Last Friday’s House of Representatives meeting saw the introduction and three readings of the Defence Bill. The Bill was heavily debated and received much criticism, especially from the opposition side. Florencio Marin Jr, the Area Representative for Corozal Southeast rose to express his concerns and objections.
Hon. Florencio Marin Jr, Area Representative Corozal Southeast: “I remember when I served there were people who said that the people retire in the BDF at a very low age, at a young age. At the time that was necessary but now this over two decades I am sure that yes we now need to extend the age and I don’t think you’ll find any officer or Warrant Officer or any of the ranks who would disagree with that. The issue I have with it though is that by itself what I didn’t find in the bill- and it could be in there because I tried to read it this morning since we got it -where that if you extend it right now perhaps the only who would get an extension would be the commander the Brigadier General in the Belize Defence Force. The issue with that Madam Speaker is that we have to remember that there is a career timeline for all soldiers once they attain a rank. There’s usually like a training, a test they have to pass for example you would serve two years as a second Lieutenant, four years as a Lieutenant, about five years as a captain and so on and so forth. Doing it this way is that by just extending it you automatically extend them yes but what about the officers who are already anticipating their next promotion providing they pass the test and providing they’re competent? It is an issue, it affects the morale of the military Madam Speaker. One of the big issue we’re facing with officers and our ranks when they leave the military after twenty two years is that they usually have a serious issue with unemployment outside why, because there is not an immediate translation of their skills. Madam Speaker it costs this government , well not this government, it costs governments money to train and to create soldiers it’s not an easy thing hence you hear things of recruitment training, boot camp, you hear officers going to Guyana, to Canada, to West Point, it costs money because you need professional soldiers along our border.”
Marin went on to highlight the plight of the Belize Defence Force soldiers who he says are not covered by Social Security.
Hon. Florencio Marin Jr, Area Representative Corozal Southeast: “I believe it is time now that our military starts being covered by Social Security. Just this morning one of the text I got where this guy now he’s out of the military for six months now, he has not gotten his pension, he has no job and he has no Social Security to collect from so he is unemployed and he is a retired Warrant Officer so how does he go and say “Alright I can work out there.” A lot of these former soldiers who are highly trained, who our government have invested a lot of money in when you see them you see them working as security guards at the different banks, at the different institutions and they’re very professional and they’re good at but again from when you go to an organization that is highly professional well designed for them to just literally reach as a security guard who minds a door I think we’re losing some special skills here Madam Speaker.”
Leader of the Opposition John Briceno had objections of his own saying that the Government is underestimating the importance of counselling and the mental health of military personnel.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader, People’s United Party: “As a government we spend millions of dollars in training them and they serve us fatefully for twenty plus years until the early age of retirement but maybe it is time to consider at the BDF that probably in the last year prior to retirement that these soldiers can get some kind of counseling and preparing them to get another kind of job if they want to be an electrical or carpentry or whatever it is that they do I think that’s the least that we owe to them because it breaks your heart when you see that these people, highly trained personnel, that all they could do is to get to be a security guard at a hotel or at a business or at the banks. I think we owe it to them they have served us fatefully and so I think it is time for us to consider as a government to put that into place.”
In tomorrow’s newscast we’ll tell you more about this Defence Bill, why it is important and why the soldiers are not a part of the Social Security scheme. The Defence Bill was passed in the House and will be taken to the Senate for ratification on Wednesday.