By Marion V. Ali
Teachers and public officers will get a 5% salary adjustment and the 2014-2015 National Budget calls for no new taxes, but teachers will still march on Independence Hill on Friday during the presentation of the Budget.
Their decision to demonstrate is grounded in their demands for more anti-corruption measures, the prosecution of former Minister Elvin Penner, an investigation into the passport/visa scandal, better transparency, and the political will to stop wastage of public monies in areas that they deem to be wastage. Coupled with that, the Belize National Teachers’ Union, BNTU, also takes the view that the 5% adjustment does not include revenues derived in the month of March, which changes the amount they will collect at the end of the day. The Prime Minister has said that the 5% converts to between $22 and $24 M.
How the teachers decide to deal with their 5% adjustment and their other concerns will be displayed in their numbers on Friday. National BNTU President, Luke Palacio, has called on all the BNTU’s district branches to take part in the march in Belmopan, but did not hazard a guess as to how many will show up. Traditionally, the BNTU, regarded as Belize’s strongest union, has always registered the majority of its membership at public assemblies. But their presence at Friday’s demonstration could very well result in penalties against them. Minister of Education, Patrick Faber has said publicly that he felt those who attend the demonstration should be penalized because he sees the action as “nonsensical”. He appealed teachers not to “test the Ministry” and said that people who protest must be prepared to “take the licks [associated] with that”. Faber suggested that the BNTU pay those teachers who protest their day’s pay. The teachers will get their first chance to state their concerns over the proposed salary adjustment when they form part of a team of union representatives that will meet with Joseph Waight, the Financial Secretary, next Wednesday.
Following Friday’s Budget presentation, the Opposition PUP will debate its contents after which it will be passed on to the Senate for passage. It becomes effective on April 1st.
Meanwhile, the 2014-2015 Budget does not call for any new taxes. On the contrary, it also does not include any provision for an increase in the threshold for income tax, which means that people who earn a gross yearly income of anything over $26,000 will continue to pay income tax.