Chamber of Commerce Condemns ‘Bonus’ for Non-Striking Teachers
Monday’s announcement by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Patrick Faber that Government is using a million dollars to hand out special bonuses for Easter has sent shockwaves through the country. The bonuses are to be paid to members of the teaching corps who did not participate in either last October’s strike by the Belize National Teachers’ Union or the organized absence from schools in January, in response to the Ministry of Education’s intervention in organizing make up time for the strike. Many have contended that it sends the wrong message at a time of austerity and belt-tightening and smacks of arrogance and pettiness. The latest to join the chorus is the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, whose statement today was titled, Is Economic Growth Really a Priority? The Chamber points out that the budget failed to promote growth, introduced no measures to arrest revenue leakage, and did not go far enough to cut expenditure, resulting in eighty million dollars of new tax revenue. It concludes that it is “irresponsible” of the Government to spend unbudgeted money for the “honorarium.” Chamber President Nikita Usher outlined these concerns in a telephone interview this afternoon with News Five.
On the Phone: Nikita Usher, President, Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry
“Here we have, only a few weeks ago, the Government reading its Budget, “Bouncing Back – A Bold Belizean Recovery”; and yet telling us that we are in an austerity period – I mean, this is a period of tightening of belts. I’m showing you in the press release where our debt stands currently – every one of our Belizeans, I mean no matter what age they are, on average, is owing about eight thousand dollars. Now if you just came out of a Budget – a tightening of the belt type of Budget – how is it that you can just pull a million dollars out to pay teachers who did not strike? That makes us in the business community wonder how genuine was, really and truly, the implementation of the tax increases. If you could have just pulled out a million dollars so easily, it would then say to us that there must be funds available otherwise, and if there are such funds available then why could they not have been used for other reasons? That has been the Chamber’s position – you have just increased, you have just laid taxes down on the Belizean public; and whether we want to admit or not – and yes, there was no increase in G.S.T. but increases in the other taxes actually affect our Belizean public – how can you then just arbitrarily just pull a million dollars out? Which for all intents and purposes, we are of the opinion that it’s unbudgeted.”
Usher refers to the three point three billion dollar figure quoted in the release, standing at ninety percent of GDP, and the equivalent of just over eight thousand eight hundred dollars owed by each Belizean. The Chamber is not revealing its next move just yet but calls on Government to use the “windfall” and other spare monies to promote growth in the productive and private sector to arrest further decline in the Belizean economy.