Court Limits Beneficiaries of Public Sector Workers Trust
Representatives of the Public Sector Workers Trust appeared in the Supreme Court earlier today before Justice Courtenay Abel, to settle a decades-old matter involving the organization. The claim arose out of an issue dating back to 1995 when the then Esquivel administration froze increments for public officers. That freeze would later give way to dialogue between government, the Belize National Teachers Union and the Public Service Union. While those negotiations resulted in an agreement whereby increments were subsequently released and shares in B.T.L. were also offered to the unions, the matter of eligibility, in respect of those benefits, was never resolved. That led to a claim being filed in the high court in 2014 where it has been successfully argued that the beneficiaries of the resulting B.T.L. dividends were those public officers who were employed between 1995 and 1997. The unions, whose representatives are of a different opinion, believe that all public officers should benefit from those shares which are valued at nine million dollars.
Philip Castillo, Trustee, PSWT
“The genesis of the trust is that between 1995 and 1997 increments for public officers were frozen. Because of the freeze in increments there was a series of negotiations between government and the unions at the time, the unions being B.N.T.U. and P.S.U. The resolution to those negotiations are enshrined in circulars number nine of 1996 and number ten of 1996 and basically what those circulars did, the increments were restored eventually and government also gave the unions shares in B.T.L. The shares were to be used, the dividends from the shares were to be used to develop projects to benefit all public servants, at least that was our interpretation. The interpretation of the claimants, I guess you can speak to them, was that the beneficiaries were that narrow group of public servants from 1995-1997. The unions took the perspective that the beneficiaries should be all public servants.”
“Is this a win for you guys on one side of this particular argument? Where do you stand in terms of what was discussed and agreed upon by the courts?”
“Well what isn’t a win for us is who the beneficiaries are. Again, the beneficiaries, according to the judgment, I wouldn’t want to speak too much of that because we haven’t seen the perfected judgment and we are not lawyers, but from my understanding the beneficiaries are now that narrow group of public servants whose increments were frozen from 1995-1997. Those would be the beneficiaries of the trust. The trust deed as it exists now should be revised because the trust deed should be revised such that G.O.B. becomes the settler. But from my understanding the aim of the trust remains to develop projects to benefit beneficiaries, except that beneficiaries has now been narrowly defined. That is my understanding.”