Primary Balance Target is a deficit of 2.9% of GDP

Year 2, FY 2022/23, Primary Balance Target is a surplus of 1.99% of GDP

Year 3, FY 2023/24, Primary Balance Target is a surplus of 3.75% of GDP

The Performance Bonus Option incentivizes all budget stakeholders to focus on the common and beneficial goal of achieving the critical Primary Balance Targets of Government’s Recovery Plan.

The features of the Performance Bonus Option are as follows: The Performance Bonus, which is the equivalent of any overperformance as compared to the Primary Balance Target, will be paid on a pro-rata basis to all affected teachers and public officers as a single payment.

In his 20-minute address, Prime Minister Briceno was sure to emphasize that the bonus at the end of the year is not a sure thing.

John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “Where the Primary Balance Target is not achieved, there will be no Performance Bonus payment. For example, if in Year 1, the actual primary balance is a deficit of 1.9% of GDP (compared to a target of a deficit of 2.9% of GDP), therefore 1% of GDP above the target, and this 1% represents $35 million, then $35 million would be available for performance bonus payment distribution to all affected teachers and public officers. Bonus payments, where applicable, will be made within 90 days of the close of the budget year.”