Courtenay Says Teachers’ Bonus is Illegal; Payout Put Off to After Easter
The Ministry of Education confirmed this afternoon that the million-dollar honorarium promised by the Government to non-striking teachers will not go in on time. This is because several school managements have not submitted their list of teachers who attended school for make-up days in January and did not strike with their fellow teachers in October. But all indications are that it will be dealt with after the Easter break. The bonus has been deemed as union busting and a number of organizations including the Belize National Teachers Union, the Belize Chamber of Commerce have publicly said so also stating that giving away a million dollars at a time of austerity is foolhardy. But is it legal in the first place? Senior Counsel and Senator Eamon Courtenay, speaking to News Five this morning, made the case for fraud and misfeasance in office on the part of Education Minister Patrick Faber and Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow. He noted that the timing is close to the convention of the Belize National Teachers’ Union scheduled for April eighteenth to twentieth in Corozal. Courtenay says there is no provision for such a payment in the Finance and Audit Reform Act, which limits Government to paying for goods and services.
Eamon Courtenay, Senator
“There is no provision in the Finance and Audit Act or any other law that I can find, other than the Official Charities Act, which is not applicable in these circumstances, for a Government to decide that it is going to give away Government’s money. The money does not belong to the Government; it does not belong to the United Democratic Party; it is the people’s money, to be used for goods and services. Speaking to people in the Ministry of Finance, they have already indicated that in order for this to be lawfully done, the Government would need to go to Parliament to get approval for it to be done. Now, our understanding is that they are trying to do this as quickly as possible, in order to affect the outcome of the election for the Belize National Teacher’s Union presidency, so it means that if that money is spent, it would be spent unlawfully. As far as I am concerned, that would be a criminal act. The Prime Minister, as Minister of Finance, and the Minister of Education, would be committing a criminal act, and if they do it, I believe that they ought to be prosecuted criminally. Secondly, if they do it without the authority of Parliament, they should be sued for misfeasance in office, to recover the million dollars. This is not a piggy bank that belongs to the United Democratic Party. And it is my opinion that if they do this now, they are going to magnify it and make it worse in the run-up to the next municipal election and the general election.”