Posted: Wednesday, July 7, 2021. 12:27 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: After near-unanimous consent given by the House of Representatives last week, the Senate has agreed to the Governor-General (Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill, 2021 and the Resolution to amend the Schedule to the Act.
Leader of Government Business, Senator Eamon Courtenay, reminded that past Governor-General Sir Colville Young not only served with distinction, but never asked for a raise – he felt his post was one of service, not personal enrichment, Courtenay said.
However, times change, and the bill hopes to take into account the changes in the cost of living since 1989.
A survey of Governors-General and other officials’ remuneration in the Caribbean informed the increase, Courtenay said. “We believe that whoever assumes that office and serves Belize in that capacity should take office with comfort; that they need not worry, that they need not be concerned for their health while they serve and thereafter; that they will be taken care of by the State of Belize,” he continued, adding that the office-holder and their family should be taken care of as well.
Even with the increase, Courtenay said later, the Governor-General’s salary is still dwarfed, for instance, by the Prime Minister’s ($91,000 annually) and the Chief Justice ($150,000).
More importantly, the office should not be overtaken by politics, which is part of the reason why the term limit of the Governor-General is now being curtailed to a term of seven years.
Both the Opposition and social partner Senators pointed out that in a time of austerity and COVID-19 related deficiency, when teachers and public officers are being asked to “sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice” in the words of Shary Medina, an increase in the Governor-General’s salary to support a largely ceremonial role is bad timing at best and a slap in the face at worst.
Senator Ashton McKenzie listed his expenses as a teacher making a salary of $2,070 per month before the ten percent cut instituted in June, concluding that most Belizeans can only hope to see a salary of $7,000 per month as the Governor-General would now make.
While Senator Courtenay conceded the timing issue, he asked for support on the basis that the role is in fact more work than some believe, as it requires an analytical mind to consider the bases of legislation passed by the National Assembly and the worth of appointments among other things. There is a lot of work, as acknowledged by Government Senator Isabel Bennett, that goes on behind the scenes, and indeed, most public service jobs are not properly compensated to begin with.
The majority carried the day on both the Bill and motion.
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