Prime Minister Freundel Stuart Tuesday accused the Opposition of spreading “bold untruths”, while suggesting that Government’s move to restore the salaries of senior Government officials and parliamentarians was no different to that which had transpired back in 2000 when public servants were given back eight per cent of their salaries.
“This is just a restoration of salary parliamentarians voluntarily gave up,” Stuart said while seeking to set the record straight about “the bold untruth that was told in this House about parliamentarians getting a salary increase, rather than just having a restoration”.
Making his contribution to the Remuneration and Allowances of Members Order 2016, which was approved by Parliament Tuesday in the absence of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) who had earlier walked out of the House, Stuart recalled that members of his Cabinet had agreed to a 19-month cut in their salaries, as well as those of other members of parliament and parliamentary assistants back in January of 2014 when Barbados was about to enter an austerity period that saw layoffs of some 3,000 public servants.
That cut, Stuart acknowledged, was extended by a year but he argued that just like the eight per cent pay cut – which was implemented by the then Erskine Sandiford (now Sir Lloyd) Democratic Labour Party administration back in the 1990s and was met with loud public protests – the intention of the current Government was always to return to the status quo.
“Nobody called it an increase then, everybody said it was a restoration. It was what the public officers were entitled to. It was their money. The Government had asked them to make a sacrifice, they made the sacrifice, and now that things had turned around, the economy was on a growth path, the Government of the day was restoring the eight per cent.
“It was not an increase. It was a restoration to a status quo and the situation that existed before from which public officers were asked to move,” he added.
“Similarly in this case, members of parliament were asked to move from a status quo to a position ten per cent less, in terms of salary,” he contended.
The Prime Minister also stressed that the majority of the measures introduced at the height of the austerity programme had since been removed.
“The 19-month programme and the 12-month programme are now ended. The credit unions have been restored to their status quo; all of the other persons who have been asked to make sacrifices have been restored,” he said, adding that the tax imposed on savings in the credit unions had expired and was not renewed.
However, he acknowledged that the tax on bank assets remained a lasting feature of the strict economic measures.
“The commercial banks have been asked to make a further sacrifice, and we’ve dealt with that . . . only last week when we [passed] the Banks Tax on Assets [Act],” Stuart said.
Stating that the claims by the Opposition “offended my sense of decency”, he said when the ten per cent cut was introduced the Barbados Labour Party parliamentarians had opposed having the money taken from their salaries.
“Members of the Opposition made it very clear that they did not want their salary touched, that it was not going to make any impact anyhow and that they wanted their money.
“So they opposed the reduction, and now they are opposing the restoration too,” he said.
Stuart said while he could not fault the Opposition for saying they would not accept the ten per cent restoration to their salaries until public servants receive a pay increase, “ as far as the empty grandstanding is concerned, and the bold untruths. I will have no part of that.
“This resolution has my 100 per cent support,” Stuart added.