Another document leaked to our newsroom earlier today has to do with the Briceno administration and the salaries that the substantive ministers and their ministers of State would be receiving effective immediately. According to the document substantive ministers will receive eighty one thousand dollars per year in salary along with nineteen thousand two hundred dollars in housing and entertainment allowance as well as twelve thousand dollars per year in telephone allowance. This amounts to about nine thousand three hundred and fifty dollars monthly. As for the ministers of state they will be receiving a salary as well as housing, entertainment and telephone allowance amounting to eight thousand one hundred dollars per month. The internal memo was sent to all CEOs, the Heads of Department and the Financial Secretary, and was signed by the Narda Garcia, Chief Executive Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister. The salaries and allowances mentioned do not differ from what the Barrow administration was paying but our newsroom has learnt that some members of the Public Service Union are not happy. One of the reasons cited was that there should be austerity measures in place. We take you back to an interview done with some Ministers on November 16.
Cordel Hyde: This afternoon when we have cabinet we’re going to find out exactly what the state of the finances for the country is. I suspect it’s really bad and so our government will have to look really critically at what’s going on and try to ensure that we’re smart about it, that we rationalize things. Our job is to provide for people not to disposes people. Our job is to make sure that we are efficient so that the country benefits from everything that’s spent in this country. We’re gonna have to figure out a way, we have sixteen thousand public officers, it’s about identifying what’s the priority areas and making sure that we’re able to service that.
Rodwell Ferguson: As our economy continues to diminish we’ll have to find means and ways to reduce the cost and as an individual I don’t mind to make the sacrifice for the rest of Belize.
Reporter: Sir one of the things that the PSU is saying that government could cut that wastage for example you don’t need any three hundred and fifty thousand dollar Prado as a minister, are you okay with that ?
Rodwell Ferguson: “Yeah I’m okay but remember likewise we’re on the road on a regular basis and you want a vehicle that is comfortable, that protects you in terms of an accident and not every vehicle will give that protection but I am willing to get something comfortable at a reduced cost.”
Andre Perez: “We have always talked about – me personally we have talked about that to restructure our debts and coming across to kick start this economy we have to be very careful. The funds are going to be scarce so I want to refrain from answering these things to tell you because that is something that we’re going to meet today in Cabinet but certainly that is something that has to be on the table that – everything lets not get ahead of ourselves and say this is what we’re going to do. This has to come out as information coming from the government, from the Prime Minister so lets leave that at that I don’t want to get a head of myself.
Reporter: But you would agree if the recommendation is given ?
Andre Perez: “Let me tell you something economically speaking, my campaign I used to say even when I ran for the mayoral position I knew that entering the town council it’s a harsh term to use austerity measures but if it’s not limited to that we have to look at it. See yes you’re talking about austerity measures but I think the main focus is that our people across this country have been left behind. The pandemic has laid havoc and I think especially in Belize Rural South San Pedro and Caye Caulker the unemployment may be as high as 60-65% so how do we find that balance of saying we have to cut salaries and then our people are there feeling the pinch right now. So we have to find that balance.
Michel Chebat: “Everything is on the table, everything is under review and we need to find the best possible policy moving forward and it is not only limited to ministers but it is looking at the entire ministries and the entire government and see how we can implement cost saving measures.”
Reporter: PSU said in their press release a couple of weeks ago is the cut cost government wastage, one of the examples they gave is that we don’t have to give you a three hundred thousand dollar vehicle are you okay with that ?
Michel Chebat: “I’m fine with that, I don’t have a problem with that I just need to be able to move around. As you know my first order of the day is to visit all of our medical institutions and first hand to understand what’s happening on the ground I believe that unless I know first hand what’s happening I can’t help to find solutions.”
And while the salaries for ministers may be an issue there is also the issue of bloated and political contracts that were issued and in some cases renewed shortly before the elections. The situation has created a thorn in the Briceno administration as explained by Minister Andre Perez in an address he made to his constituents in Belize Rural South.
Andre Perez: “The change of government meant that we chopped this previous government like this in the head. We are unable to do so because I will speak, we still have many of those cronies embedded in government. It is not like just chopping it off. They have armed themselves with many contracts, many contracts that is very if you read them out you will find it very repulsive. So in other words picture this, this past government has left their cronies in there stuck with all different positions and contracts. Daughter-in-laws, Primos, Esposas, Sobrinos, amigos, everyone are still in there embedded it’s like a virus on top of us that we cannot chop that we have to take them one by one to take them out because if we go there and we tell them “get out of there you politically appointed person.” they have a contract in their pocket that they’ll throw at us and we the government and you the people will have to pay x amount of dollars for wrongful termination if you want to say that – that is how bad it is out there my friends and that is what we are fighting against us and that is what right now the entire government is struggling right now to fit in, to get into transition, to get into work but I will tell you that the big problem right now is that main component that we’re unable to do so because each and every one of them is deeply embedded, like a virus, like a sickness, like a disease in our government and right now in my department in my ministry I am already preparing all those contracts that will be submitted to the Attorney General for review and advice because we must act accordingly and very careful. So I don’t want to be sending off people who are not doing anything and then they sue us back and then our tax payer dollars will have to compensate them. My friends these people don’t really care. I can give you one specific example that there’s a position I will not call no names or positions or so that contract is in there and we are told that that contract was just renewed this year and that contract if we terminate that person we stand to compensate that person $1.2 million dollars. I will repeat, $1.2 million dollars if we terminate that person who is politically appointed and has very little to show for the work but are just sitting down there because they are jus UDPs.”