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Government agrees in principle to return of increments; urges discussion of pension reform

Posted: Thursday, March 2, 2023. 10:38 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: With the General Revenue and Appropriation Bill scheduled to be read next week Friday, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance John Briceño answered one of the biggest questions at the moment: increments for teachers and public officers will resume on April 1, 2023, as demanded by the Joint Unions Negotiating Team (JUNT).

Ahead of a meeting today, Thursday, to finalize what that will look like, the Prime Minister told reporters that the Government had not said an outright ‘no’ to such a return, merely to insist that it should not be treated as a requirement: “There are a lot of good workers that deserve an increment, but also there are a number of them that don’t deserve an increment. And that is the position I’ve been selling to the unions, that an increment is not an increase in salary. An increment should be given based on performance and that is where I guess the unions don’t like when I mention that.”

As a partial result, the overall national Budget will rise to cover capital project spending and commitments under #planbelize, the P.M. said, but he maintained that in furtherance of our international debt commitments, the Government will try to maintain at least a 0.5 percent primary surplus going into the new fiscal year.

Henry Charles Usher, Minister of the Public Service, projects that “I think that we are very close in terms of what each side wants to achieve. The issue of the increments is one that the government has already gone on record to say that the upcoming fiscal year, the resumption of the increments and so, certainly, that’s an issue.”

But can pension reform be implemented, never mind discussed, in time for April? The P.M. said that’s up to the unions: “They are saying that they want everything done by the first of April, and so we just responding, well if you want to do the first of April, let’s sit down and get it done. It can be done… We have already told them more or less what it is that we can do, and so definitely the increments, but we need to put now a system in place for increments to be given based on merits. The pension reform, I think the first step is that there is, and the unions have already accepted, that yes, they agree that there is supposed to be pension reform and they are saying well they want to start at ground zero. If we were to do that, it is going to take us thirty years before we start to really feel the benefits of it. Thirty years from now, the amount that we are going to be paying will be incredibly high, so we simply cannot afford it. And so we will sit down with them and try to find a way how we can implement it, probably it will take more than six weeks, of course, it probably will, but the important point is that once both groups said yes, we need to do it and these are the parameters and then work towards it.”

The Budget will not include any new taxes or proposals prescribed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) save for pension reform. These include removing basic food items from the zero-rated General Sales Tax (GST) basket, raising motor vehicle license and driver’s license fees, and increasing taxes on fuel, among others. Prime Minister Briceño called such thinking “unconscionable” and said that such talk would have to wait until inflation has been tamed and, in any event, far down the road.


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