Thursday, April 2nd 2015. Aaron Humes Reporting: A meeting of the General Council of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) took place Wednesday night in Belize City after the passage earlier this week of the Petrocaribe Loans Act, 2015, which passed by a slim six-to-five margin with an abstention by Senator representing the trade unions, Ray Davis.
There is a concern that the unions were caught off guard by the presentation of the bill and following the meeting of the Union a briefing with Congress executives discussed the apparent disconnect between Senator Davis’ vote and the position of the Congress. But NTUCB members sought to correct those perceptions by issuing a strong public condemnation of what the Government seeks to do, which it has now been empowered to do by the Act – borrow and spend the funds coming from APBEL as part of the Petrocaribe program going back some two years. NTUCB President Marvin Mora said that the Government’s actions are completely contrary to the spirit of the passage of the Finance and Audit Act in 2005 and its reformed version in 2010. The Congress has maintained its call for transparency and accountability in Government’s financial appears and is opposed to anything that would suggest otherwise, said Mora.
According to head of the Christian Workers’ Union and NTUCB second vice president Audrey Matura Shepherd, the Act legitimizes illegal activity on the part of the Government, by asking for retrospective approval of monies already spent that should have been taken to the House of Representatives at the time of approval. The Union Congress continues to plan its response to the Act and was reluctant to share details with the press.
Meanwhile, the General Council meeting of the Union Congress also considered the actions of Senator Ray Davis in abstaining from the vote during a meeting of the Senate this week. A ‘no’ vote would have caused a tie and forced Senate President Marco Pech to cast a deciding vote, but the abstention meant that the Government Senators’ votes in favour carried the Act. Speaking with reporters on Wednesday night after a formal briefing of the General Council, Davis declined to discuss the reasons for his vote and his motivation, whether personal or from within the Congress. He would only say that there was no rancor or discord in the meeting and he had explained his side of the situation. But the Congress is officially disappointed with Davis’ actions, and told him so.
According to Congress President Marvin Mora, the unions were lacking key information and did not expressly order Davis to vote yea or nay. However, it was understood from previous presentations that the Congress would not support a bill of the encompassing nature of the Petrocaribe Act, and Mora said that Davis knew of that when he decided to abstain. But the Congress is not yet ready to throw him under the bus; that will be up to the wider membership, some of whom have expressed no confidence in Davis continuing as their representative.
Matura-Shepherd said it was made clear to Davis that he had disappointed the Congress, but that whatever his reasons and motivations were, they would not be made public, and neither would the Congress’ deliberations on his fate.
And finally: beginning last year the Government of Belize instituted a six percent salary adjustment for teachers, public officers and other workers along with restored increments extended over three years. The Government has been insistent that that money cannot come from the Petrocaribe funds as they are intended for capital projects. But the NTUCB believes that the adjustments are deserved and that the problem is Government efficiency, so as far as the unions are concerned the adjustment does not change their perspective.
Because the Government has received nearly $300 million from Petrocaribe and spent up to a third of it which are now being retrospective, Matura-Shepherd argues that the Government can clearly afford the salary adjustment, but prefers to “bribe” the people and line their cronies’ pockets rather than be honest.
The Congress maintains the call for a 13th Senator for Non-Government Organizations to truly invoke democracy and according to Matura-Shepherd will call for the repeal of the Act. She said that its approval by the National Assembly makes it no less wrong and repugnant.
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