Posted: Tuesday, March 23, 2021. 4:44 pm CST.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
By Hugh O’Brien: As the Government of Belize and the Unions prepare to face off with respect to the proposed salary cuts for teachers and public officers, and as Belize prepares to go through one if its worst economic challenges since Independence, there is no better time for our current leaders to lead by example and demonstrate a unique brand of leadership.
It is clear that with the national debt hovering above $4 billion, a figure that represents $10,000 for every man, woman and child (or $50,000 for an average family of 5), that the Government of Belize cannot continue to borrow $1 million a day to meet its recurrent expenditures. Moreover, a continuation of the borrowing spree or the printing of more money by the Central Bank to give the impression that all is well, will only result in either a devaluation of our dollar and/or steep inflation that themselves can end up causing more pain especially on poor Belizeans.
While I have many recommendations in mind, one of the best way for the current government to begin to chart the best path forward for discussing the salary and budgetary cuts is for the Prime Minister, current Ministers, Ministers of State and Chief Executive Officers to lead by example by doing the following:
1. Telephone Allowance – The telephone allowance for Ministers should be slashed from $1,000 a month to $200, and for CEO’s it can be cut from $500 a month to $100. With regular and/or video calls possible using WhatsApp, Messenger, Snapchat and other platforms, $1,000 and $500 a month telephone allowance is far too much for anyone in this day and age. Ask any young Belizean, there are cheaper ways to reach the people you need to hear from, or who need to hear from you? In fact, the priciest SMART plan, the Plus, goes for $120 per month, while the cheapest, Flex Junior, goes for $30 per month. The former offers unlimited minutes for national calls and bills international calls on a per call basis. In the case of Telemedia, there is a mobile Corporate Plan available in small, medium or large with various benefits, and some with unlimited text and data. And the best part is that BTL is owned in majority by Government entities, and could easily offer the government a cheap corporate package.
2. Entertainment Allowance – The current package that Ministers and CEOs receive also includes an entertainment allowance ranging from $500 to $1,000 per month depending on whether it is for a Minister, a Minister of State or a CEO. This allowance is provided just in case these high level officials have to treat their colleagues, visitors from other countries, and others to lunch and so forth. If during those social outings alcoholic drinks are consumed this should not be at the expense of the Belizean taxpayer. In most cases, these lunch bills are paid by the Ministry itself, and as such the entertainment allowance is merely an addition to one’s salary. This is clearly then a luxury that can easily be discarded especially during a period of austerity and hence in the spirit of leadership by example, the Prime Minister, his Cabinet, and CEOs should decide that this allowance be discontinued.
3. Salary – While the Prime Minister and his Ministers decided on a 10% pay cut back in December 2020, the Prime Minister’s salary is still $95,000 per year, or just over $8,000 per month and Ministers are each paid $81,000 annually (or $6,750 per month). A CEO gets a salary of around $76,000 per year (or around $6,400 per month) while Ministers of State get a salary of $54,000 annually or $4,500 per month. As a gesture of good will, and to begin to demonstrate a new level of seriousness to the Belizean people, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet should consider taking another pay cut, at least another 10 or 15% but better yet, a larger one, like 20%, while CEO’s should also consider taking a 20% cut as well.
The cut suggested above will only be a drop in the bucket compared to the overall savings that the Government of Belize is targeting. However, it’s the leadership by example that matters and it places our political leaders in a good position to negotiate and convince the unions to take a salary cut as well. It is my view that since Independence, Belize has been yearning for good leadership and not one that continues with business as usual.
The 1998-2008 PUP government left us with the superbond for which after all those years not even one (1) dollar has been paid to the principal and the PUP planted a large seed of corruption for us to deal with. The 2008-2020 UDP government under what UDP fanatics called the best Prime Minister Belize has ever seen, squandered $400 million in Petrocaribe funds, $600 million in windfall oil taxes, pushed the superbond ball down into the future, and left us with a staggering $700 million cost for a failing BTL company, and worst yet the corruption seed planted by the PUP grew into a big tree with deep roots under the UDP.
Belize is heavily indebted, more indebted than we have ever been, and borrowing a million dollars a day primarily to pay public officers and teachers, is clearly not sustainable.
…Me say to Prime Minister John Briceno, show the Belizean people that you can lead by example.
In upcoming articles, other recommendations for cost cutting, improving the speed of doing business in government and ideas for growing the economy will be shared.
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