Lead from in front!
That was the stern word of advice from Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) Leader Mia Mottley to the Freundel Stuart administration this afternoon before leading a walk out of BLP members from Parliament.
The move came amid the tabling of a resolution to restore the ten per cent pay that senior Government officials lost back in 2014 at the height of austerity.
In tabling the resolution, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler was careful to point out that it was not a salary increase, while suggesting that Government was simply honouring its promise to restore the amount, which was initially due to be repaid at the end of 19 months and was due to end by March 31, 2015.
“It was then decided at that period when it came to March 2015, given that we were not in complete success in getting our deficit down to the levels that we wanted it to, that some of the [austerity] measures would be discontinued as had been indicated, but others would be continued and one of the measures which we thought should continue for an additional 12 months was the ten per cent deduction in the salaries of members of the Government and certainly members of the Parliament, parliamentary secretaries, senators, members of the House of Assembly, personal assistants and so on,” Sinckler explained.
He said it was only after the yearlong extension officially ended on March 31, 2016 that Cabinet agreed “after much long discussion and debate” to restitute the ten per cent.
“I know that there has been a lot of debate on the matter, relative to the fact that people have indicated that this is actually a salary increase, [but] it is not a salary increase for members of parliament, it is to restore the status quo . . . so as to ensure members of parliament are basically going back to what they would have been at prior to the announcement of December 13, 2013,” Sinckler added.
However, Mottley was having none of it, neither was she about to split hairs with Government over whether or not the restoration would amount to an increase in pay for parliamentarians.
Mottley chose instead to remind Parliament of the position adopted by her party last year when it brought a no confidence motion against the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration.
“I made a document of the House, a letter signed by all members of the Opposition indicating that we will not be accepting the restoration of any salary, any increase in emoluments until such time as the public servants of Barbados who have not had a salary increase since 2010 are put at the front of the line.”
She dismissed the notion of Government being tied to a promise to restore the ten per cent, while charging that the Stuart administration was now infamous for making promises and then breaking them.
“When the Minister of Finance introduced VAT [Value Added Tax] that was only supposed to be for 18 months. He has broken that promise to the people of Barbados. When before the last election, the Honourable Member for St Philip West said there would be no sale of BNTCL or sale of assets, that promise has been broken to the people of Barbados. When the Prime Minister said before the last election that there would be no fees for University of the West Indies students as he spoke to the graduation of Community College, that was a breach of a promise too. And when they said that there would be no lay-offs, from the Prime Minister to the Minister of Finance to all of them, we in fact saw 3,000 lay-offs in 2014,” Mottley charged.
Warning that Government was about choices, she said people in the north of the island were still without water; so too residents in the Belle, St Michael, while residents along the south coast and Bridgetown were battling with sewage issues and the island’s public servants had not enjoyed a salary increase in over nine years.
She added that public service salaries had been under negotiation for over a year now without any mandate from Government to appropriately settle any increase with the unions.
Yet, she complained, “Government chooses to spend its money giving itself an increase back of salary”.
Mottley also questioned how the Minister of Finance could justify seeking to ensure that Government ministers get more money in their pockets next month, in circumstances where the country’s debt was almost two billion dollars more than it was in 2013 when he first made the adjustments.
Also highlighting the latest Central Bank report issued today by Governor Dr Delisle Worrell, Mottley warned that the deficit which was at 8.5 per cent of GDP in 2013, had only fallen to 8.2 per cent of GDP.
She also warned the Central Bank was being forced to print money to meet the increasing expenditure of Government, which had also been advised of the need to reduce wages and transfers.
“Now how can we have that signal coming at 2 o’clock this afternoon but at ten past four, the same Parliament is in here seeking to give back money to themselves in circumstances where last December/January they were getting less [pay]?” Mottley asked, while accusing members of the current DLP administration of telling people to tighten their belts, while enlarging theirs.
“I also feel that when times are hard, you must lead from in front and you cannot at this stage, seek to feather your own nest, while others are outside suffering and I feel strongly about it,” Mottley warned, before she and other Opposition legislators walked out en masse from the House of Assembly just after 4 p.m., saying they wanted no part in the controversial exercise and they would not accept any restoration until public servants were given a pay rise.