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Jan 28, 2005

GOB counsels patience, predicts success

Story PictureFor its part the government of Belize has chosen to react to the union and civic action with a deliberate calm and measured response, perhaps in recognition that the current situation amounts to more than just another labour dispute. Speaking to the press this afternoon Minister of Foreign Affairs Godfrey Smith maintained that a methodical and open approach will in the end prove successful.

Godfrey Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs
?One has to understand that the issues we are looking at are multiple. So you have to disaggregate them. The issues that we looked at and upon which we were optimistic on Wednesday were the reform issues and there is no reason to think that we should not remain optimistic. We?ve kept our commitment to get the drafts to the various stakeholders, the chamber, bureau and the unions. We will be meeting tomorrow at ten o?clock as planned to see if we can sign off on those issues. Now that?s different from the issue of salary increases. As you may also be aware that same Wednesday when we were meeting here on the reform issues, the Minister of Education had been meeting with the general managers and the trade union and an agreement had been reached in principle on the salary increases to be spread over two years as opposed to three years. As well there was the issue of the increase in the budget for the University of Belize. They asked that that be put in writing and the Prime Minister in fact put it in writing. As we understand it that will be placed before an executive body of the teachers on Saturday so that we still have reason to be optimistic. Certainly, we are on track with the reform issues. We will wait to see what the response will be on the recent package put on the table in relation to salary increases.?

Keith Swift, Channel 7
?But the reality is that your workers are on strike. Is it getting worse before it gets better in terms of the negotiations??

Godfrey Smith
?I would not say it?s getting worse. We have to wait and see. The unions, in terms of the Teachers Union have indicated that Saturday they will be able to give us a good indication whether what is on the table will be accepted by them or not. Various organisations have been on strike for a matter of seven days and I think in the general atmosphere, we never said to them seize everything that you are doing right away because we are not in negotiation. We understand that they are exercising their legitimate right, their legal right to protest and I am sure that will continue until we reach resolution. For its part, the Government had said that it wishes to continue to dialogue and that it intends to remain engaged. We have not seen any faltering on the part of any of the social partners to not engage all. They feel that they must continue the strike action and we understand that. All we are saying is let?s stay at the table, let?s remain engaged and let?s continue to dialogue.?

Stewart Krohn
?Minister the subtext of the recent strife seems to be that the Government has so mismanaged the nation?s financial affairs that there is an element of punishment going on here–that even if you concede that the bread and butter issues can be resolved, the public and the unions are seeming to say that your government does not deserve to get away scot-free. In your view, how can a government that has really lost the confidence of the people continue to govern??

Godfrey Smith
?Well, I would not agree with you that we have lost the confidence of the people. Lost of the confidence of the people is demonstrated in elections. If you were to ask me have I lost the confidence of my voters in Pickstock, I would say to you that the answer to that is no. So, one has to be careful when you use a blanket expression lost of confidence; whether there is lost of credibility I would freely admit that yes there has been lost of credibility. Yes, people are upset with mismanagement. The Prime Minister, himself has admitted that there have been excesses, there have been errors and yes in the entire machinery of government, yes, there has been mismanagement. How do we plan to address that? I believe you yourself were at the interview where we are taking measures to reform the manner in which public finance are administered, the way in which peoples? money is spent. You yourself were at the reform forum where the Prime Minister unveiled a package of proposals to deal just with that. It was not a pre-budget gimmick; it is some thing we have been working on and will continue to work on way beyond this immediate situation that we face.?

At this time it would appear that the walkout by teachers and some public officers will continue at least through Monday.

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