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Senators Debate GOB’s Proposal to Raise the Governor General’s Salary

Following some housekeeping in the Senate sitting the matter of government business was brought to the forefront. The first matter tackled was the motion for the salary adjustment for the Governor General which is being increased from fifty-three thousand dollars annually to seventy-five thousand dollars. Starting the discussion was Senator Courtenay who presented the Motion.

Eamon Courtenay, Government Senator: “I think it is most important that we start by recognizing the sterling service of His Excellency Sir Colville Young as Governor General of Belize. Sir Colville served Belize for approximately twenty seven years with distinction and loyalty and patriotism. Indeed he was a shining example of what is good and great about Belize and Belizeans. Sir Colville served without once, because I have spoken to him on this, without once making a request to an adjustment to his salary or to the allowance. And that is a mark of the type of man that he is that he regarded his appointment as one of service and not one for enrichment. That having been said Madam President the point of the matter is that there is a reality of the cost of living. The cost of living in 1989 when this law was passed has risen dramatically to where we are in 2021 and therefore the purpose of this motion and the bill is to take account of what we experience in Belize in terms of the cost of living in crease. Additionally Madam President and members of the Senate in order to complete this exercise the government undertook a survey of what was happening in the Caribbean in terms of their Governors General and in terms of the salaries of the heads of government, the head of judiciary of Belize. It is based on that study that we concluded that the appropriate benefits for the head of state, the head of the Executive of Belize was appears in the motion and in the bill. We believe that whoever assumes that office and serves Belize in that capacity should take office with comfort that they need not worry, they need not be concerned for their health whilst they serve and thereafter. That they will be taken care of by the state of Belize. We believe that the person whoever he or she may be ought to be compensated in terms and in line similar to that that we find in other heads of organs of state of Belize as well as the Caribbean.”

Senator Darrell Bradley from the opposition rose with praises for the services rendered by the former Governor General, His Excellency Sir Colville Young as well as the recent selection of Her Excellency Froyla Tzalam as the new head of state. While Bradley applauded the government in its choice of replacement, he noted that the opposition could not in good conscience support the Motion to raise the salary for the Governor General.

Darrell Bradley, UDP Senator: “I do support the Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs in recognizing the significant contributions of our former Governor General and his stellar service, 27 years in relation to serving the people of Belize in the highest office of our land our head of state. The difficulty that I do have in relation to the motion is the timing. And I think that recently the significant portion of our population has been called upon to bear sacrifices. We have had in this honorable house a passage of law that has reduced the salaries for public officers and teachers by 10%. We have had a situation where a significant amount of the private sector are struggling. We have had a situation where in municipal governments people are being laid off, they’re losing their job because of the reality of COVID. In this climate when the significant majority of our population had been called to make a sacrifice we just believe that the timing of this is not appropriate. Sacrifice should be something that is borne by all including the head of state.”

Voting in favour of the Resolution to amend the schedule to the Governor General Act was Senator for the NGOs, Osmany Salas.

Osmany Salas, NGO Senator: “I had to do some research on my own. I know that in some quarters it is a hard pill to swallow in relation to the upward adjustment of the Governor General’s remuneration. I felt compelled to see what is happening in the rest of the Commonwealth and I want to share a few figures that I came across. I will not even mention what Australia pays its governor general because we’ll all fall from our seats so I won’t even mention it. But if we look within the Caribbean region for example Barbados which in that instance by November of this year they will do away with the Governor General but what the salary has been up to now is $220,000 Belize dollars annually. In terms of the length of service it had varied for them. There is no set period. The incumbent has served for three years but before that Governor Generals in Barbados have served for five years, six years, fifteen years. We look at Jamaica it’s getting a little close to our situation. They have been paying their Governor General $140,000 Belize dollars more than their prime minister. In terms of term length the Governor General serves at Her Majesty’s pleasure, the incumbent has served for twelve years. Previous Governor Generals have served for eleven, fifteen, eighteen years. You look at St.Kitts and Nevis their Governor General is paid $102,000 a year. Again the Governor General serves at the pleasure of Her Majesty the incumbent has bene there for six years and previous GGs have served for two, six, twelve, seventeen years. The Bahamas now they have been paying their Governor General $74,000 Belize dollars a year. Now this is the one example I cam across where their Governor General usually serves a term of five years. So now I share all of that to try to drive home the point why we agree with the government proposal and with some of what Prime Minister Briceno had said in relation to our Governor General it has been long overdue.”

Senator Elena Smith also weighed in on this issue.

Elena Smith, Union Senator:At this point in time what the current salary is we believe at this point in time that the GG is able to live off of that. And that whatever increase is deserving after we would have done job classification exercise whatever it is there needs to be done to ensure tat the GG is properly compensated for the post that she holds and the work that she carries out or that she must carry out because we are aware that there are several duties of the GG that are not all of them are carried out the way they ought to be carried out. As my colleague said we mostly see the ceremonial aspect of the GG’s position. But with all the benefits being given to the GG at this point in time and considering the state of affairs of our country we feel that the GG should be able to survive with the current salary but we want to reiterate that at this time such an increase is not affordable, the government cannot afford it based on what they have told us, based on what they have shown us in their numbers that there is no way that we can afford any of this at this time. And so the NTUCB then on that premise, on that basis cannot at this time support the motion and the bill before us. We however Madam President believe that this matter could be tabled at another time when we would be able to support because we would know then that the government would be in a better position to be able to afford such an increase that we have before us today.”