Also responding to the Council of Churches was Minister of Education, Francis Fonseca. Fonseca was part of the government’s negotiating team that held discussions with the Joint Union over the ten percent salary cut. The Belize National Teachers’ Union has taken the matter before the court and the first hearing was held earlier this month. The BNTU’s position is that the government had no legal authority to interfere in a private contract; in this case, the contract between a teacher and the managing authority. When we asked Prime Minister John Briceno about it, he responded that the BNTU has it wrong because it was not the government who cut salaries but the schools’ managing authorities. The Council of Churches says that for PM Briceno to assign blame in this manner to the management authorities, many of which fall under the ambit of Churches, was grossly unfair. The Council of Churches say that the Briceno Administration betrayed the relationship by “blaming” the Church for the teacher pay-cut. We asked Minister Fonseca about it.
Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education: “I think you know this much ado about nothing. I think there’s a misunderstanding in terms of what the Prime Minister said and how it was received. The government has always made it clear we were engaged in consultations for as you all know for four months. We made it very clear to the unions that were in an economic crisis and that economic crisis demanded that we make tough decisions and one of those tough decisions of course very painful decision was that we had to reduce the salaries of our teachers and public officers by ten percent so we have never backed away from that, that was a government policy decision. What the Prime Minister was referring to was the fact that we have been taken to court by the BNTU, they’ve taken the managing authorities as well as the Minister of Finance to court and in responding to that court case we had to make it very clear of course that the process of implementing that ten percent salary cut is one that has to be taken through by the managing authorities. So the way the government executes that policy decision of a ten percent salary reduction is by reducing the grant given to the managing authorities by ten percent. So that was the only clarification that was being made that the manner in which we are executing it is by reducing that grant and then of course as a logical consequence of reduction of that grant the managing authorities would then reduce the salaries of the teachers by ten percent so I don’t think there should be any confusion about what is being done. The government took that decision, it was not the managing authorities, the government took the decision to reduce salaries. We take responsibility for that decision and the manner in which we execute it has to be done obviously through the managing authorities because they are the ones who pay teachers. Some of them at the primary school level we used the SMART STREAM system to pay teachers but we do that simply to facilitate the managing authorities.”
Minister Fonseca was also asked if the relationship between the churches will be mended.
Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education: “I’ve been in two meetings along with the Prime Minister with the Council of Churches and that matter has come up and of course there’s always room for improvement. We have to improve the relationship, there has to be better communication we accept that and there has to be ongoing dialogue between the church and the state. That’s an important partnership for our government, we’re committed to strengthening that partnership. We’re doing our part at the Ministry of Education but as a government we understand that we have to do more so I can assure you as the Prime Minister is away but I can assure you that he has spoken to me and as soon as he gets back we will have a meeting with the Council of Churches to address all of these concerns that they have raised.”