The Leader of the Opposition and other opposition members rose in Friday’s House Meeting to express concerns over the Belize Defence Force and how the soldiers were being affected. One of the points brought forth by Opposition Leader John Briceno had to do with the soldiers being excluded from the Social Security scheme. The way things are currently the soldiers are not contributors to the Social Security fund and therefore they do not benefit from maternity leave, sick leave, disability aid and the likes. Our newsroom spoke with the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of National Security, Felix Enriquez and what we found out is that the problem has to do with the reluctance from the Social Security Board to facilitate the soldiers.
Felix Enriquez, CEO in the Ministry of National Security: “I did see that in the house and for some time now we have been trying to get the Social Security as part of the pension scheme for the BDF but the Social Security law itself is what stops it from happening. It’s not because the Ministry of National Security has not been lobbying to get it done we have on several occasions tried. I could say as recent as February of this year or March even I made that request again and we did so jointly with the Ombudsman who took some interest in it but the Social Security Act is what discourages that from happening and unless they change that then I’m afraid we are getting nowhere to get it done.”
Reporter: What part of the act prevents that from happening ?
Felix Enriquez, CEO in the Ministry of National Security: “There is a section that refers to military persons or persons that are engaged in military service that are just not qualified to be a part of a the Social Security. It’s an old thing I know it’s the way it was in the UK for example but they went ahead and changed that I think. Also there are still some Caribbean countries that have gone ahead and changed it. You know in our time for Belize especially the odds of us getting in conflict that would cause mass amounts of injuries and deaths is not as to my mind as probably as it used to be and as a matter of fact I think that the odds of us getting sick because the armed forces people eat healthy at least the BDF and the Coast Guard, are required to pass physical tests and keep themselves healthy as a part of their annual qualification for increment and so they have to stay healthy to a certain extent and so they odds of them getting sick is even less than the average person and I don’t think the Social Security Act that refers to military personnel because it shies them away from a mass amount of causality and a mass amount of deaths is any longer relevant so I think it should be done away with. I’m hoping in the near future that will be looked at and it will be curved.
Reporter: But why is it taking so long is there some sort of reluctance on SSB’s part ?
Felix Enriquez, CEO in the Ministry of National Security: “Yes that’s why it’s taking so long. There is reluctance.”
Another concern brought up in the House Meeting had to with the mental health of the BDF soldiers and the assistance available in-house for the soldiers. CEO Enriquez touched on this issue as well indicating that steps have been taken in recent months.
Felix Enriquez, CEO in the Ministry of National Security: “It’s something that we have been working on. As a matter of fact we have hired a full time counselor within the Belize Defence Force. Prior to that counseling was limited to senior officers and the force cadre but beyond that now we have hired for the BDF a full time counselor and there are also since COVID-19 has come about and the stress level has gone up there are also some doctors, some psychologists that have volunteered their services and so there are several or more than one, at least more than four that come to mind immediately that are doing counseling within the BDF and for the Coast Guard as well. I know for the police department the counselors from the Human Development Ministry have made themselves available and for the Coast Guard as well so it is something that we recognize as a necessity and something that is being addressed.”