Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2023. 2:05 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: On this first day of the Budget Debate, former Public Service Union (PSU) President Hubert Enriquez led a demonstration of the Association of Beneficiaries and Retired Public Officers (ABRPO) outside the National Assembly, calling to dismantle the Public Sector Workers’ Trust (PSWT).
Members of the ABRPO, which include public sector workers who saw a wage freeze implemented by the administration of Prime Minister Sir Manuel Esquivel from 1995 to 1997 amid financial difficulty, want their compensation in cash for the losses they suffered.
The Trust controls 480,000 shares in what was then known as Belize Telecommunications Limited and is now Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), bonds in St. Catherine’s Academy and other secure investments. Today, those shares and accumulated interest amount to a significant sum, worth around 10 million dollars, which the workers hope to access soon.
Enriquez contends that the PSWT is not properly serving beneficiaries and says it has to go: “We want the Trust to be dissolved and we want speedy action because the Government said yes, they want to do it, but it’s taking too long – it’s passed three months and nothing has happened and even while this matter is taking place the Trust continues to operate as normal and we fear that in fact if it continues the way it is, by the time the matter is resolved there will be no funds left in the kitty to pay most of the deserving public officers who are beneficiaries.”
He added that while the matter is in court, the Government now appears to agree with them on a different means of settlement because after 27 years there is enough money available to pay back what was lost. The other demand is that while the Trust is being wound up, new trustees selected from among the beneficiaries should be named. Enriquez also called for an accounting of the Trust’s activities and spending, and dismissed suggestions that the amount available would be too small a payout for each public officer and that projects such as providing grocery bags to families served affected public officers well.
During the Budget Debate, Prime Minister John Briceño came out to address the protestors, flanked by Minister of the Public Service Henry Charles Usher. After fielding a few questions from them, he outlined to reporters what steps the Government will take next: “I really believe that it’s their money so they should get their money. These people have retired – they are not making as much money, if any, [as when] they were working; as you get older you have more medical bills, you need all the help that you can, and as one of the ladies said she wants her money, not [wait until] she’s dead to get it… We have agreed that we will ask the Attorney General to sign an affidavit in their support in the court case. We have to wait until that process finishes. Secondly, we said that we will get the report from the Trustees, and third, that we are prepared to meet with them after the Easter break.”
The P.M. added that he was not aware of what the Trust was doing and would not cast aspersions on the Trustees, preferring to have a formal report before the next steps.
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